Scrapping English education spells trouble

Goodbye English, karibu Kiswahili. Tanzania plans to drop English as language of instruction at all levels, a move which some say spells trouble. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Goodbye English, karibu Kiswahili. Tanzania plans to drop English as language of instruction, a move which some say spells trouble.  Photo: Daniel Hayduk

In a historic move, Tanzania plans to scrap English and become the first country on the continent to offer education in an African language at all levels.

Partly designed to bring a much-needed skilled workforce to the country, the revamped education system announced earlier this month by President Jakaya Kikwete has raised eyebrows in the corporate world.

While conceding that the idea of using an indigenous language sounds patriotic on paper, it will be disastrous for the development of local human resources, says Chairman of the CEO Roundtable of Tanzania (CEOrt) Ali Mufuruki.

“I don’t believe the changes were made in good faith nor was enough preparation to ensure systems are in place and ready so that we don’t put our generations at a disadvantage from which they will not be able to recover easily,” says Mufuruki, who is CEO of Infotech Investment Group.

Mufuruki says Tanzanians don’t have the luxury of creating their own reality to isolate themselves from the world.

“There is also the issue of fairness and honesty or lack of it,” says Mufuruki, who was himself educated abroad in a country which uses it’s own language in schooling.

“I am very curious to see if those responsible for this policy change are going to move their children from the private English medium schools to the Kiswahili-only public schools where majority of the country’s children go.”

The decision to implement these changes is likely a knee-jerk reaction to the ever-falling exam scores at schools across the country, says Mufuruki.

“You can not turn around Tanzania’s failing education system by replacing English with Swahili. I can say with confidence that if Rwanda had instead changed the medium of instruction from French to Rwandese [sic,] it would not be the much admired fastest growing African economy it is today.”

Students will still learn English under the new system, which will take years to implement, says Atetaulwa Ngatara, assistant director for policy at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.

“To think that learning in English will lead to students communicating in English is wrong. Communicating in English is something else, which has to do with language studies,” says Ngatara.

The new system also raises basic education to 11 years of schooling and scraps primary exit exams.

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