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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

An English Teacher on Teaching in Kiswahili


I find the response of Dr Kitila a little disingenuous.

a) People who advocate for the use of Kiswahili are not saying that Tanzanians have failed to master English or that there is a problem in their DNA. That is a deliberate reductio ad absurdum of the argument through exaggeration. We are saying that if people do not have enough English to start with in secondary school, to use it as a medium of instruction is self defeating as they do not have enough language to address other subjects. In fact we are saying that if they are taught English well, they will have better English than if it is used as a medium of instruction.

b) If we take the case of Zambia etc, I have pretested simple stories for the Sara Communication Initiative with a group of secondary school students there. We were assured that they would understand the stories in English but it proved the opposite and we had to ask the Zambians present to retell the stories in the language of that area. That does not mean that Zambians are incapable of learning English but it does mean that they did not have enough English to discuss the stories. The same is true in Kenya and elsewhere. 

c) I think we have not paid enough attention to an English medium environment. Very bright students will learn whatever the environment and I have seen that with some of my own students.  Medium bright need sufficient environment. In the past that was provided in two main ways ... the school environment was supposed to be English. I do not like the colonial methods of crime (speaking Swahili) and punishment (yoke on the neck) but the intention was to take English beyond the classroom ... secondly there were books and people actually read books for pleasure.  How many people learned their English from James Hadley Chase? I remember several of my students improved their English immensely just because they had to read so many literature books (in those days there was no linguistics). Now where are the books and apart from a small, largely urbanised middle class, where is the English medium environment.

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["I have two problems here, especially for people who advocate for the use of Kiswahili for scientific inquiry and communication. First, we are being told we should switch to Kiswahili because we Tanzanians are not good at or have failed to master English. I find this to be escapist and self-defeating. It is kind of suggesting that Tanzanians have something problematic in their DNA which is preventing them from learning English, which I categorically refuse to accept. Please find good reasons. And please give us relevant examples closer home. This constant reference to Germany, France, Norway, Finland, China does not help us much because of the clear contextual differences. Please give examples closer home such as Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, etc. I mean, these are our peers" - Professor Mkumbo]

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I would like a little more evidence that the performance of the students at Primary leaving exam is not significantly different from Secondary. Even when I was marking the National Exams 25 years ago, you could mark whole schools in 5 minutes as not one student wrote more than 3 lines, or if they did, they had copied from the comprehension passage.  And that was long before shule za kata. 

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"Second, it is too simplistic to associate our current problems in the education sector with the use of English as a language of teaching and learning. We have done analysis, using established experimental designs, to establish what is preventing learning in our schools. I apologise to tell you that language is not one of the significant factors, sorry! Again, as we have always said, the performance of our students in Primary School Leaving Examinations, where Kiswahili is used from morning to evening, is not significantly different from the performance in Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations. Thus, the only basis to argue for the use of Kiswahili is on cultural grounds, which some of us are not prepared to indulge into. " - Professor Mkumbo

"Prof. Kitila [Mkumbo], tafiti zenu tu ndizo za kitaalamu/kisayansi - za tamasha na loitasa zenyewe ni uzushi/uwongo mtupu?" - Mwanafunzi Chambi
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I object to the inference that our studies or Uwezo's studies were not scientific. Students were randomly selected and given the same passage from a Standard 2 Text and with the same questions. You don't have to be very scientific to know if they managed to answer the question or not.  And the fact remains that only 25% could comfortably answer questions on a Standard Two text. 

I would therefore like to be disingenuous in reply.  Why are those who argue for English prepared to continue putting the majority of our students today ... not tomorrow, not in 25 years time ... through four years of not understanding what they are taught.  I repeat again that everyone knows that language alone is not the issue, there are many many more but it is the point of entry to comprehension of whatever little teaching they may or may not get.

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