Originally published on: June 26, 2009
With the rapid growth of foreign languages making their headway in some of the African countries, Tanzania too although it has been and it still is a strong promoter of the use of the Swahili
language is not an exception. Tanzania is currently faced with the dilemma of not knowing whether to embrace the new culture of widely using the English language or brave in the face of criticism with the use of Kiswahili in almost all levels.
Tanzania has been applauded generously by its neighbours and by the members of the international community for using Kiswahili not only as the medium of communication but also as a tool of fostering the country’s national unity.
However, in comparison with its neighboring countries like Kenya and Uganda, which are widely using English in their daily chores, the Tanzanian population feels that, they have not received the best part of the treatment in terms of quality education compared to their neighbors.
As a result, parents had started objecting to the continuous use of Swahili in the curriculum while others had started sending out their children to attend schools of the neighboring countries in the hope that, they will return home equipped with what is termed as ‘quality education’. It is the same trend which also gave birth to a mushroom of the so called English Medium Schools which only children of the well to do in the society secured admission.
All in all, much as the Tanzanian people have succumbed to this new trend but there are also the hard cores who still strongly feel that, Kiswahili should still continue to be part and parcel of our lives. “I am one of those who strongly recommend the use of Kiswahili in almost all levels in Tanzania,” admitted the Tanzanian professor in Phonetics in an exclusive interview with The East African Tribune.
Professor Atwaya Said Nchimbi said that, it is high time that the Tanzanian government takes a bold decision and decide whether to continue using Kiswahili or English as a teaching language.
On the same note, professor Nchimbi was quick to cautioned that, for better understanding and effective communication during the teaching process, then Kiswahili should be given an upper hand.
“We had this debate since in the 80’s whether to use Kiswahili or English as a teaching language in higher levels,” said Nchimbi and added, ” We were actually divided into two groups, one group was recommending the use of Kiswahili while the other group was recommending the use of English as a teaching language. But later we resorted to the use of English due to lack of enough teaching materials in Kiswahili and lack of preparedness on the teachers’ side to use Kiswahili for teaching subjects like chemistry, physics and biology.”
On this particular instance, Professor Nchimbi strongly differs with those who claim that, Tanzania has lagged behind because of the English language and argues that, English is only a tool of communication and not education. He gave an example of Kenya and Uganda for having excelled in the English language simply because they have been taught the language effectively, but he objected the fact that Kenya or Uganda’s level of education is better than that one of Tanzania.
“It is true that we lagged behind in the English language but not in education. See for example in Tanzania, our cars are being repaired in the same standard like those ones of Uganda or Kenya, yet our technicians don’t have even a certificate leave alone speaking English,” elaborated professor Nchimbi.
Among other examples given is the case of Japan, China or Germany which don’t use English yet they have made milestone achievements in industrialization. This therefore, means that, according to Nchimbi’s explanation, that the use of Kiswahili would never render Tanzania a failure in undertaking any technological advancement, be it in making cars, bombs or anything. “Knowing English does not mean being educated, but it simply means that, having mastered a tool would facilitate ones way to seeking knowledge, and if we want to use English as a teaching language then we should be taught the language first so as to master it well in order to apply it in our curriculum” he suggested.Professor Nchimbi also emphasized the fact that, Tanzania just like any other society in the world need other languages for educational purposes which doesn’t mean English only but also other languages like French, Germany, Japanese, Arabic and others.
“We don’t need to shut our doors to other languages as long as they help us develop but it also doesn’t mean that we should stop using Kiswahili”, concluded the professor.