06:05 pm
23 October 2016

Should African Schools Stop Using English As The Primary Language of Instruction?

In October 2015, Ghana’s education minister, Dr. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang announced the intention of the Ghanaian government to change its medium of instruction. Tanzania had completed the same move earlier, adopting KiSwahili at its medium of instruction in schools ahead of English Language making her the first sub-Saharan African country to officially use an African language as the medium of teaching throughout schooling years. If this is becoming a trend, we examine the scenario surrounding the question – Should African schools stop teaching in English ?

The cause

For Ghana, the major reason for this change is to develop the educational system. Dr Opoku-Agyemang of Ghana claims that it is important for students to be taught in the languages they understand so as to engineer an increased participation in the development of the country.

For Tanzania, English was the sacrificial lamb in an educational system that was bilingual after the President, Jakaya Kikwete launched a series of educational reforms including the language change. At primary level, students were taught in Kiswahili, with English as just a subject taught in schools while from secondary school level to higher institutions , the learning process was reversed with English becoming the medium of instruction. English language was subsequently reduced to a subject.

students in ghana

A pat on the back ?

The major reason given by both countries was the need to fully integrate students with their course contents. Considering that African languages are losing the competition with foreign languages, shouldn’t Tanzania and Ghana be commended for taking such bold moves?

The development of English language from its British origin to an international mode of communication was gradual. While significant colonization victories put English on the right foot to become an international language, the ability of English to quickly absorb significant terms from other languages also helped in its integration into other cultures as well. While these countries are ditching English language as a medium of communication, English still remains a subject in the curriculum.
It is also noteworthy that outside Africa, several prominent countries speak their local languages without any danger of isolation from world affairs. The Germans, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Arabians, Russians have maintained their importance in the world with English as an optional means of communication and more critically, just a course of study that any interested person can pursue.

Reasons to re-think

English language is still expanding. In 2008, Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, adopted English as its official language in education ditching French. Gabon, another Francophone state, followed suit in 2012.
Most reputable schools in the world have maintained the need for students to be proficient in English Language. Most applicants are required to pass their English Proficiency tests before they can make successful applications to these schools. Many fear that making African students have the option of learning English Language or not may create difficulty in successfully gaining admittance to foreign schools.

Cost of transition
Tanzania’s transition is more effortless. With KiSwahili already prominent as the country’s second language, it is only a matter of time before the transition is complete. However, several other countries might find it difficult to emulate this, due to the diversity in the languages within their geographical spheres.
Ghana for an example, has English as its official language but also hosts over 50 local languages. By making one of these the official medium of instruction may launch political and tribal debates in the country.
If Nigeria follows the same path, there may be heated conflicts on which of the three prominent languages; Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, should be chosen. National integration and unity will most likely be threatened if one of the languages is selected.

English language is important in global trade and keeping track of worldwide developments. The choice by most countries to learn English language or use it officially is an adaptation to the present global communication setting.
An official transition to a local language such as KiSwahili will require major revamping of the educational curriculum and provision of educational materials in KiSwahili. Are there enough materials (offline and online) in Swahili or other African languages to help with access to global knowledge? This is among many other queries that stem out from the question –
Should African schools stop teaching in English ?