Tanzania Replaces English with Kiswahili as its Official School Language

Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete
Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete
Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete

Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Back in April, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete’s administration announced that, henceforth, Kiswahili will be the primary language utilized in his country’s schools. Tanzania will become the first sub-Saharan nation in Africa to revert back to its indigenous tongue as the primary mode of communication in its educational system.

This effort is part of the continuing plan he had laid out earlier this past February, when Tanzania revealed that it is upgrading its educational programs in an effort to better prepare its youth for a prosperous future.

“It’s our hope that when students complete this basic education, which is compulsory up to Form 4, they will be at an age ready to contribute to the country’s development,” said Sifuni Mchome, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.

He also mentioned that the new system will encompass basic vocational education for students to develop necessary skills, as well as the importance of providing the proper training.

“We need a critical mass of skilled labor for the country’s development,” Mchome added.

Since its 1961 independence from Britain, public education in Tanzania has been bilingual. In elementary school, students are taught in Kiswahili—more popularly known as Swahili in the Western world—with English also included in the curriculum. From secondary school all throughout the collegate level, roles are reversed, with English becoming the primary format.

Kikwete’s decision brings some semblance of clarity to a system that, for generations, has created much confusion among many students, causing them not to excel in either language.

Tanzania has utilized Swahili as sort of a bonding element to fortify its foundation and create a strong sense of nationhood. More than 130 different ethnic groups populate the country, each with its own dialect and cultural customs, having the potential for ethnic conflict of the type seen in Kenya and Rwanda.

Swahili reflects Tanzania’s diversity and history while simultaneously providing a sense of collective identity and cohesiveness. Its unifying characteristics have helped Tanzania avoid many problems commonly associated with local strife.

Tanzania’s self-determining stance ruffled a few feathers throughout the past three decades, as it has continuously shaken off European-imposed imperialisms’ shackles.

The country and its young leader, “Mwalimu” (teacher) Julius Nyerere, were revered across the African continent during the post-independence glory years of the 1960s and ’70s for being the catalyst behind Africa’s anti-colonial campaign.

Paralyzing economic reform the following decade helped the country develop a free market economy, which has created growth, but the country still struggles to tighten the inequality span.

“In a globalized economy where English dominates almost everything—from trade to politics—it is not clear which way Tanzania wants to go in the next five decades,” reads a local report.

This policy bucks the trend in the region, as many local countries have adopted English as its medium for education, with some seeing it as an important conduit to global investors.

Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, “downgraded” French and adopted English as its official language in education in 2008. Gabon, another Francophone state, followed suit in 2012.

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