Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tanzania schools to shift to Swahili from English

Tanzania is overhauling its education system. (I haven't been able to find an English translation of the new education policy yet. But the Swahili version seems to be this PDF document: Sera Ya Elimu Na Mafunzo 2014 (Policy of Education and Training 2014).)

A prominent feature of the new education policy is to shift to Swahili as the medium of instruction at all levels. Kiswahili is currently the language of instruction at the primary level, and English is taught as a subject. Thereafter, English becomes the medium of instruction from the secondary level to higher education. This is set to change. But as a news report says: "The document says the government will continue strengthening English in teaching along with Kiswahili during the transition period because using only Kiswahili will require a lot of resources."

However, it is unclear whether this shift will apply to private, fee-paying schools as well. The new policy envisages some regulation of private education. As the news report says: "After years of being driven by market forces, private schools in Tanzania will have a regulator to ensure that the cost of education is realistic and provides value for money. The idea is to make sure that school owners do not overcharge parents who shun public schools in search of quality education in the mushrooming private schools."

But there is no mention in the news report of whether the private schools' medium of instruction will also be regulated. In the absence of that, as one observer warns: "I suspect one effect of this legislation will be an increase in enrollments in private schools that continue to offer tuition in English. Keep an eye open for politicians opening new English medium schools in the near future!"

English-medium education thus will once again create two streams of learners. The first of those in poorly resourced, poorly run government schools which have a non-English medium of instruction. To these will come those who cannot afford the second stream. This second stream being low-cost, fee-paying, English-medium schools. Parents send children to these schools at great expense. But these too have poor learning outcomes. As indeed we have seen in the case of the Andhra Pradesh School Choice Study.

The (urban) elites, in Tanzania as in India, are far removed from these problems, as an observer remarks: "Their children go to international schools [where the language of instruction is English]. We, the poor ones, will continue with going to under-performing and poorly equipped schools and continue with our English of ya, ya, yes no yes no. At the same time their children are speaking English fluently."