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Continuity and Change: Towards a National Language Policy for Education in Zimbabwe

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ISSN ; Volume 2, Issue 5, pp ; May, Online Journal of Social Sciences Research 2013 Online Research Journals Research Paper Available Online at
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ISSN ; Volume 2, Issue 5, pp ; May, Online Journal of Social Sciences Research 2013 Online Research Journals Research Paper Available Online at Continuity and Change: Towards a National Language Policy for Education in Zimbabwe Ruth Babra Gora Lecturer and Current Chairperson of Department, Department of Curriculum and Arts Education, Faculty of Education, University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe. address: Tel.: , Office: Received 23 April, 2013 Accepted13 May, 2013 Zimbabwe is a multilingual country with about sixteen indigenous languages. Among these Shona and Ndebele are the two national languages, while English, since the colonial period, has been the official language. Given such a linguistic scenario, this paper intends to address the question of language of instruction at different levels of education in Zimbabwe. The paper explores possibilities of using either Shona or Ndebele as languages of instruction alongside English so as to enhance partnership and complementarity between the two major indigenous African languages and the exogenous language of wider communication. By discussing the concept of shared domains of usage of language in education in multilingual Zimbabwe, the paper answers the questions; is use of mother tongue as medium of instruction possible in Zimbabwe? And how can a partnership and complementarity policy be implemented? The paper therefore argues for continued use of either Shona or Ndebele as languages of instruction from grade 1 to 7, and for use of either Shona or Ndebele alongside English from form 1 to tertiary level in different subject areas. The implementation strategies recommended and suggested are aimed at raising the status of indigenous African languages. The paper concludes that although using the mother tongue as medium of instruction inculcates critical powers of thinking, English language still has a place in the Zimbabwean curriculum until such a time when Shona and Ndebele have been developed to meet the requirements of science and technology. The paper thus acknowledges that use of indigenous languages as media of instruction has its own challenges. Key words: Language policy, media/medium of instruction, multilingual, official, language, indigenous language, mother tongue. INTRODUCTION Education language policy refers to language(s) recognized by education authorities for use as medium of instruction at various stages of public and private education. The choice of what language to use in education is a sensitive and problematic one in any multilingual country, especially in a country that has also been subjected to the imposition of a foreign official language arising from colonialism. An effective education language policy has to consider the political, pedagogical, economic, socio-cultural, sociolinguistic and theoretical determinants as well as the historical background of a country. The six determinants are very difficult to meet at once because they have different expectations which would make it impossible for policy makers to come up with an all-embracing policy or proposal. However, when making an education language policy there is need to keep these variables in mind and try to give them reasonable weighting so that the policy would be generally accepted. With this in mind, this paper proposes an education language policy whereby from grade 1 to 7 either Shona or Ndebele language be used as media of instruction, as the Amended Education Act [1] prescribes, and from form 1 to university some subjects be offered in either Shona or Ndebele while other subjects would be taught in English. This means that the proposal intends to maintain the practice at initial and early levels of education while suggesting changes thereafter. Let it be quickly pointed 124 Online J Soc Sci Res out at this stage that, for this education language policy proposal to work out successfully, examinations would be set in the medium that would have been used in the teaching of the subject. Another condition for the proposed education language policy to be successful is that change from English to either Shona or Ndebele needs to be done systematically and in phases. Language policy implementation should be a process rather than a revolution so that progress can be demonstrated and measured along the way. On the other hand, swiftly switching from one extreme to the other might achieve negative results. Sudden changes might overload both teachers and students before the requisite resources are developed. A revolutionary language policy change-over would thus provide a stronger reason for negative attitudes against use of indigenous languages in the classroom [2]. Besides, a lot of work still needs to be done in Shona and Ndebele before they can be used as media of instruction in the whole education system. A Brief Background to Language Policy for Education in Zimbabwe As noted by the National Language Policy Advisory Panel [3], there has been a very long delay before anything was done to recognize the indigenous languages of Zimbabwe as being important for anything. Colonial experiences continue to shape and define post-colonial practices in language planning. The colonial role of African languages and English as a language of wider communication persists thirty-two years after Zimbabwe attained political independence. The previous neglect and marginalization of indigenous languages during the colonial era is still carried within the Education Act with reference to medium of instruction. In addition, lack of a language policy in the country since independence aggravates the problem. Zimbabwe, like most African countries, does not have a pronounced language policy. After independence, there has been a series of ministerial circulars and amendments to the Education Act [5] which determine medium of instruction at different levels of schooling [4]. The Amended Education Act [1] is not really different from its predecessors in that all have given some recognition to the indigenous languages at the initial and early stages of literacy. The Amended Education Act [1] states that, prior to form one, Shona or Ndebele or English or any local languages be used as medium of instruction in the first seven years of school, an extension of only four years on what the Education Act [5] stipulated. Such recognition is not very different from what obtained during the colonial era since the government of those days also provided initial literacy through one s mother tongue. In practice however, the indigenous languages are not effectively used today as medium of instruction in primary schools at all. Primary school teachers are of the view that it is not worthwhile to instruct in the mother tongue for a short period then switch over to another medium of instruction for the greater part of one s educational life. In addition, English is still accorded a higher status than Shona and Ndebele in most spheres of interaction. These might be the reasons why application of any version of the Education Act has remained theoretical [4]. Hence there is an urgent need for introduction of a language policy of education which is practical. Reality on the ground is that all the indigenous languages of Zimbabwe have been marginalized and reduced to mere vernaculars without official use or status. As medium of instruction indigenous languages are currently restricted to lower levels of education. Zimbabwean indigenous languages, being used only for traditional ceremonies and to speak to elders, are threatened with extinction. Besides, mother tongue speakers need to exercise their linguistic rights as citizens of Zimbabwe. The prevailing situation renders them linguistic prisoners. One s mother language is a value which one cannot part; it is irreplaceable. The responsibility of a good education system is not to discourage or destroy the learner s mother tongue, but to enrich and help them to develop ability to cope with changing environment. To this effect, some educationists in Zimbabwe concur that it is possible to use local languages in all spheres of life and at all levels of the education system as Mpofu [6] notes. Use of English as a medium of instruction throughout secondary and tertiary education is a mockery of our linguistic and cultural heritage. Matshakayile-Ndlovu in Mpofu [6] opines that the argument that indigenous languages do not have enough sources and appropriate terminology is a scapegoat for those who want to cling to English. Using English denies indigenous languages the chance to develop their own terminology and opportunity to develop and establish themselves [7,8]. Use of a foreign medium of instruction hinders the learning process and reduces the value of our African languages. For these reasons this paper therefore, proposes a language of education policy whereby Shona and Ndebele be used alongside English. It is appropriate now to justify the choice of Shona and Ndebele out of the other local languages. Why Shona and Ndebele? The education language policy proposed in this paper has isolated Shona and Ndebele out of about sixteen indigenous languages found in Zimbabwe because the two are already spoken by a sizeable population. A survey carried out in 1996 by Hachipola [9] revealed that seventy-five percent of Zimbabwe s population speaks Shona; sixteen percent speaks Ndebele while the remaining three percent constitutes speakers from the other different minority languages. With such a scenario, one is persuaded to let Shona and Ndebele represent the Gora 125 indigenous languages of Zimbabwe for it is easier to implement innovations with dominant languages than with languages with very few speakers. Besides being the most widely used of the indigenous languages, Shona and Ndebele are more documented in terms of written literature. Research in the other local languages is still at inception stages yet that for Shona and Ndebele dates back to the missionary days. A language with long literary tradition has an advantage over the others. The two are the most widely used of the indigenous languages even by non-native speakers. Hence they are generally regarded as national languages. Since Shona and Ndebele are studied up to university level, human and material resources are readily available. Effective implementation of an education language policy calls for the availability of skilled manpower. At the moment the economy of Zimbabwe cannot sustain wide scale projects; therefore it would be expensive to provide education in all the indigenous languages. Some scholars might want to raise the issue that Shona and Ndebele are being promoted at the expense of the other minority indigenous languages like Tonga, Venda and Kalanga but this paper argues that, for the time being Zimbabwe s economy cannot afford innovations in all the indigenous languages. Since all the indigenous languages of Zimbabwe, except one, are Bantu languages not many problems are expected if Shona and Ndebele are used as media of instruction. Languages that belong to the same family are genetically related therefore Shona and Ndebele share many of their characteristics with the minority languages. Also as a result of contact, Obanya [10]; and Obanya [11] concludes that the minority languages have become culturally related to either Shona or Ndebele. Some of these languages are closely tied to either Shona or Ndebele such that use of the two as medium of instruction would not disadvantage learners much. A study carried out at four primary schools in the Nyaminyami District by Gora et al. [12], where Tonga is predominantly spoken, revealed that some teachers and parents preferred instruction in Shona until such a time Tonga also becomes examinable at grade 7 level and levels beyond. By choosing Shona and Ndebele this paper attempts to address the three major questions concerning the role of language in education [13,14] and these are: What language? For what purpose? At which level a language will be used in teaching? Based on these questions, the next section of this paper will now suggest language of instruction for the different levels of education in Zimbabwe. Proposed Language of Instruction at Primary School Level Primary education in Zimbabwe runs for seven years. For purposes of the proposed education language policy, this paper will split primary education into two levels; Grades 1 to 3 and Grades 4 to 7. Grades 1 to 3 This paper agrees with the Amended Education Act [1] which states that the language of instruction from grade 1 up to 3 should be any of the three main languages of Zimbabwe, depending on which language is more commonly spoken and understood better by pupils. In other words, students at this level must be taught in their mother tongue and there are good reasons for such thinking as explained below: Peresuh and Masuku [15] and Fawcett in Ngara [16] agree that modern curriculum at primary level of education is based on concepts of activity, discovery and expression. The idea is that young children should be allowed to externalize their experiences by talking about them and to do that they need a language to communicate easily with their peers and the teacher. This is only possible when children use a language through which they communicate freely and naturally. Renowned scholars like Obanya [10]; Fasold [17]; Kennedy [18]; and Kamwendo [19] all agree that initial literacy is generally successful through use of a mother tongue as the medium of instruction. It is for the same reasons that the language of education proposed in this paper also advocates the use of either Shona or Ndebele (or English) as medium of instruction in all subjects from grade 1 to 3. Shona would be used in the predominantly Shona-speaking areas and likewise Ndebele in the predominantly Ndebele-speaking areas (English can be used in schools with a majority of foreigners). Where human resources permit, other indigenous languages can also be used as medium of instruction at this level in areas they are predominantly spoken. Use of mother tongue at this level of primary education reduces the gap between home and school environment thereby providing a smooth transition from the world at home and that at school, observes Kembo- Sure [20]. Indigenous language instruction also enhances free verbal expression and effective communication especially at the lowest level of academic life. Thus use of any mother tongue as media of instruction at this stage, is both psychologically and sociologically sound and must be encouraged at all costs. Grades 4 to 7 For these four grades, this paper suggests that either Shona or Ndebele be used in the teaching of the following school subjects: Shona/Ndebele, Religious and Moral Education, Social Studies, Environmental Studies (ES) and Physical Education. The mother tongue is the most appropriate medium of instruction in the said 126 Online J Soc Sci Res subjects because the concepts learnt in these subjects are mainly drawn from the child s everyday experiences, therefore there is no point burdening learners using a foreign language. In Environmental Studies for example, teaching-learning is based on things like grass, trees and conservation of soil and these can be easily taught in the mother tongue. In a study on language and communication in the teaching of Environmental Science, Shumba and Manyati [21] conclude that when using mother tongue learners communicated more productively than when using English. Religious and Moral Education exposes learners to all religions in Zimbabwe that is, those found in the homes of the different children. Therefore, learning can freely and naturally take place in the mother tongue which in this case is either Ndebele or Shona. In the same vein, cultural matters in Social Studies are better discussed in either Shona or Ndebele because one of the major functions of a language is to transmit culture from one generation to the other. The essence of a good education system is to integrate the school and the world, home included. Some educationists might argue that use of mother tongue as medium of instruction in the subjects mentioned above does not effectively prepare children for higher academic levels where they will be expected to use English for functional purposes. This paper, however, argues that the first language (L1) forms the basis for second language (L2) learning based on Nyawaranda [22]; Obanya [10]; Awoniyi [23]; Bamgbose [13]; and Bamgbose [14] and therefore one would not expect problems since mother tongue acquisition enhances L2 learning. Hence the concepts that will have been acquired in the mother tongue will be transferred with ease to English at a later stage. Mathematics and English from grade 4 to 7 would be taught in English mainly while code-switching and codemixing when necessary. This paper suggests use of English in offering Mathematics at this level as a way of injecting small doses of English language which would help prepare students for interaction at global level. Mathematics has been chosen out of all the other subjects because it does not require much explanatory language which could overload the learner leading to long-term problems. English must be instructed in English language because there is no way a language can be effectively taught in another language. Transmission of cultural values can only be effective in the language of that culture. Linguists concur that language is culturebound [16,24]. Some scholars might raise the concern that there are some concepts in Mathematics and English which would be explained better in one s mother tongue than in English. As indicated earlier on, this problem is easily solved by code-switching and code-mixing. This idea borrows from Bamgbose [13] who notes, It is also possible for two media of instruction to be used concurrently. A bilingual is created this way and it helps the learner to develop basic intellectual concepts in their mother tongue [16]. These days bilingual education is becoming attractive as shall be illustrated in the following section of this essay. Proposed Language of Instruction at Secondary School Level This paper advocates instruction in either Shona or Ndebele for subjects like Shona/Ndebele, Bible Knowledge, Geography, History, Metalwork, Fashion Fabrics, Food and Nutrition, Woodwork, Building and Agriculture. This level is very crucial in the development of learners and it is the suitable stage when students, especially Africans, should be taught to identify with a particular group. A mother tongue gives a national identity; it gives a feeling or sense of belonging thereby promoting nationalism. Kembo-Sure [20] and Fasold [17] agree that a language is a symbol of people s identity as citizens of that nation. Hence we do not need to restrict education to intellectual achievements alone but sound education should extend to the wider scope of character building, the development of personalities and inculcation of human attitudes. National languages are critical for personal as well as national development. They promote national identity, pride, unity and cultural norms and values so as to preserve Zimbabwe s heritage. It is through learning of humanities, like History and Geography, in a mother tongue that awareness is created, on the part of the learner, of the existence of his/her community and of his/her responsibility to that community. Educationists cannot afford to neglect the importance of the mother tongue in the education system, especially at secondary level where the majority of learners are teenagers who are the future Zimbabwe. Criticisms might arise alleging that this strategy lays too much emphasis on nationalism at the expense of the national economy since most domains in industry and commerce still value English language. However, the National Language Policy Advisory Panel [3] notes that practically in both industry and commerce, the majority of the labour force in Zimb
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