By Henry Kyambalesa
There are no tangible or conceivable benefits to the nation and/or to school-going children which are likely to accrue from the contemplated change in the language of instruction from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.
Nationalism as an end in itself has become irrelevant in a globalizing national context. English, whether we like it or not, has become the ‘Lingua Franca’ in commerce and trade in the integrated global market for goods, services, labor, capital, and technology.
Any country that wants to compete on the global or world stage, therefore, would do well not to formally and unnecessarily subject its young citizens to a potpourri of tribal local languages.
There are many hitches associated with the contemplated change in the language of instruction in schools from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.
Firstly, our beloved country has become heterogeneous in terms of tribal identities due in part to inter-marriages. There are, for example, many husbands and wives who have settled in provinces which are not their provinces of origin. Imposition of a third tribal language on such parents’ school-going children would be contemptuous.
Secondly, foreigners in diplomatic missions and expatriates based in Zambia will have problems in finding nearby schools for their young children which will not require instruction in local languages.
Thirdly, Zambian citizens relocating to English-speaking countries to study, to work in the country’s diplomatic missions, or for other reasons, will have to enroll their young children in elementary English classes in order for such children to catch up to the level of their classmates.
Fourthly, the Zambian nation is composed of 73 distinct tribes, each one of which has a distinct language. To impose 7 local languages—that is, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, and/or Tonga languages—on 66 of our country’s tribes and their languages would be synonymous to treating the citizens who belong to such tribes as second-class citizens.
UNIP and Dr. K. D. Kaunda kept the country united and stable for 27 consecutive years by avoiding such a controversial and divisive experiment!
And, fifthly, the proposed experiment will exacerbate the country’s deteriorating levels of literacy. By the way, a study conducted by the Southern African Consortium for Measuring Education Quality between 2007 and 2010 has placed Zambia second from the bottom out of the 15 countries in the Southern African region which were surveyed!