UNZA “Experts” Lied about Local Language Education in other Countries

By Chanda Chisala (Zambia Online)

The website of the University of Zambia announced not too long ago that their language and education “experts” were in support of government’s controversial policy of introducing local languages as medium of instruction for young primary school children. These experts based their opinion on their supposedly exhaustive research that concluded that the same policy was already working well in Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa. This obviously shocked many of us who personally know too many Tanzanians and Malawians who openly confess that their countries regret implementing such a policy because of the learning disadvantages it gives them later. We thought that this was common sense knowledge until the “experts” told us they knew better from their more “advanced” research.

I personally got suspicious about the honesty of these experts when I read this blatantly false claim in their report:

One of the presenters noted that “It is only in Zambia where people cry or fight to be taught in a foreign Language at the expense of their children and their local languages because they do not realise the role a familiar language plays in education”.

It is obviously not ONLY IN ZAMBIA where people want to be taught in a foreign language. It is in fact in a majority of African countries and even many countries beyond Africa. Singapore, the country that most Zambians like to cite as a shaming example of economic development because it was once equal to Zambia, is one country where the people chose to be taught in a foreign language (English) instead of their mother tongue when they were given a choice, and they have never regretted this. If our experts do not know these facts, it is tempting to doubt either their honesty or their competence.

But even more devastating for these experts is that Malawi, which they claimed (from their “research”) was enjoying the fruits of teaching kids in the local language, has just announced now that they are going to abandon this silly policy! Yes, the policy is working so well that Malawians have abandoned it and will never try it again!

Let’s quote from the Malawi news article in the Nyasa Times of March 5, 2014:

The new Education Act mandates pupils to be taught in English right away from standard one. Therefore, come next academic year, pupils will learn all the subjects in English except Chichewa,” he said. …. The Education Minister said the move is aiming at improving English speaking as well as grammar for the learners.

“It is the wish of government to see most of the pupils speak and write good English while at primary level. English speaking has been a problem to our pupils even those who completed secondary education,” Kayumba explained.

Kondowe said people have been asking Government to revert to the system in question as he blamed failure by most people to speak the Queen’s language on the current system where pupils from Standard one to four are hardly taught in English.

Since these demands from Malawians have been going on for a long time, how is it that our UNZA “experts” concluded that it was working well in Malawi?

Here is the statement from the UNZA web site that claimed this unequivocally:

Speaking at the language and development conference at Mulungushi international conference organised by British Council, Dr. Dennis Banda, Dr. John Simwinga,  Dr Sande Ngalande, Mr. David Sani Mwanza and Dr. Mildred Nkolola Wakumelo in their respective presentations unanimously agreed that the ministry is in the right direction as the policy is not new and that it is working in the neighbouring countries such as Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa.  They noted that the new policy was based on a series of literacy studies conducted in the past such as Matafwali Beatrice, Zimba Samson, Phiri Juliet, Eddy Williams, Chishimba Nkosha, Ebby Mubanga and others.

Here is an interview statement from Lee Kuan Yew, the first president of Singapore, about how he allowed parents in his country to choose the language of educational instruction and they chose English instead of their mother tongue (notice that they also faced the same issue of preserving cultural identity, but still chose the most logical path):

Lee Kuan Yew: Each state faces a different set of problems and I would be most reluctant to dish out general solutions. From my own experience, I would say, make haste slowly. Nobody likes to lose his ethnic, cultural, religious, even linguistic identity. To exist as one state you need to share certain attributes, have things in common. If you pressure-cook you are in for problems. If you go gently, but steadily, the logic of events will bring about not assimilation, but integration. If I had tried to foist the English language on the people of Singapore I would have faced rebellion all around. If I had tried to foist the Chinese language, I’d have had immediate revolt and disaster.

But I offered every parent a choice of English and their mother tongue, in whatever order they chose. By their free choice, plus the rewards of the marketplace over a period of 30 years, we have ended up with English first and the mother tongue second.

Did the researchers of UNZA study countries like Singapore and Malawi before they claimed that “it is ONLY in Zambia where people cry or fight to be taught in a foreign language…” and that the policy of local language instruction is “working in the neighboring countries [like Malawi]“?

With such tendentious researchers at the institution, is it any wonder that the once-great University of Zambia is now ranked number 3,091 in the world?

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