English vs Kiswahili: Tanzania at Crossroads

Published on 18th September 2007

The recent thinking in Tanzania that instructing by means of Kiswahili in secondary schools and colleges diminishes learners’ ability to acquire jobs is a fallacy. If thinking and innovation are pegged on the knowledge of English language, why are the Chinese and Japanese, for example, influencing the world in spite of their deficiency in English? Why is Ronaldo - a Brazilian footballer who has no knowledge of English - feted in the world?

A country that frowns upon meaningful education will never prosper. ‘Education’ is not the mere hoarding of certificates and knowledge of numerous languages. Meaningful education should give rise to creativity, sound thinking, self awareness and productivity.

In Tanzania, the government recognizes that far from education aiming at inculcating writing, numeracy and communication skills, it is supposed to spur creative thinking; innovation; self awareness; work ethics and good character. In addition, it is out to make the learner relate the interconnection between the past, present and future; harness natural resources for progress as well as preserve and perpetuate culture.

Do any of these objectives state that the aim of education in Tanzania is to make Tanzanians know how to speak English? Tanzanians are at liberty to learn any language they desire. That's why many of them understand French, Latin, Russian, Germany and Arabic among others. My main bone of contention is why Tanzanians should give preeminence to English at the expense of Kiswahili in which many citizens are proficient.

Tanzania’s problems don't stem from lack of English knowledge or any other language. Many Tanzanians have lived in Europe. They understand a lot of English. However, this has not stopped them from being key obstacles to the country's prosperity. They are lazy and have no element of creativity. They copy that which is European and paste it on Tanzania. They don't believe in themselves. They value big titles and long prefixes to their names but can't think. Don't we see them? Most of them hold big positions in the government but offer no homegrown solutions to Tanzania's challenges. Their ‘imported’ solutions are mixing up the economy. Don't we see this?

Tanzania does not need multilinguists. It needs people who think. People who are innovative. People who are able to create opportunities. People who are not satisfied with the status quo but are always working at bettering themselves and the nation in line with the aims of education.

What are our leaders doing with available resources? Are the resources being harnessed for progress as stated in the aims of education? Aren’t the country’s resources being used to enslave Tanzanians instead of empowering them? While Tanzanians have been reduced to beggars, foreign nations on the other hand, by virtue of their ability to ‘think’ and ‘perceive’ opportunities, are profiting from the country’s resources.

Tanzania has highly educated people. It has professors who have more than three degrees in engineering- but they can't even build a simple bridge to enable their own cattle to cross! We have left this to the Chinese- the Chinese who neither know English nor Kiswahili, but are skillful, hardworking and creative. You will not find the Chinese in the office. They are always on the construction site. What about our engineers? Aren't they glued in air conditioned offices, perched on revolving seats? Is that what education should prepare us for?

Many highly educated Tanzanians are lamenting that they are unemployed. Why- when the country’s forests, wildlife, fish, minerals and fertile land are yet to be exploited? They have too many certificates but can't think. They can’t solve problems surrounding them. They can’t create job opportunities. They can't even ‘smell’ opportunities. They are not productive in their places of work.

Knowledge of English or amassing numerous education certificates does not spur development. Development is brought about by people who think soundly. Innovative people. Creative persons. Does repairing a vehicle, for example, call for English? If it were so, the Japanese would not have dominated the world in car and electronics manufacture. All functional items we use are products of the mind and innovativeness. A doctor is handy not by virtue of his ability to speak a foreign language but his skill to treat. Tanzanians are taking their heart patients to doctors in India who don't understand English but are experts in heart operations.

A language, in itself is never employed but rather, someone's ability and competitiveness to perform a given task. That is why the Chinese are being awarded contracts to build stadiums while our professors, with their English, are being bypassed.

The growing emphasis of a foreign language at the expense of the country’s national language is inhibiting learning in Tanzania. This mistake has been condoned for a long time in several African countries which were under colonialism. In Mali and Niger for example, by the time a learner reaches college level, he will have studied in more than three languages. This creates confusion. No wonder, Mali and Niger are plagued with poverty to an extent that to them, development is a mirage. Should Tanzania walk the same path?

English ought to be treated like any other subject. Education should lay emphasis on skills, creativity and solving problems. Kiswahili is our language, our culture, our gift and pillar for development. God bless Tanzania. God bless Kiswahili.

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