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Using Mother Tongue as a Mode of Instruction in Schools

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Proposed laptops for education sector by Jubilee. Proposed laptops for education sector by Jubilee.

The debate on the extent to which mother tongue should be used as a mode of instruction in school continues as many argue that it improves the quality of education. Education experts are now campaigning for children’s local dialect to be used as the language of instruction in schools. And there is also the computers that are expected to become part of Kenya education system at an early age that will likely be discussed when they come and what role to play.

The manner in which language is actually used during instruction is important for understanding of what is taught in class.  When instruction is in a second language and when the concepts being taught lack equivalence in the students’ local language and culture, then it becomes more difficult and takes a little longer for a child in the lower classes to understand. The child needs to make a connection between the world outside of school and the foreign concepts being introduced. This process is made all the more difficult when policy restricts language use to English and prevents use of local terms that might provide the much needed connection.

Education is a basic human right and many children end up missing out on it due to fact that they feel the mode of instruction used in school is too complicated for them to understand.  Using mother tongue language in the former level of education should be encouraged to help eliminate this problem. Prof. Sure a scholar is quoted having said that, “No language should be placed over another, research shows that children taught in mother-tongue perform better. If mother-tongue education is brought back into African countries then children will have same access to education and a cultural harmony will be established at home and school”.

He further went on to say, “mother tongue languages should be promoted and maintained in schools in order to retain diversity of languages worldwide. Prof Sure believes that mother-tongue education will improve educational performance and literacy in Africa.  “Action should be taken to introduce bilingual education in African countries. Mother-tongues languages define the human and if it is killed it’ll be the detriment of identity as Africans.”

Experts maintain that pupils are better placed to become literate when they start learning in their first language, and then gradually move to another language, than when they try to learn directly in a second language.  Studies conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have also shown that children who receive basic education in their own language perform better than those only educated in English.

Campaigns surrounding mother tongue education are now focused on introducing policies that will effectively address mother tongue instruction in schools. Kenya, for example, has a mother tongue policy which allows children in pre-school and lower primary to be taught in their mother tongue. In the later years of primary education and in secondary school, English becomes the language of instruction.


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