Saturday, February 21, 2015

Call for Overhaul

Big news in the education sector recently as Tanzania unveils new education overhaul plan.  I am of two minds about this, particularly the switch from English as the medium of instruction in secondary school back to Swahili.  

One part of me is absolutely strident that all people should know English if they want to be able to travel abroad, communicate with many different types of people, and succeed in the global marketplace.  If a Tanzanian, an American, a German, and a Korean all met up in a bar, the common denominator language-wise would have to be English.  That I happen to be a native English speaker is my good fortune, but I don't think anyone would argue with my notion of the importance of English language skills in such a situation over say, Urdu.
The other part of me, the Toa Nafasi part, thinks that realistically the majority of kids in public schools in Tanzania will ultimately not be world travelers or working in the international sector.  Unfortunate, but true.  And, if we can bring ourselves to admit this, then English language skills are much, much, MUCH less important than say, agricultural know-how and animal-keeping.
That English is continued to be taught in schools I still consider important, but that it be used as the language of instruction is indeed crazeballs.  Particularly when you consider that the switchover from Swahili to English in secondary school is sudden and arbitrary.  And furthermore, that the teachers in the majority of these secondary schools have fairly poor English language skills themselves.

The extension of basic education to encompass Form 4 and the abolition of those nasty standardized exams, I ain't mad at.  Both seem like steps in the right direction.  But as the author of the Newstime Africa piece below states, such changes are gonna be a long time in the making.

Tanzania announced a new educational overhaul plan, one that will extend basic education to Form 4, instead of the current Standard VII.

"It's our hope that when students complete this basic education, which is compulsory up to Form 4, they will be at an age ready to contribute to the country's development," Sifuni Mchome, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, said.

He added during a televised national ceremony that the new system would abolish national examinations for primary school leavers.

Mchome noted that students would have their final exams after 11 years in primary and secondary schools.

He said the new system would make primary and secondary education free of charge at state-run schools.

Most important in the new system is that it will ditch English as a language of instruction at Tanzania's schools, making Kiswahili – the mother tongue of the people of Tanzania – the instruction language in these schools.

English dominated teaching in Tanzania's schools from secondary to tertiary levels for a long time.

"Language studies will then be available to enable students to communicate in English," Atetaulwa Ngatara, the assistant director for policy at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, said.

"Communicating in English is something to do with language studies," he added.

Mchome, meanwhile, noted that the new system would also incorporate vocational education in basic education syllabus to allow students who do not make it to Form 5 to have skills to contribute to the development of their country.

"We need a critical mass of skilled labor for the country's development," Mchome said.

"This cannot be achieved within the current policy, which focuses on filtering and rejecting students without skills through final exams," he added.

Nevertheless, the new system might take decades to take root, some of the officials speaking on Saturday said, because extensive preparations would need to be made for English to be ditched.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the new system was part of his country's Vision 2025.

He said the system took the global economy, and social and technological changes into account.

"In the next seven years, we will have built the capacity whereby every child who starts Standard I will reach Form 4," the President said.

He added that the system would take Tanzania to the next level, where the nation would have skilled people with both practical and theoretical knowledge."

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