Mother tongue may soon be the new “English” in primary schools

Students put their hands up during a class with standard two teacher Randu Nzai, 42 at the Kadzuhoni Primary School in Malindi. Nzai,married with 8 children, started school at the age of 13yrs due to his family being too poor to be able to afford his education. He teaches a class of 128 students and is a very dynamic. Malindi, September 17, 2004

Pupils in lower primary school may soon be taught in their mother tongues should the new proposed syllabus be endorsed at a national curriculum conference in Nairobi tomorrow. Those to be taught in mother tongue will be in nursery school to Standard Three but it will be optional for upper school pupils.

The national steering committee, comprising of all education stakeholders, met on Tuesday to approve the proposed curriculum before it is presented to the National Conference ahead of its implementation next year. According to the Basic education curriculum framework, the importance of mother tongue is to develop oral, reading and writing in order to lay the foundation for language acquisition.

“The aim of language activities at pre-primary school level is to enable learners to express themselves fluently. The purpose of teaching language at this level is to also assist learners to improve listening ability, concentration, understanding and memory,” adds the framework that has been developed by Kenya institute of curriculum development (KICD).

The Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) on Kenya also proposed that Kenyan children be taught in their mother tongue to enable them better understand what they are taught in school. “Textbooks, when available, are much less useful if learners have difficulty reading them, as was demonstrated in an experiment supplying textbooks written in English to Kenyan classrooms,” states the report that was released last year.

According to Angelina Kioko, a professor of English and Linguistics in Nairobi, the language of instruction in the country is English, and some learners in urban and some cosmopolitan settings speak and understand some English by the time they join school. “But learners in the rural areas enter school with only their home language. For these learners, using mother tongue in early education leads to a better understanding of the curriculum content and to a more positive attitude towards school. There are a number of reasons for this,” observes Prof Kioko.

Written by Eugene Cardus

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