Refer to the story “US gives Shs140b to boost teaching in local languages” (Daily Monitor Monday June 16, 2014, page 8). About eight year ago, Uganda adopted mother tongues as the media of instruction in lower primary school grades (P.1–3). Pioneers of the policy completed the primary school cycle last year (2013) with dismal performance in national exams.
The mother tongue policy enjoins schools to teach all subjects, except English, through mother tongues except in urban areas. A school should adopt the dominant language of the community in which it is situated as a medium of instruction but it may retain English if it fails to identify the dominant community language.
When the policy commenced in 2006, many did not welcome it. In a space of 10 months, I compiled about 30 media articles which majorly despised the “mother tongue policy”. Since I was pursuing my master’s degree at the time, I conducted an academic study to gauge the applicability of the policy.
The findings were rather odd. Most school stakeholders (60 per cent of teachers, parents and management bodies) did not know if it was mandatory for their schools to implement the policy.
Almost all the teachers in Jinja Municipality could neither speak nor write Lusoga competently and were largely at pains to conduct successful lessons in the local language. In one school, pupils spoke Lusoga as their mother tongue but their teachers spoke Luganda.
Luganda was chosen as the language of instruction because it is the only ‘Ugandan language’ teachers could manage”. Ideally, however, the medium of instruction should not merely be one which teachers are comfortable with, because the primary beneficiaries of the language policy should be pupils who need to master their own mother tongues as a prelude to learning other languages.
My overall observation was that the policy was misunderstood by most key stakeholders from the outset. In the academic sense, to make children proficient in their mother tongues is to enable them learn other languages with greater ease in future. This can only be understood if stakeholders are mobilised and enlightened about the rationale for such a policy.
The author is a former teacher, a communications practitioner.