It is great news that all primary schools are to teach Kiswahili next year, beginning from Primary Four (Daily Monitor, December 3, 2019). This declaration in Kampala this week by the Ministry of Education, should be accepted gladly.
First, Kiswahili is Uganda’s second official language, after English. Second, Kiswahili is a common language of commerce and military service in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, and eastern DR Congo. By extension, Kiswahili becomes best-fit lingua franca for the operations of the East African Common Market as it is spoken by more than 100 million people across East and Central Africa.
Given the considerations above, the move should be commended as the teaching of Kiswahili in our primary schools has been the missing link in popularising Kiswahili. Already, Mubende and Kabale National Teacher Colleges (NTCs) had embarked on training of Kiswahili secondary school teachers.
Government also developed Kiswahili curriculum for O-Level in 2008 and another for A-Level in 2013. Besides, government has hired Kiswahili subject specialists for National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) in 2009 and another to oversee the exams at Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) in 2012.
Despite the justifications above, the government should tread carefully, pay heed to mistrust by some head teachers that they have the Kiswahili textbooks, but not the teachers. This advice is pertinent because some Ugandans are hostile to Kiswahili.
But we also know that younger Ugandans have cast off this phobia and prize learning several languages, including Kiswahili.
Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education should not stampede schools, but smooth out the rollout of the teaching of Kiswahili. Warnings by the Primary Education Assistant Commissioner, Dr Tony Mukasa-Lusambu, that schools that will not have taken up Kiswahili in three years, risk dire consequences, are not helpful. His suggestion that the ministry may set Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) in Kiswahili, are a huge disincentive.
In sum, rather than use threats to roll out an otherwise great scheme, the ministry should answer these questions: What has been the result of the test runs of the Kiswahili syllabus for Primary Four and Primary Five by in-service teachers at Nakaseke Teachers Training College (TTC)? Has the teaching of Kiswahili been enforced in the nearly 50 TTCs across the country to ensure a steady supply of Kiswahili teachers? And has the ministry enough Kiswahili teachers to deploy to the more than 20,313 primary schools across the country?
Rather than stampede primary schools, let the ministry demonstrate they have been rolling out 50 Kiswahili teachers yearly from the nearly 50 TTCs, and are ready.