Kiswahili language compulsory in primary, secondary schools – Cabinet

Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Dr Chris Baryomunsi said Cabinet agreed that training programmes for Parliament, cabinet and the media be initiated. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Kiswahili, mainly spoken in the East African region, is a fusion of the dialect born of Bantu and Arabic languages, has earned its place of pride as one of the world’s top 10 most spoken languages and Africa’s most widely used native lingua. It enjoys official status national in Kenya, Tanzania and now Uganda. It is also widely spoken in parts of DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
  • It became the first African language, which is spoken by more than 200 million people, to be honoured by UNESCO.

Cabinet Tuesday approved the implementation of the 21st East African Community (EAC) summit directive in Uganda to adopt Kiswahili as an official language of the community. The The cabinet sitting on Monday further recommended that the teaching of Kiswahili language in primary and secondary schools should be made compulsory and examinable, according to minister of ICT and National Guidance, Dr Chris Baryomunsi.

“It was further agreed that training programmes for Parliament, Cabinet and the media be initiated,” he said.

The development comes months after the African Union — the apex organisation for African states - adopted Kiswahili as one of its official working languages, three months after the United Nations on November 23, 2021 designated July 7 as the World Kiswahili Language Day.

In 2017, Uganda National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) finalised the secondary school curriculum where Swahili was introduced as a compulsory subject alongside English.

It became the first African language, which is spoken by more than 200 million people, to be honoured by UNESCO.

Kiswahili, mainly spoken in the East African region, is a fusion of the dialect born of Bantu and Arabic languages, has earned its place of pride as one of the world’s top 10 most spoken languages and Africa’s most widely used native lingua. It enjoys official status national in Kenya, Tanzania and now Uganda. It is also widely spoken in parts of DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

A teacher conducts a lesson at Victorious Primary School, Kampala, in May. Uganda's Education ministry says it has already distributed Kiswahili textbooks to schools and trained teachers. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA

Officially, it was being used in the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional blocs before AU’s adoption.

Over the years, Kiswahili has spread south of the continent, to parts of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, while Burundi, Madagascar and the Comoros islands have also adopted it.

In June 2020, South Africa introduced Kiswahili as an optional subject in the hope that the language could become a tool to foster cohesion among Africans.

According to Global Voices—an international multi-lingual organisation of writers, translators, academics and digital rights activists—currently, there are more than 7,100 languages spoken around the world, 28 per cent of which are spoken on the African continent.

Despite the existence of some 2,140 local languages in Africa, English, French and Arabic reign supreme.

English on the other hand dominates online spaces in the region.

But this has shrunk to between 51-55 per cent as opposed to 80 per cent on online dominance two decades ago. Projections indicate that Kiswahili, which is now online, will become an increasingly important instrument of trade.
Kiswahili is taught in universities around the world, including in China, while in the USA, an estimated 100 universities offer Kiswahili courses, including Harvard University.

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