By MARTIN NYIRENDA –
A CULTURELESS country is astray.
Which, by extension, magnifies that aboriginal language forms the miasma of culture.
Government recently introduced a policy that children from pre-school to grade four be taught in the local languages.
The curriculum would be delivered in Zambia’s seven official languages for the first four grades from one to four and then, in the fifth grade, English would
take over as a subject.
The seven official languages are Tonga, Bemba, Nyanja, Kaonde, Luvale, Lozi and Lunda.
The Ministry has made five changes at primary school level compulsory and institutions have been urged to comply.
Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education Minister John Phiri says the changes on the use of the local language are meant for both public and private schools, while international and private primary schools catering for non-Zambians will be exempted from this requirement with permission from the Permanent Secretary.
The policy has, however, been received with dissent among some sections of society.
Chieftainess Malembeka of Masaiti District says the idea to introduce local languages in primary school is welcome except that not much sensitisation about the policy and as well as consultation were done to empower stakeholders, traditional leaders and parents alike with appropriate details about the significance of the policy and its overall implementation agenda.
“If sensitisation and consultation with traditional leaders, stakeholders and other players were done before implementing the policy, things would have been much better because it is possible that the policy can work on one point and also fail on the other,” she contends.
The traditional leader opines, with lucid concern, that some people in rural areas were not fully aware about the policy to introduce teaching of local languages in primary schools and also wondered if the books in the seven major local languages would be produced, for instance, for mathematics and science subjects.
Chief Mukobela of the Ila people of Namwala fears that teachers might not effectively implement teaching in local languages because some of them do not know the indigenous languages well.
He says Government, through the ministry of Education, should have prepared adequately before introducing the system.
Chief Mukobela says currently teachers of different tribes were spread all over the country and needed to learn the local languages being used in particular areas for them to teach them effectively.
He points out that the system would have some lapses because some teachers did not know indigenous languages well.
Like in other parts of the country where some people have expressed resistance to be taught in specific languages, the Lamba people of Masaiti District have shown repugnance over the idea to be taught in Bemba, a language that would be taught in all primary schools on the Copperbelt Province.
In Zambezi District, Dichawang’a Primary School was recently closed after some Luvale-speaking pupils protested against being taught in Lunda language being spoken in the area.
North-Western Province Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu explains that despite the implementation of the policy having been flawless in other parts of the province, there were problems in Zambezi where people spoke either Luvale or Lunda.
Dichawang’a Primary School situated in one of the education zones of Zambezi East where Lunda is predominately spoken has a large number of pupils who are Luvale -speaking and the parents are angered with the decision to have their children taught in Lunda.
The parents insist that their children should not be taught in Lunda at the expense of Luvale.
Luvale and Lunda are among the seven main local languages in the country.
Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) secretary general Newman Bubala says the policy to introduce local languages in schools should have been explained thoroughly to the communities, through hosting of meetings with the Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs).
“Government should have engaged the local communities, the traditional leaders, PTAs and other stakeholders so that they are able to appreciate the policy before finally introducing the teaching of local languages in schools. This is a massive exercise that should not be rushed,” he intones.
Mr Bubala quips that if there were no teaching materials such as books in the various local languages, for instance, the policy could easily be received with resistance from the intended beneficiaries because the whole idea is not appreciated despite all its well-intended purposes and benefits.
As other commentators continue to add their voices, the failure to successfully implement a rather well-crafted idea to introduce local language as an instruction of learning in primary schools will be, in more than a sense, as good as an academic malady without a cure.
“The process of explaining the policy is long-term and should be given the desired priority,” the ZNUT secretary general gloomily recoils.
But some residents have welcomed Government’s decision to introduce the teaching of local languages in schools.
Northern Province Education Officer Ngosa Kotati says resistance to the new curriculum was minimal as the district education boards had done extensive sensitisation, adding that teachers who were not conversant with the languages used in their localities would be re-assigned to teach classes where the curriculum was yet to be introduced.
“Teachers will now need to acclimatise themselves with the local languages in their areas of residence. “ he said.
“The new curriculum leaves much to be desired. Most families use local languages in their homes and English is the universal language which should not be ignored,” says a parent, who spoke under the guise of anonymity.
Some school authorities have urged the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education to speed up the process of distributing local language literature.
Selected schools in some parts of the country have not yet received the new curriculum.
Adastra Basic School deputy head teacher, Priscilla Hatimbula says the school was geared to adapt to the local language curriculum, but that it had not yet received the copies of the local language literature.
Ms Hatimbula said the school authorities had even set a timetable on how the local language curriculum would be implemented in the targeted grades.
She said the beneficiaries of the curriculum were also briefed and the response had been impressive.
At Shampande Basic School, some teachers who sought anonymity bemoaned the slow pace at which the curriculum was being delivered.
Tendai Mabodo, a playwright and poet, says the use of local languages in learning facilities such as primary schools was important because it defined the culture of a particular group of people such as indigenous Tongas in Southern Province and their beliefs.
A teacher at St Mulumba Special School of the Disabled commended Government for its decision to introduce the local language curriculum.
In Livingstone, some pupils have complained of difficulties in embracing the new education curriculum which involves teaching in local languages.
A grade four pupil at Zambezi Basic School, Barbara Mwaanga says it was difficult for her and other pupils to learn Tonga at school because they were usually taught English in their homes.
A Ndola parent, Sharon Mubanga argues that the newly-introduced programme of teaching in local languages was good, but that it would disadvantage slow learners.
But on the contrary, the cultural variables in indigenous language premised on strong traditional values and norms has never, and perhaps will never, cramp any consciousness of sustainable individual or national growth.
This is not to imply that the most plausible contentions are thinking about the policy to usher in the age of local language use as a learning instruction tool.
With all proper mechanics put in place to ensure success, the policy should not stub the learning community to the heart.
The policy of this greatness should be achieved with enthusiasm. Already, Choma District has received about 2,500 copies of grade one text books for implementation of the new education curriculum on local languages after the launch of the new curriculum.
District Education Board Secretary Mutinta Mubanga says the text books had already been distributed to various schools in the district, adding that the new curriculum would improve literacy levels among the children.
“For the new curriculum to serve its intended purpose, it is important that teachers adapt to this change. Head teachers are also expected to facilitate this adoption and ensure pupils get the maximum benefits,” she said.
Choma has d also received soft copies of the new syllabus which was available to all teachers to acquaint themselves with the new curriculum.
Although local language may be not so powerful enough to describe the infant phenomenon, the benefits of identifying society with its culture should match on and on!
On the whole, the policy is not an invented coin but it demonstrates Government’s affection to promote local language use as a teaching instruction in primary schools which makes the policy even more passionate in itself.