In a brazen move to breathe life into their failing education system, Tanzania through their President Jakaya Kikwete, has launched a new policy that will replace English with Kiswahili as the language of instruction. This change is in line with the Vision 2025 framework for development, which if implemented properly could eventually see Tanzania become the economic giant of East Africa. Other changes that he announced include free education at both the primary and secondary school levels, extending basic education from seven years to eleven years and abolishing national examinations for primary school leavers.
The move follows a trend that is currently very popular in the East African region which sees government policies shifting towards knowledge based self-employed population. Above and beyond the changes the Tanzanian government plans to incorporate vocational education in the basic education syllabus. The thought process behind this move is to ensure that students who do not make it all the way Form Five still have the skills to contribute to the development of the country. As it stands Tanzania has an unemployment rate of 11% of the population and an adult literacy rate of 68% the figures speak for themselves: the time for change had undoubtedly come. Kenya under President Kenyatta also rebranded their National Youth Service last year to incorporate vocational training, and to support the national education system in empowering the youth to take control of their own lives. Rwanda similarly recently overhauled their education system to be encompass practical learning rather than theoretical.
The major problem with the Tanzanian education system is that up until secondary school virtually all communication is done in Kiswahili. This makes it extremely difficult for the bulk of the population to complete secondary, because learning new things in an entirely new language is truthfully an uphill battle. Moreover many of the teachers of the national system have problems with English themselves. Critics will belittle this policy change as backward because it takes Tanzania away from the international community. However what they fail to realize is that the shift from English to Kiswahiliill empower literally millions of people across the country to continue with their education, and these people will now be able to blossom into entrepreneurs who have the know-how to run their own home grown businesses, which is clearly the priority of the government. The foreign direct investment presently stands at a paltry $1,095,401,000 which is in contrast with the potential of the country; many economists see Tanzania as a ‘sleeping giant’ because of all its vast underdeveloped sectors and unexploited natural resources.
Directly translated ‘twende kazi’ means let’s get to work, and that is exactly what the Tanzanian government needs to do. It will take at least seven years to completely phase out English and then probably another 10 to see if the policy is working to begin with. This notwithstanding it will bring education closer to the people and President Kikwete and his team needs to be commended for that, in fact other African countries with the same problem should follow suit!