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Can Uganda ably make Kiswahili popular?

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th August 2007 03:00 AM

THE Government recently endorsed Kiswahili as the national language and a compulsory subject from Primary Four to secondary level, the latter starting with this year’s inaugural Universal Secondary School batch.

THE Government recently endorsed Kiswahili as the national language and a compulsory subject from Primary Four to secondary level, the latter starting with this year’s inaugural Universal Secondary School batch.

By Irene Nabusoba

THE Government recently endorsed Kiswahili as the national language and a compulsory subject from Primary Four to secondary level, the latter starting with this year’s inaugural Universal Secondary School batch.

However, there are only two teachers’ colleges out of the 40 institutions, which can produce Kiswahili teachers. It is only Gaba Primary Teachers’ College (PTC), which has done it for the last three years and Kabale PTC. The other was Kakoba Teachers’ Training College, which was training secondary Kiswahili teachers, but has been converted into a university.

The introduction of Kiswahili is now more imminent with the rejuvenation of the East African Community (EAC). Even Members of Parliament are undergoing urgent training in the language.

Aggrey Kibenge, the principal assistant secretary and public relations officer in the Ministry of Education, says the question of an official and national language has been debated for a long time, but ‘the potential of Kiswahili to promote the desired national unity, patriotism and pan-africanism is far greater than that of any other Ugandan language.’

“Learning Kiswahili will promote tourism, communication with other countries and enhance Uganda’s participation in affairs concerning this region,” Kibenge, who is also the ministry’s EAC desk officer, says.

Kiswahili is spoken and used by a fairly large proportion of people in Africa. It is also internationally recognised and used for broadcast news and recreation/education by international broadcasting agencies.

What is the origin of Kiswahili anyway?

An internet site, www.glcom.com says Kiswahili is a Bantu-based conglomerate of African languages with some borrowed words from other foreign languages like Arabic.

It was introduced by Arabs and Persians who moved to the East African coast, and absorbed vocabulary from the various native languages.

For long, Kiswahili remained limited to the people of the East African coast, but spread to the interior of Tanzania and Kenya through trade and migration.

It was the colonial administrators who pioneered the effort of standardising the Kiswahili language.

During Amin’s rule, Kiswahili was declared the national language of Uganda, but the declaration has never been seriously observed nor repealed by the successive governments.

How ready are we for Swahili?

The 1992 Government White Paper on the education policy review recommended that Kiswahili be integrated in Uganda’s education system starting from P.5.

However, Kibenge says Kiswahili will be gradually introduced in P.4 and shall be examinable in the Primary Leaving Examinations.

He says the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) at Kyambogo has been charged with the responsibility to develop the curriculum and other study materials.

Francis Kaleeba, NCDC’s curriculum specialist, says: “A few curriculum materials like the P.4 syllabus, teachers’ guide and learners’ books have been developed, but there is still a lot to be desired. There is a government fund to facilitate schools to buy such books, but there is none for Kiswahili yet.

“Besides, we are short of teachers. Kyambogo University is training teachers in batches of 35. The course takes two years and we shall be disseminating our first batch this year. These will help top up the ‘scanty’ ones already in the field,” Kaleeba says. He adds: “The plan is to train both pre-service and in-service teachers. Hopefully, with time, at least each teachers’ college will have one Kiswahili instructor.”

With Kyambogo University and the other PTCs producing just about 100 teachers a year, it will take Uganda over a century to train enough Kiswahili teachers to cover the 13,000 primary schools.

Kibenge says: “We are still on the drawing board. We must be sure that we have teachers in each school first. We are also considering recruiting specialists from Tanzania and Kenya to assist in training teachers and preparing instructional materials, besides sending batches of teachers to these countries for training. But there is a challenge in remuneration and resettlement which we have to address,” Kibenge says.

He says the sectoral council at the EAC secretariat is considering an East African Kiswahili council so that member states can be assisted to promote the use of the language, although they are asked to promote local and other languages as well.

“For starters, we shall introduce Kiswahili as a subject in selected primary schools and progressively extend it to more, according to increased availability of teachers and instructional materials,” Kibenge says.

Way forward

Aggrey Kaggwa, the Director Kampala Institute of Languages at the National Theatre, says: “The Government should launch vigorous public education programmes to popularise and promote Kiswahili; mobilise the support of the Church, other religious bodies and social organisations. Let adult and post-literacy programmes progressively use Kiswahili as the main mode of instruction,” Kaggwa advises.

“My major concern is to sensitise the public about the need to embrace Kiswahili. It may be misinterpreted that the Government is imposing it on the people,” he says.

Rev Dr Manuel Muranga, the director Makerere University Institute of Languages, also cautions that Kiswahili should not be ‘imposed’ to the detriment of our local languages.

“We still need our identity. Kiswahili should actually be introduced in P.5 as earlier recommended. Let us use the first four years to consolidate mother tongues; English and Kiswahili can then be introduced,” Muranga says.

He hails the ministry policy, saying Swahili will especially help promote amity between civilians and security forces, the latter who are already accustomed to the language. Besides, it will enable job mobility in the region.”

Can Uganda ably make Kiswahili popular?

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