Many districts are home to people who speak different languages
Ten years ago, Ministry of Education introduced the thematic curriculum to enhance learning in lower primary school (P1 to P3). This curriculum provides for the use of local indigenous languages.
Public primary schools in urban settings such as Kampala however, are allowed to use English as a medium of instruction because of such areas attract people from different ethnicities and tribes.
Districts such as Kiryandongo, Namayingo, Buliisa that are composed of multilingual communities are however posing a unique challenge to the implementation of the thematic curriculum.
Buliisa district, for example, is home to people who speak Lugungu, Alur, Lunyoro, Lunyarwanda among others. In Namayingo,
"Lusoga has been designated as the local language in Namayingo district and yet many teachers cannot even construct a sentence in Lusoga. Many pupils in the district also do not understand the language," laments Kibira Amisi, the head teacher of Kifuyo Primary School in Namayingo district.
Kibiri was speaking last week at workshop on how to improve early learning outcomes for primary and pre-primary pupils organized by the Center for Education Innovations, an initiative of Results For Development Institute.
"The district academic board in Namayingo cannot even set exams in the lusoga, so they end up setting the exams in English."
Elizabeth Bakahuuna, a language tutor at Nakasero Core Primary Teachers' College shared a similar experience.
"When Luruuli had not yet been approved as a language in Nakasongola, we went and tried to teach the children in Luganda. When I went to a school near the lake in Zengebe, I stood to teach and the children could not understand me."
"Do not give up"
Stella Tumwebaze, the executive director, Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE) argued that despite a community having different language speakers, there is usually that one language spoken amongst children in a particular school. It may not necessarily be the mother tongue of a particular child, but the most commonly spoken local language.
"When children get out of class, and they are interacting with each other, what language do they use? That should be used (in teaching pupils)," she advised.
Tumwebaza urged participants to think of solutions to the issue.
"There is the issue of multi-lingual families will always be there because of intermarriages between tribes and ethnicities, but parents still have to promote the use of at least one local language."
Bakahuuna concurred on the issue of children have a common language during play-time.
"I once went to Murchison Bay Primary School, a school that is made up of mainly children of Luzira prison's staff. The staff members are from different tribes, but I noticed that during break time, the children communicated with each other in Luganda. At Bombo Barracks Primary School, the children of the soldiers speak Kiswahili amongst themselves," she explained.
"It is not a matter of forcing people to use a language, but we should have a common understanding. If we the implementers have that attitude of feeling this is difficult, then we are doomed."
Why use of local languages is important
At the workshop, participants were given firsthand experience on an early learning tool kit, which has resources that can be used to aid pupils learn in their local languages.
Wambui Munge, the communications officer at the Results for Development explained why the use of local languages was adopted in the early learning tool kits.
"The early learning toolkit was developed because we recognized that children are in school but they are not learning. There is a push in the developing world to get more children in school, but are children getting quality education?" she said during an early learning toolkit workshop organized in Kampala.
Research and studies indicate that children learn best in their mother tongue as a prelude to and complement of bilingual and multilingual education.
"As measured by test scores and self-esteem, children who learn in their mother tongue when they are 6 to 8 years old perform better than those instructed in the official language earlier or exclusively. Once a child can read and write in his or her mother tongue, the skills are transferable to other languages." says a UNICEF report titled "School Readiness and Transitions".