When a contemporary lingua franca is of Bantu descent, does this scream progress or make you wanna scream (as contemporary pop lingo may say)?
The East African Kiswahili Commission has been established by means of a protocol unanimously ratified just recently by the National Assembly of Tanzania. The Protocol on the Establishment of the East African Committee is set to be a “tool for advising member states of the East African Community (EAC),” in terms of Swahili research, teaching learning and development through policy formulation, knowledge generation and finally curriculum review and standardization of terminologies. Kenya is listed as the first country to ratify the protocol in 2010, and now the EAC anxiously awaits Uganda to ratify the protocol as promised. The EAC Ministerial Council agreed the location of the commission will be Zanzibar, Tanzania. The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training will collaborate with Deputy Minister for Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, Mr. Amos Makala (a leader most outspoken on opportunities resulting from this lingua franca) to ensure the teaching of Kiswahili in all schools throughout the country.
The question of the language medium as it relates to education in Tanzania has been an ongoing debate for about 45-50 years. It has become more of a debate as the pressures of globalization have weighed heavily during the past two decades upon the use of English as a medium in the competitive global economy. The U.S. government, for example, has created an entire campaign to spread the use and understanding of the English language through the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship – English Teaching Assistantship (ETA).
As you can imagine, there is a great deal to say about such a prolonged question. The argument is often that as Tanzanian students, the attempt towards bilingualism in the curriculum has been unsuccessful, often resulting a lack of fluency in the English language. This question of language has translated over to the acquisition of jobs after schooling, Minister Joseph Mbilinyi asserts that this will bring more jobs to Swahili speakers. As expressed in a lecture series for the International Educational Development (IEDP), the speaker and scholar Dr. Fran Vavrus (at 51:41-55:19) shares sentiments of parents of students at the secondary level fear that with the presence of Kiswahili in classrooms, children are unable to gain fluency in English (She also offers insight on the language question for about 20 minutes, and yes the shout out to April & Josh in the beginning is referring to the members of this blog). My belief is that this comes to a question of human resources. If many teachers are unequipped with an understanding of the English language, then they simply will not be able to pass on knowledge that is not readily available. So, this is not a matter of English being present in the classroom. It is a matter of English comprehension; if the information in English can not be effectively understood by native Swahili speakers then the material being studied is simply being memorized. Language studies have stated time after time, that it is a matter of usability of a subject that enables greater comprehension and retention of a language.
Having Kiswahili as a lingua franca in East Africa demands respect of East African culture and language; it demands the recognition, and the need for some degree of study on it from those interested in continuing or developing trade (developed countries must have their quasi-fair-trade coffees and teas, right?). I personally believe this movement screams progress. How will you develop your own country if your focus for development is seen as coming solely from external influence? With the focus on Swahili as a language medium, there is a focus on building from within; with the focus on achievable bilingualism, the contemporary sentiment of working together cross-culturally enables the union of external and internal intellectual capacities in East Africa.