Revisiting the English-Swahili debate on Tanzania’s medium of instruction policy at secondary and post-secondary levels of education

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Gastor C. Mapunda


Like in other African countries, in Tanzania the debate on the medium of instruction has focused on the use of either English or Swahili in secondary and post-secondary education. During British colonialism, the focus of the debate was on ethnic languages, Swahili and English at primary level of education. Swahili was used in lower primary education and English in upper primary, middle, and in secondary education. After independence, pedagogical-cum-nationalist opinions wanted a complete changeover from English to Swahili. In 1967 Swahili replaced English in primary education, and speaking English in public was frowned on. Consequently, mastery of English declined. Swahili was also to replace English in secondary and post-secondary education, but it has not happened until now. Whilst it is true that most children have not mastered English to be able to use it comfortably in their studies, similar problems apply to children in remote rural Tanzania who have not mastered Swahili, especially in beginner classes at the primary level of education. Yet, the problem with Swahili and ethnic languages is never seriously debated. Nevertheless, English still commands symbolic and material value. Using a translanguaging perspective, we find that the merits of English in education outshine its demerits. It is recommended that the debate take a pragmatic-cum-utilitarian angle that multilingualism can unlock opportunities for learners.

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Research articles
Author Biography

Gastor C. Mapunda, University of Dar es Saalam

Gastor Mapunda is associate professor of Linguistics at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He graduated his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Dar es Salaam, and PhD on split-site arrangement from the Universities of Bristol and Dar es Salaam in 2010. He also did his post-doctoral research at the University of Bayreuth. He has researched extensively in the areas of language contact, classroom interaction, and language-in-education policies, among others. He has worked collaboratively with colleagues from the universities of Bayreuth, Gothenburg, SOAS, and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (ILCAA), among others. He has published many journal articles, book chapters, and books. His current research is on ‘merging local languages and literacy practices in multilingual contexts’ with colleagues from the Universities of Essex, Zambia and Botswana.