Transforming Education Through Technology and Capacity Building

The debate surrounding the language of instruction in lower primary schools in Uganda is reaching a critical juncture before the Education Policy Review Commission (EPRC). The current policy, which employs local languages as the medium of instruction, has ignited a variety of opinions, both in support and opposition.

During one of the recent public hearings, the Acholi parliamentary group expressed dissent against the current policy, urging the commission to reconsider or discard it, labeling it as ineffective and impractical. Anthony Akol, the chairperson of the group, raised concerns about the selection of certain local languages over others, arguing that the policy creates division among communities.

Akol also argued that the policy widens the educational quality gap, with learners in English-medium schools seemingly performing better. He provocatively challenged commission members to enroll their grandchildren in schools using local languages to underscore his point.

The policy, rooted in the 1989 Kajubi report and implemented in 2007, was designed to ease the transition from home to formal education by using the local area language. It aimed to develop foundational literacy and math skills, life skills, and values in a familiar language before switching to English from primary four onward.

Dr. Kedrace Turyagyenda, a former director at the education ministry and a commissioner at the EPRC, opposes discarding the policy. She clarifies that the policy is about using the local language prevalent in a specific area, not necessarily every learner’s mother tongue.

Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo of Uwezo Uganda supports the policy, citing global research that children learn better in their local language. However, she acknowledges the challenges in Uganda’s implementation, particularly in addressing the linguistic diversity.

Dr. Godfrey Siu from Makerere University also favors local language instruction in lower classes, emphasizing learning through play and interaction in a familiar language. He stresses the need for parental involvement, which is more effective in a familiar language.

Despite these endorsements, challenges persist. A 2021 policy brief by Tusome Africa supports local language instruction, arguing it provides a stronger foundation for learning a second language. However, the USAID 2020 Language of Instruction Country Profile for Uganda highlights challenges, including teachers’ proficiency in local languages.

In the field, some teachers and parents resist the policy, associating English instruction with quality education. Private schools, driven by demand and results, largely favor English to align with parental preferences.

The issue of teaching complex subjects in local languages is also contentious. Some teachers believe that local languages have limited utility in subjects like science, suggesting their use should be restricted to social contexts.

The situation in Uganda contrasts with other African nations like Kenya and South Africa, where local languages are used in early grades, with English introduced later.

As the EPRC deliberates, it faces the challenge of navigating these diverse viewpoints and finding a balanced approach to language instruction that respects cultural diversity while ensuring effective learning outcomes.

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