The first Zambian Republican president Kenneth Kaunda promoted the ‘one Zambia, One Nation’ motto to unite the more than 73 tribes in Zambia to live at peace with each and remain resolute against colonial machinations. Zambia adopted English as a language of instruction following colonial history of having been ruled by Britain until 1964 when she became independent. The use of English as a medium of instruction in schools, and as a means of communication in public offices, is seen as a continuity of colonialism.
Recently, students from South African universities demanded the pulling down of statues of Cecil Rhodes and other colonial figures. The feeling of inferiority in race can be said to be Trans generational when such statues are maintained, but it is difficult for societies to do away with their history. We cannot live without history. History has a basis for reference to what is wrong and what is right. We may not find it beneficial to delete English from history especially at a time like this when the world is becoming a global village, but we can promote our local languages as well to become part of the global village. There are fears that the continued use of English as a medium of communication erodes Zambian identity.
Educationalists have discovered that learning in mother tongue can bring about many educational achievements which include academic performance, positive self-esteem and the promotion of a sense of identity. Since independence, the Zambian education system has been using English as a medium of instruction. Examinations are written in English and English itself is a ‘must pass’ subject, otherwise one would have wasted all the years being in school and considered a failure after failing English at grade twelve level.
The ministry responsible for education in Zambia has now introduced a new curriculum transmitted in local languages in all schools at early grades from grade 1-4 to provide a firm foundation for learners to understand concepts in English at later grades. While English still possesses a strong command for other grades above Grade 4, the curriculum has to be transmitted through a familiar or zonal language because Zambia is a multilingual society.
A commonly used language or dominant language is used as a language and instruction. If children use Kaonde as a mother tongue or a language of play in an area, such is the language that should be used to teach. However, some languages are spoken more in areas that are not indigenously theirs. For example, there are some areas within the Lunda Kingdom that are predominantly Luvale. These are the groups of people that would have been relocated to Zambezi west By Bruce Miller, the colonial district commissioner, whose decision was supported by Lundas but rejected by Luvales when Zambezi River was said to be the boundary between Luvales and Lundas. These people have lived in Zambezi east for more than one hundred years. The luvales were the earliest inhabitants of the upper Zambezi. They have children all around their small communities in which schools have been built. Now do you teach such children Lunda or Luvale?
The Luvale and the Lunda people of Zambezi district have coexisted for more than 100 years. Aliens would not easily distinguish which language is Luvale and which is Lunda because these people share orthography to a little extent and cultural practices such as the circumcision of male boys and the initiation of girls into adulthood. The two ‘peoples’ understand each other very well even when each one is speaking their own language. But the two languages are different.
Luvales historically occupied Zambezi district earlier. The district was named by the colonial powers ‘Balovale district’ in 1907 as a sub district of Barotseland. The colonialists brought in chief Ishindi from Angola and established a palace in east bank and declared him senior chief. This was despite Mpidi being the earliest Lunda chief in Zambezi east. Perhaps this was a strategy to own the Zambezi district. What is not clear is the fight for Zambezi which was already under the Luvales when the Lundas already had Mwinilunga district under them. It is also not clear why the two tribes should fight against each other when they cooperated in opposing the Barotse Lozi’s direct and indirect rule that was extended to Balovale as a sub district of Barotse.
At the establishment of Balovale district, there were already selected places that were dominated by the Luvale on the east of Balovale. Although some of the places have been renamed with Lunda names, most people around those areas are Luvales and their children speak Luvale. There are no traces of Lunda up to date on the west of Zambezi since the Balovale times. This historical inclination resulted from the type of economic life each tribe wanted to lead. The Lundas were hunters and wanted to hunt animals in the upper forests of the east and the Luvales were fishermen and agriculturists who wanted the fish in the lower Zambezi and farming in Chavuma area. Populations for Luvale as at 1940 favored Luvale majority against minority Lundas in the whole Balovale district.
Although history favors Luvales as the earliest inhabitants of the Zambezi district, we today live in a modern world with respect for democratic values and coexistence. All land belongs to the state, chiefs are only but part of the democratic dispensation. They have a say on issues affecting them but not declaring violence against humanity.
The first Zambian president emphasized the One Zambia One Nation motto so that people can live anywhere they wished. Luvales have chosen to stay anywhere, in the east, west, north and south. If Lundas do not want to stay on the west, Luvales cannot be blamed for that. Agony is coming with the new education curriculum which took statistics of tribes in different areas before determining which local language should be used as play language and language of instruction. It was found that Luvales were on both side of the Zambezi east and west. The curriculum therefore could be implemented in local languages in Luvale dominated selected parts of Zambezi east and in all places in Zambezi west. However, this has met resistance from the Lunda chief; chief Inshindi! He has called on the Government not to allow Luvale to be taught in Zambezi east. The Lunda cultural association complemented this stance against the teaching of Luvale in Zambezi east. This stance by the chief was widely condemned by social media bloggers, others condemning the Zambian government poor policy and asking to revert to old system of using English as a medium of instruction. I am not the judge! But the questions that keep tinkling are:
1. Was the curriculum review done with history in mind?
2. Was their adequate consultation of all stakeholders during situation analysis for curriculum change?
3. Was this the best curriculum change ever?
First, I will not blame chief Inshindi of the Lunda people. There is everything wrong about this new curriculum. I wish chief Inshindi’s outbusts were directed at government’s poor language of instruction policy in schools. But perhaps traditional rulers don’t look that far! The Catholic Bishops gave a statement relating to this curriculum as an imposed curriculum. In an appeal to Government to withdraw the local language policy curriculum, they said, “It is also unjust and a violation of human rights to force children to learn in local languages that are not their native languages. This arrangement will definitely advantage children who are native speakers of the language of instruction above their peers who are not. We urge government to immediately withdraw this policy and engage in real consultations on it.”
The new curriculum is full of potholes especially on the language of instruction. What do they mean by familiar language or zonal language? There is a difference between what is called the familiar language and mother tongue. Mother tongue is the first language learnt by the child from its parents. Even if, in a zone, there are many people speaking one language that does not change the child’s mother tongue just because this child’s parents are found in that area. People carry their languages wherever they go. As parents, we move with our children when we transfer and change places for many other reasons. Though children will play and learn other languages, those languages will not be their mother tongues. Why disadvantage and even confuse them more by teaching them in languages they do not understand?
Our teachers have not been trained to teach in local languages. They were trained in English and to teach in English. How long would it take them to learn to teach in the so called local familiar languages, languages which are not their mother tongues? How much destruction on quality education delivery is done on learners by these teachers without local language background in schools where they are posted?
If this curriculum was imposed, which is likely the case; it is a recipe for anarchy. Is this curriculum aimed at eliminating cultural identity and minority languages? What happens to children who are coming from the different 73 languages living in towns? Will they have knowledge about their cultural heritage? Language helps carry and transmit people’s identity and cultural heritage. Will they have the confidence to learn in languages they find in town, languages which are new to them? Where will their identity be packed?
Geographical and tribal characteristics require serious considerations when coming up with such major shifts in learning. Forcing all learners learning in town schools to learn in the so called familiar/zonal languages, languages that are not their mother tongues is deviating from the democracy we preach as a nation. Town life has mother tongues or English spoken in homes, the so called familiar language is spoken outside homes simply for communication. For children coming into towns either on transfer or change of living place, they have to be compelled to learn in the new familiar language which actually becomes unfamiliar to them. Is the policy meant to ban people from having their children learn in town schools because of language? What is the future of minority languages in Zambia? I see extinction of minority languages.
Suggestions for the Zambian Government
• Withdraw the policy of teaching in local languages in early grades. This curriculum is discriminatory and instigating divisions amongst the Zambian people.
• Government should teach local languages as subjects as it was in the past. Thus, those who speak those languages can learn their languages regardless of where they are found or live.
• Curriculum change should always reflect on history before implementation. For certain places where tribal fighting has been synonymous, allow them to teach in a neutral language.
• Curriculum change should be based on wide consultations during situational analysis or needs assessment stage and results of such findings published and accepted by all stakeholders before a new curriculum is implemented.
• Curriculum should not be seen to instigate violence, rebellion, and should not be used to foster political support for parties in Government or undermine minority groups. Minority groups have a place to live in any society.