Tanzania’s Disadvantaged Multilingual Students and Language of Instruction Paradox: A Call for Sustainable Remedies 

By David Opanga, University of Rwanda, College of Education & Assistant Lecturer, SJUT


Have you ever doubted your abilities to help students with language? We may have grown up in the setting and never realized that something is wrong with what we do with language. And what plans do you have in mind? 

Have you ever doubted your abilities to help students with language? We may have grown up in the setting and never realized that something is wrong with what we do with language. And what plans do you have in mind? 

Tanzania’s government has undertaken multiple restructurings of the educational system since independence in 1961 in order to satisfy development goals and objectives and produce desired outcomes. These changes were motivated by a variety of factors. It turned out that Kiswahili, the native language, was not practicable for the whole education system. In 1967, it was decided that Kiswahili would be the predominant language of instruction in primary schools, while English would be utilized in secondary schools. The debates over language use were shielded at the time by national identity and cultural heritage. This period has passed, and when it comes to language and subject teaching, particularly in science courses, greater classroom participation is now necessary. This begs the question: how long will Tanzania’s disadvantaged multilingual students be locked in a language and subject teaching paradox? What are the possible remedies? In essence, the kick stops with us (teachers and teacher educators). 

Moreover, since the majority of the vocabularies employed in science are in English and/or Latin, efficient pedagogical language strategies are required while teaching and learning science. However, evidence from Tanzania has shown that secondary school biology students find it difficult to cope with learning in the context of a foreign language. The captured evidence below shows examples of how teachers may utilize available resources to help learners concentrate on the content and hence increase classroom discourse. 

In one of my PhD research publications (https://www.ejmste.com/article/practice-in-teaching-and-learning-of-invertebrates-evaluating-the-effectiveness-of-pedagogical-9697) over the current topic, we tried to workout with teachers and teacher educators in Dodoma to try and test some proposed strategies to remedy the language and subject teaching tensions. In this intervention, we identified the so called 7 Pedagogical Language Strategies (PLS) that we believe if teachers and teacher educators can consider them in their course programmes or classrooms should potentially remedy the tension. The following are those 7 PLS and their classroom practical applications through inquiry based learning (IBL): 

1. Use of language supportive activities with examples from indigenous local language. During the group exercise or experiment, students discuss in English or another language that they are comfortable with. The results of the group work or the experiment should be presented in English 

2. Translate in the local language where Necessary. Additional terms from the students’ native language, primarily Kiswahili, are used to underline subject-content themes 

3. Interpret for learners when needed. Use of probing inquiries about students’ everyday lives on a regular basis 

4. Guide students to read, write, and pronounce correctly scientific names and key terms in taxonomy. Students have to pronounce subject-specific terms correctly 

5. Use of language genres specific to the subject and topics. The use of technical terms in all topics is deemed necessary in order to promote scientific literacy among students 

6. Provision of English words glossary for subject terminologies. Glossaries provide additional explanations for crucial subject-specific terminology 

7. Use of simple English sentences. Short English sentences are used to emphasize certain characteristics, such as those of animals 

Final thoughts 

Regardless of our current situation, as teachers and teacher educators, we must ask ourselves, “What are we doing with language?” We need to assist our students in attaining adequate scientific literacy in our subjects, regardless of the conclusions drawn from the question. The quality of talks about language and topic teaching should prioritize the learner and be long-term, since we all know that we live in a world where things move too rapidly, including language 3 shifts. PLS, in my opinion, is one of the possible solutions, but it is more of a means to a goal than an end in itself. 

About the Author

Opanga David is currently doing research for his PhD in Biology Education at the African Centre of Excellence for Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science (ACEITLMS) based at the University of Rwanda, College of Education (UR-CE). David is also affiliated with St John’s University of Tanzania where he serves as Assistant Lecturer under the Faculty of Humanities and Education. He is currently involved in national and international research projects in the areas of science education and pedagogical approaches, particularly inquiry-based learning, and language-supportive pedagogy. David has also published several research papers in highly reputable international peer-reviewed journals on topics such as language in education and biology teaching and learning 

National Language as a Resource for Learning

In this short Video blog, Casmir Rubabumya, Professor of Linguistics at St John’s Univeristy, Tanzania, Dodoma, discusses how Kiswahili should be thought of as a national resoruces for improving learning outcomes for Children in Tanzania. Professor Rubagumya has been central to the development of Language Supportive pedagogy in Tanzania.

Book Launch

“Language Supportive Pedagogy: Theory, Implementation and application”

On 23rd June, 2021, TALAST launched a new academic book “Language Supportive Pedagogy: Theory, implementation and application”. The book was written by TALAST founder members from St John’s University of Tanzania. The book documents was all about the experiences gained during the last 10 years developing and researching “Language Supportive Pedagogy. ”

Language Supportive Pedagogy (LSP) works to improve learning outcome by improving the language skills of students. We do this by putting language at the heart of learning for all subjects. Teachers of all subjects can help students to improve their language through small and simple changes to their teaching practice. 

The launching event took place at St John’s University of Tanzania in Dodoma with guest of honor Dr Mtahabwa, Tanzania Commissioner for Education. Speaking during the event, Dr Mtahabwa the guest of honour congratulated authors for making valuable contribution in teaching and learning activities of science subjects at secondary schools. 

Of this book, the guest of honour, his excellence Dr Mtahabwa said:

“This is an important book which brings contribution to the teaching and learning process. We need scholars who can initiate and solve problems in teaching and learning by innovating and writing as much as possible to address the challenges of education in our context.”

For more information about how to get hold of a copy of the book, please click on the button below: