Compromising development: The Language of Instruction dilemma in Tanzania. Introduction Following release of the Tanzania 2012 Form IV results by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on February 18, the media and the general public have been frantically discussing the fact that up to 60 % of the students who sat last years’ 'O' level final failed the exam.i This has once again raised a lot of concern in and around Tanzania from educators, parents and policy makers. Among many reasons given for the failure, that has in fact been increasing every year are factors like; shortage of quality teachers, poor infrastructure and study tools. The reason that stands out however, is the poor proficiency of secondary school students in English, the language of instruction. In fact studies have shown that the same students do much better in primary school where they are taught and examined in Kiswahili, the national language.
The Tanzanian Dilemma
Inspite of incessant advice by policy makers and educators for a complete adoption of Kiswahili as the only medium of instruction at all levels, the Tanzanian government has upheld the bilingual education system and English is continually used as a language of instruction for all post-primary school education. In fact early research agrees with the promotion of Kiswahili as the appropriate choice as a language of instruction. However, going by the advances of education worldwide where especially tertiary education is becoming more globalised, wouldn’t it be regressive to adopt a language of instruction that is limited to just one country? Unless we of course consider that the returns from quality secondary education would be sufficient for Tanzania without regarding the effect on tertiary education. Or maybe higher education would also have to adopt Kiswahili as a language of instruction. This is before we consider the feasibility of such a transformation most importantly in terms of presence and quality of secondary school and higher education tools such as curricula, textbooks, teaching guides and manuals and obviously teachers trained to instruct post – primary levels. Or maybe the country should take the bitter pill and adopt English as a language of instruction on all levels. In this paper, I will try to delve into previous research on this matter and find a relation between the language of instruction and effect on developmental outcomes of Tanzania both in terms of human capital growth and general wellbeing of citizens.
Does the language of instruction really matter?
From the human capital rationale, language does matter. “Human capital” refers to the set of skills a person acquires mainly through education and training to aid his/her productivity and attain greater compensation in the labour market (Becker 1964). Proficiency in a language of instruction (reading, writing, oral expression) is a skill vital to the development of human capital. As explained by Chiswick and Miller (1995), the language skill “satisfies the three criteria that define human capital,” that is, the costs involved in the creation of language skills, the skills that serve a productive purpose relevant to economic activity in the labour market; and the fact that all that is embodied in a person. As demonstrated by Samuel O. Ortiz (2004) in his assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse students, language of instruction also determines the competence of students in relation to the improvement of their cognitive skills, a means and end to the means of quality education. By discussing cognitive skills and quality education, we get closer to the effect of language of instruction on the development of individuals and societies, both socio-economic and general well-being. According to Hanushek and Kim (1995) and Hanushek and Woessmann (2007), quality of education is a measure of labour force quality based on the cognitive skills attained. Therefore, such big failure rates,...