in defense of swahili

Update: the ministry of education has disowned the directive discussed here. Apparently there are still a few sane people under Prof. Ongeri’s docket. Now if only they could also tell us where they took the free primary education money…

When it comes to Swahili I suddenly go nationalist. I think there is something to be said about a people having their own language through which they can package their historical and cultural experiences over time. Kenya has 42 languages and many more dialects. As a nation we can’t use all of them to store our collective experiences. However, unlike most other African states, we are lucky to have a Bantu language that is widely used and that we have appropriated to be our national language. Through Swahili and effective government we can make everyone who speaks Pokot, Sabaot, Kikuyu, Luo or Maragoli Kenyan by creating an imagined community of shared experiences.

The reason I bring this up is that the busy bodies at the Ministry of Education have decided to make Swahili optional at KCPE level. Pupils will be given the option of taking Swahili or sign language. This is madness. I am not against people learning sign language. My concern is that those who will readily place out of Swahili are the very pupils who ought to be learning and speaking more of the language. My conjecture is that the only schools that will afford good sign language teachers will be the pricier ones in the urban areas. These schools have students who can barely speak Swahili because English is the only language they can truly claim to speak. This is a shame.

While we continue trying to Kenyanize people in West Pokot, Suba, Mogotio, Maragua and Garsen, we should not forget the youngsters in Nairobi. They need to be educated in Swahili too. In fact I think it is time we had subjects like religious and social studies (at the primary school level) taught in Swahili – along with English, Math and the Sciences which would obviously still be taught in English for practical reasons.