Trying to learn, but not understanding
Millions of pupils in Africa don’t speak the language used in the classroom.
– Research points out that those who study in a language other than their own will have trouble in passing exams, says Lotta Aunio, linguistic researcher at Helsinki University.
Lotta Aunio has seen these problems at close hand. In Tanzania, she lived with a family whose first daughter was about to start secondary school. Teaching in primary school is done through the medium of Swahili, but in secondary school the only language is English. When Lotta Aunio asked the girl in English for her name, she did not even understand the question.
– How is she supposed to learn anything in school when all the teachers speak English? Even sadder is the fact that her single mom had used her savings for her daughter’s education, says Lotta Aunio.
In many cases, not even the teachers have mastered the English language. Lessons will then be given in Swahili, but all the exams are in English. This means most of the children will fail.
This practice affects some groups in society more than others. Children who speak English, the official language, at home have a great advantage over those who speak local languages with their parents. Just as during the colonial era, large parts of the population are excluded from education and, hence, from leading positions in society. Research shows that all education carried out in a language other than mother tongue is inefficient.
– This is one of the reasons so many pupils in Africa fail and have to repeat years. This is very costly for both the state and families. The lack of books and other school materials is often said to be the biggest problem in African education. However, it is surely more important to actually understand the language spoken in class, says Lotta Aunio.