From the foregoing discussions, a number of issues pertaining to language policy have emerged. Some of these include the value of the different languages or the national beliefs in the importance of Kiswahili and English, and the research evidence which shows that the use of the mother tongues as a medium of instruction in early childhood improves learning. All these are discussed in this section. They provide a springboard for the proposals made in A practical proposal of multilingualism in education below.
The main strength of the language policy in education in Kenya, as already stated, is seen in the introduction of Kiswahili as a compulsory and examinable subject both in primary and secondary schools. With the elevation of Kiswahili to the status of a compulsory subject, as already stated, students from all over the country have a chance to know the language they can identify with as Kenyans. It is my belief that Kiswahili is more widely spoken now than when it was not a compulsory subject in schools. It is also my belief that the population of people speaking Standard Kiswahili is growing because students and teachers in schools take Kiswahili seriously because it is examinable and, just as English; it is taken into consideration when students are being selected for various courses in the universities in Kenya. More and more people are able to speak it well even though some comedians, actors and actresses are using non-standard forms in their oral performance and people seem to enjoy this creative use of language.
As observed in Oduor (2010), the benefits of English as a language of international trade, diplomacy and internet communication are really significant gains for those who can speak English well, not to mention the education and training opportunities in the English speaking world. Most of the internet technology is in English. English is used as a second language in Kenya in the day-to-day government business activities.
Kembo-Sure and Ogechi (2006) propose bilingualism in education. Their proposal would be referred to as additive or elite bilingualism, especially the proposal that they refer to as their first scenario because ‘… the child’s native language is intact and develops …’ (Romaine 1989) as a result of being used in education in the early grades as will be seen in this paragraph. Crystal (2003) states that:
in … additive or elite bilingualism, a majority group learns a second language without this being a threat to its first language (e.g. English speaking Canadians learning French) …’ p. 51.
It is this kind of bilingualism that is intended in their proposal for children speaking the mother tongues in Kenya. In their alternative language policy, which they propose for Kenya, there are two scenarios. In the first scenario, the mother tongues are used exclusively up to grade 4. From grade 5 to 8, both English and the mother tongues are used concurrently so that English is introduced as a medium of instruction gradually as the mother tongues are also dropped gradually. English is then used in all subjects from grade 9 onwards. They note that:
In terms of status planning, there will be functional expansion for Kiswahili and other local languages. The languages will be examined and their grades will contribute towards the pupil’s admission requirements to the next grade. This will give the languages more status and they will be more attractive to people who will now yearn to learn them. (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 48).
English, Kiswahili and the other mother tongues are taught as subjects. In the second scenario, the mother tongues, as usual are used as a medium of instruction up to grade 3 and thus ‘Kiswahili could be the medium of instruction in peri- and most urban schools’ ((Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 51). In addition, English and Kiswahili are taught as subjects. They then state that
… from Grade Four up to Grade Eight, Kiswahili takes over as the language of teaching and writing examination except for English language and local languages exams. English takes over as a medium of instruction in high school. (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 51).
In their second scenario, I assume that by the time the children join grade 1, they already speak Kiswahili in addition to their mother tongue.
In this article, I suggest multilingualism in education, where in addition to Kiswahili and English, the mother tongue is also taught as a subject and is used as a medium of instruction. This means that the three languages will be taught and used as a medium of instruction in various subjects. It is noted here that the term mother tongue represents a number of indigenous languages spoken in Kenya. The motivation for the inclusion of the mother tongues in the education system in Kenya is given in some of the paragraphs below.
The suggestions made here towards a practical multilingual language policy in education are to an extent inspired by the current approaches to language planning, which are
… largely influenced by the recent political and social movements such as globalization, multi/interculturalism, pluralism, human rights and democratization (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 42).
Kembo-Sure and Ogechi (2006) note that some of these issues are not completely new. They need to be given attention in order to improve life for every Kenyan.
They also note that the ‘… ideology of pluralism gives room for the campaign to have all languages or varieties recognized and protected by the law of the land’ (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi 2006, p.42). It is also noted that there are advantages of using the home language or the child’s mother tongue at the beginning of their education and then introducing the other languages later on or at an appropriate age (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006). Yigezu (2006) quotes the Educational and Training Policy of Ethiopia which provides the strategy for vernacular education as follows: ‘Cognizant of the pedagogical advantage of the child learning in mother tongue and the rights of nationalities to promote the use of their languages, primary education will be given in nationality languages’ (p. 49). Ethiopia therefore recognizes the advantage or importance of using the mother tongue from the onset of primary education. Like these researchers, the author recognizes the importance of educating a child using the mother tongue and it is for this reason that she makes the proposals in A practical proposal of multilingualism in education.
As far as human rights are concerned the ‘… need for constitutional and/or legal protection of all languages and guaranteeing individuals the right to choose the language in which to receive education …’ is emphasized (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 43). In line with this, the Constitution of Kenya (2010), Part 2 section 44 states that:
Every person has the right to use the language, and to participate in the cultural life, of the person’s choice.
A person belonging to a cultural or linguistic community has the right, with other members of that community-
to enjoy the person’s culture and use the person’s language: or
to form, join and maintain cultural and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society (the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, p. 52).
The Constitution of Kenya therefore embraces the importance and therefore dignity of each language in Kenya. This is in a way similar to the current (from 1991 to date) language policy in Ethiopia, which is spelt out in their constitution. Yigezu (2006) quotes the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Constitution, Article 5, which states that: ‘All Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal state recognition’ (p. 48). It is noted in this article that Ethiopia had, long before Kenya, recognized the equality and importance of all languages.
Much has been said about ecology but there is need to note that:
Planning language for a country must recognize the link between children’s linguistic repertoire and their response to their physical and cultural environment. Since the school is the most powerful socialization agent today, education must promote the home languages … so that folk knowledge and wisdom can be acquired effectively (Kembo-Sure and Ogechi, 2006, p. 43).
The authors further state that this policy will encourage the need to create a balance between exploitation and preservation of our natural resources. Kembo-Sure and Ogechi (2006) seem to support the view that certain subjects are best conveyed or taught to the learners in their mother tongues. This is yet another issue which this article supports and recommends for the system of education in Kenya.
The reason for the recommendation of an additional four years is motivated by a research carried out by Heugh (2009). Her research showed that in Ethiopia:
… students with eight years MTE [Mother Tongue education] have higher scores across the curriculum, especially in mathematics and science, than students with six, four or zero years of MTE. Students who perform best in English are those with six years of MTE followed by English medium, but overall, students with eight years of MTE achieve best across the entire curriculum (p. 173).
She notes that her research findings confirm ‘… the findings and analysis of other African studies on language and education’ (Heugh, 2009, p. 173). Some of these studies include: Bamgbose (2000), Heugh (1999), Ramirez et al. (1991) and Thomas and Collier (2002). In this article, it is hoped that continuing the use of the mother tongue for a year after class will ensure that learners not only get high scores across the curriculum, but also perform well in English. This means that increased exposure to English will begin after class 7 and not after class 8 as seen in some schools in Ethiopia. Heugh (2009) states that the probable logical explanation for the better performance in English by those who switch from six years of MTE to English than by those who continue with MTE for eight years is increased exposure to English.
According to Kamwangamalu (2009), for ‘… African languages to become appealing in the linguistic market place, even to their own speakers; they must be assigned an economic value’ (p. 139). He states that this economic value can be attained by meeting three conditions as follows.
the indigenous official languages must ‘… be vested with some of the privileges, prestige, power and material gains that have for so long been associated only with ex-colonial languages (Kamwangamalu, 1997, p. 249, cited by Kamwangamalu, 2009, p. 139).
‘… in order to promote functional mass literacy and thus empower the masses with the skills they need to access resources, African languages should be used gradually throughout the entire education system’ (Kamwangamalu, 2009, p. 139).
‘… a certified (i.e. school-acquired) knowledge of the indigenous African languages should become one of the criteria for access to employment, much as is currently the case for ex-colonial languages in certain areas of the African continent’ (Kamwangamalu, 2009, p. 139).
It is with regard to (i), (ii) and (iii) that the article proposes the use of the mother tongues right up to secondary schools and in some degree courses in the university. It is felt that if these three conditions are applied to the situation in Kenya, the indigenous languages will have an economic value.
Kamwangamalu (2009, p.239) explains that for the three conditions to be met the use of the ex-colonial languages must be curtailed, while simultaneously encouraging the creation of conditions for the indigenous languages to ‘… play a meaningfully role, at least in the linguistic marketplace’. Unlike Kamwangamalu (2009), this article does not propose a complete curtailing of the ex-colonial language in Kenya because it is believed that Kenyans should go for internationally competitive jobs, some of which can only be obtained if one has good knowledge of the international languages such as English. Ignoring some of these international languages completely could to an extent imply reducing the spirit of multilingualism.
Some of the emerging issues are also viewed as challenges. One of the major challenges is the language policy in education itself. In Kenya the language policy in education does not seems to embrace the indigenous languages to a large extent. None of the indigenous languages apart from Kiswahili is learnt as a subject up to the university. This gives the feeling that most of our languages, if not all, are endangered. In fact, some languages are more endangered than others, for example El molo, Rendille and Olusuba. The Rendille are abandoning their language for Samburu (Ngure, Kenneth Kamuri 2012: From Rendille to Samburu: A Language Shift Involving Two Mutually Unintelligible Languages of Northern Kenya, Unpublished). The El Molo are also abandoning their language for Samburu. The Abasuba had abandoned their language for Dholuo. However, the Abasuba people are currently involved in the efforts to revitalize their language.
The Constitution of Kenya (2010) does not ensure that there is the promotion of African languages in education. To this extent I agree with Kamwangamalu (2009, p. 134), who cites Prah (1995) in stating that:
… most African states have constitutionally created space for African languages, but have hardly attempted to alter what was handed down through the colonial experience (p. 67).
The attitude of the parents, teachers and the students in Kenya is another challenge. Most people want their children to learn English. In Kenya, parents who have the chance of teaching their children mother tongue prefer to introduce English rather than the mother tongue to them. Some parents prefer to use both Kiswahili and English. They view their mother tongues as being inferior to English. This happens even in areas like Kisumu, where we expect Dholuo to be the language of the catchment area. This makes it difficult for teachers who are willing to struggle to use Dholuo in teaching such children from classes 1–3.
To an extent, teachers are also to blame as reflected by Mbaka, Nancy 2010: Language policy implementation and experiences in selected primary schools in Chuka Division - Meru South District, Unpublished. Her study shows that when teachers are given the opportunity to use mother tongue from class 1 to 3, they code switch and code mix. In rural areas, the languages involved in code mixing are English and the mother tongue or Kiswahili and the mother tongue. In most urban areas, the use of indigenous languages in education, apart from Kiswahili, is lacking totally.
Most of the young people living with their parents in urban areas do not know their mother tongue. They do not necessarily have a negative attitude towards their mother tongue but they have simply grown up using Kiswahili or English and when they go to school, they are taught both English and Kiswahili, not the mother tongue. This is an issue that is of great concern in many urban areas as it threatens the survival of the indigenous languages. In fact Kembo and Ogechi (2006: 48) recognize this when they state that in ‘… places like the Coast Province and urban centres, Kiswahili will be [the] mother tongue and thus medium of instruction’. So, they admit that Kiswahili is replacing the mother tongues in the urban areas.
We note that some schools use both trained and untrained teachers. The untrained teachers may not be aware of the language policy in education in Kenya.
Most of the teachers who are supposed to teach are not literate in the mother tongues. In Kenya at present, Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) programmes have tried to encourage literacy in indigenous languages. The education policy as it is at present has not contributed towards ensuring that teachers are at least literate in the mother tongue of the areas they teach in. Teachers have not undergone any formal training to empower them in the use of the local languages in teaching. We therefore do not expect them to have the necessary skills to teach or use the mother tongue as a medium of instruction. Teachers do not have the competence to teach in the mother tongue because they are trained in English.
Kenya has a limited number of teaching and learning materials written in the mother tongue. This poses a great challenge because those willing to teach in mother tongue may not get the necessary materials they require.
It emerges that what is stated about the mother tongue in the language policy is not implemented as it should. Following the specification in the language policy, the Ministry of Education Syllabus (2002) indicates that in classes 1–3, English and Kiswahili should be given 5 lessons each, while the mother tongue is given 3 lessons per week. As already indicated in this section, a mixture of the mother tongue and English or Kiswahili is used as a medium of communication in lower primary school in rural schools (Mbaka, Nancy 2010: Language policy implementation and experiences in selected primary schools in Chuka Division - Meru South District, Unpublished. In urban schools a mixture of English and Kiswahili is used. It is therefore doubtful if the mother tongue is taught as a subject in lower primary.
The mother tongues in Kenya at the moment are not linked with the economy. This reduces their chances of survival in this age of globalization. Kamwangamalu (2009) argues that:
… for indigenous African languages to survive, especially in the era of globalization, they must be given a share of the market value that ex-colonial languages have in the African linguistic market place. In other words, each African country must create a link between African languages and the economy if the languages are to become, at least for their speakers, an instrument for upward social mobility (p. 137).