ArticlePDF Available

The politics of mother tongue education: The case of Uganda



This paper aims to explain the trend of mother tongue (MT) education in Uganda by examining particularly the government’s practices towards MT education. Because of disappointing levels of literacy attained by learners, In English: MT education was (re)introduced in Uganda in 2006/2007 with the hope of improving literacy skills particularly among rural children. Based on data gathered from rural schools (both government and private), this paper questions what exactly it is that government seeks to reclaim, restore and/or rejuvenate in Uganda’s education system via MT education. Luganda translation of abstract: Olupapula luno luluubirira okwanika omugendo gw’okusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa mu Uganda. Kino kijja kukolebwa n’okwebuuza ebibuuzo ku ebyo gavumenti by’ekola ku kusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa. Okusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa kwazuukusibwa nate mu Uganda mu 2006/2007 wakati mu mbeera y’okuyiga okusoma n’okuwandiika eyennyamiza. Okusomera mu nnimi enzaaliranwa kwazuukusibwa n’ekigendererwa ekikulu eky’okwongera ku mutindo gw’okuyiga okusoma n’okuwandiika naddala mu bayizi ab’omu byalo. Nga tusinziira ku byakuηηaanyizibwa mu masomero ga gavumenti n’ag’obwannannyini ag’omu byalo, olupapula luno lulimu okwebuuza ebibuuzo ku ekyo gavumenti ky’eruubirira okukomyawo, okuzzaawo oba n’okwongeramu amaanyi mu muyungiro gw’ebyenjigiriza mu Uganda ng’eyitira mu kusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa.
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Medadi Ssentanda, Makerere University, Uganda & Stellenbosch University
Kate Huddlestone, Stellenbosch University
Frenette Southwood, Stellenbosch University
This paper aims to explain the trend of mother tongue (MT) education in Uganda by examining
particularly the government’s practices towards MT education. Because of disappointing
levels of literacy attained by learners, MT education was (re)introduced in Uganda in
2006/2007 with the hope of improving literacy skills particularly among rural children. Based
on data gathered from rural schools (both government and private), this paper questions what
exactly it is that government seeks to reclaim, restore and/or rejuvenate in Uganda’s education
system via MT education
Luganda translation of abstract
Olupapula luno luluubirira okwanika omugendo gw’okusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa
mu Uganda. Kino kijja kukolebwa n’okwebuuza ebibuuzo ku ebyo gavumenti by’ekola ku
kusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa. Okusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa
kwazuukusibwa nate mu Uganda mu 2006/2007 wakati mu mbeera y’okuyiga okusoma
n’okuwandiika eyennyamiza. Okusomera mu nnimi enzaaliranwa kwazuukusibwa
n’ekigendererwa ekikulu eky’okwongera ku mutindo gw’okuyiga okusoma n’okuwandiika
naddala mu bayizi ab’omu byalo. Nga tusinziira ku byakuηηaanyizibwa mu masomero ga
gavumenti n’ag’obwannannyini ag’omu byalo, olupapula luno lulimu okwebuuza ebibuuzo ku
ekyo gavumenti ky’eruubirira okukomyawo, okuzzaawo oba n’okwongeramu amaanyi mu
muyungiro gw’ebyenjigiriza mu Uganda ng’eyitira mu kusomesereza mu nnimi enzaaliranwa.
Many countries, particularly those in the global south, are focusing on employing languages in
education in a manner that would bring about meaningful learning. Linguistic and educational
innovations are, however, often met with challenges pertaining to language policy and
planning, especially considering that there is a mostly top-down arrangement as regards
language in education in most countries. Such top-down forms of language policy and planning
might involve hidden agendas (see below), as Shohamy (2006) observes.
Kaplan and Baldauf (1997: 3) define language planning as an attempt by someone to modify
the linguistic behaviour of some community for some reason. This means that, when a
language is assigned a particular status, those assign the status have an aim in doing so. For
instance, language planning during colonial times involved identifying languages to develop
for specific purposes (Ricento, 2006). In Uganda’s case, English was promoted during the
colonial era with the aim of producing administrators for the colonial government (Ssekamwa,
2000). Considering Kaplan and Baldauf’s (1997: 3) definition of language planning (given
above), any language-in-education policy has an agenda, be it implicit or explicit. As stated in
this regard by UNESCO (1997: 36) in their 1997 report on Intergovernmental conference on
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
language policies in Africa, language policy is ultimately a political decision that can only be
taken by government.
‘Politics’ refers to ‘the activities involved in getting and using power in public life, and being
able to influence decisions that affect a country or a society (Turnbull, 2010). This paper will
reveal that people with political power can indeed influence and control the use of language(s)
in schools. This influence can take many forms for example, approving the implementation
of a specific language-in-education policy or the production (or lack thereof) of teaching and
learning materials in a particular language.
Ever since the introduction of formal education in Uganda, attempts have been made to employ
mother tongues (MTs)
as languages of learning and teaching (LoLTs). These endeavours at
one time included the use of dominant languages, area languages or languages of wider
communication as LoLTs (cf. Government of Uganda, 1992; Kajubi, 1989), followed by stages
during which English was used exclusively as LoLT (Lasebikan, Ismagilova & Hurel, 1964).
Given the multilingual nature of Uganda (over 45 languages are spoken in Uganda), and its
desire to seek national and regional integration, Swahili has also been proposed as a national
language and LoLT, but with very limited success (Ssekamwa, 2000, 2008). In Uganda,
language-in-education policy and language planning have not always occurred in a
synchronised manner and, as such, there have been periods during which there was no clear
plan to direct teaching and learning, particularly in primary schools. For example, the most
recent language-in-education policy was proclaimed in 1992 (Government of Uganda, 1992),
but the commitment towards policy implementation only became operational in 2006/2007.
The use of MTs in Uganda’s education system has greatly diminished in the post-independence
era and English has taken centre stage, but without an improvement in the low literacy levels
across the country (e.g. see reports of Mango Tree Laηo Literacy Project, 2010; Piper &
Miksick, 2011; Uganda National Examinations Board, 2010; Uwezo, 2011, 2012). This paper
questions what exactly it is that Uganda’s MT education policy of 2006/2007 seeks to reclaim,
restore and/or rejuvenate. In considering this matter, the paper seeks to uncover possible hidden
political agendas in the implementation of the current language-in-education policy. In order
to provide background information against which the current policy can be considered, a
historical overview of MT education in Uganda is given in the next section.
Mother tongue education in Uganda: a historic overview
According to Ferguson (2013) and Ball (2011), the employment of MT education in African
contexts has been informed by politics, economics and ideology rather than by educational
considerations (cf. Ssentanda, 2013; Stroud, 2001, 2002; Tollefson, 1991). This section
considers the motive behind the MT education policies in Uganda thus far. Special
consideration is given to the current policy that apparently started as one calling for the use of
dominant languages in schools but now allows the use of all local languages that meet the
National Curriculum Development Centre criteria for a LoLT.
In the 1940s to 1960s, there were plans to develop and recruit MTs for use in the Ugandan
education system (Lasebikan et al., 1964: 16). Attempts were made to use so-called languages
of wider communication in various districts in Uganda. For instance, in 1946, the Education
Directors passed the following policy on the use of MTs in education:
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
1. The main African languages spoken in each area should be the sole medium of
instruction throughout the primary school (Standard I VI), provided it were
sufficiently developed and widespread to justify the production of the necessary
2. The African languages in small areas only should be used as a medium of
instruction for primary I in the district, after which children should be taught in one
of the more widespread African languages.
With this policy in place, six languages were recognised as LoLTs in the following year (1947)
(Lasebikan et al., 1964: 16):
Luganda, Lunyoro [sic], Lugbara, Teso, Lwo, and Swahili. In addition to these
Runyankore was to be allowed during the first two years (Standard I and II) in [what
was then the] Ankole [kingdom], as well as Kumam in Teso districts, and Karamojong
in Karamoja district. English was to be taught as a subject in the fifth and sixth years.
This policy was in place until 1963, when a new policy was proposed by the Uganda Education
Commission, namely, that the LoLT be limited to Akaramojong, Ateso, Luganda, Lugbara,
Lwo, Runyankore-Rukiga and Runyoro-Rutoro (thus grouping Runyankore-Rukiga and
as language clusters, and eliminating Teso and Swahili as possible LoLTs).
Lasebikan et al. (1964) report that the circumstances in place at that time would make the
Education Commission’s policy of limiting the LoLT to the above seven languages impractical,
for two reasons: (i) in most urban schools, classes consisted of learners from different language
backgrounds, and (ii) if a language has no reading materials, literacy acquisition in that
language becomes difficult. These challenges led to English being introduced as LoLT in areas
where a dominant local language could not easily be identified. For the areas in which MTs
were used as LoLT, English was introduced as a subject in P3
and as a LoLT in P4.
In the 1960s, strategies were put in place for a national literacy campaign. Lasebikan et al.
(1964) point out that, despite the challenges faced in the implementation thereof, the
government division in charge of the campaign (the Division of Community Development) laid
down a clear strategy as regards language teaching.
During this time, efforts for the
development of MT education were in high gear and involved communities and parents. By
contrast, the lack of community involvement and sensitisation is a challenge to the present
implementation of MT education in Uganda (Tembe & Norton, 2008).
By 1964, 20 languages were identified to receive attention for development as LoLTs
(Lasebikan et al., 1964). Seventeen of these had literacy primers and follow-up readers for
adult literacy, and three were in the process of preparing such primers and readers. By
comparison, in 2006/2007, there were only nine languages that were said to have developed
orthographies and reference materials and that were therefore fit for use as LoLTs in primary
schools (Kateeba, 2009). The question arises as to what happened to the orthographies
developed for the other 11 languages. The fact that these languages do not have sufficient
materials to be used as LoLT points towards fluctuating levels of effort to develop Ugandan
A 1985 UNESCO report on African community languages and their use in literacy and
education (UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa, 1985) indicated that, at the time,
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
only eight languages were used as LoLTs for the first three or four school years in Uganda,
namely Ateso, Kiswahili, Luganda, Lugbara, Luo, Runyankore, Rukiga and Rutoro. These
languages were used in first level education, as a medium of instruction in years 1-5 and as a
compulsory subject in years 6-7 (UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa, 1985:
Between 1960s and 2006/2007, the use of MTs in Uganda’s primary education was not
formalised, and it was mostly a practice in rural schools. On reintroducing MT education in
Uganda in 1992 in principle, but mostly because of the language-in-education policy guidelines
issued in 2006/2007, the issue of languages of wider communication resurfaced. Today, these
are regarded as Luganda, Lwo, Runyakitara/Runyoro-Rutoro and Runyankore-Rukiga,
Ateso/Akaramojong and Lugbara (Government of Uganda, 1992), the classification being
based on the intelligibility of these languages to speakers of certain other languages. It was
hoped that the employment of languages of wider communication would simplify the
implementation of MT as LoLT that is, speakers of the mutually intelligible languages in a
certain group were expected to engage in MT teaching and learning under a certain language
label. For instance, speakers of the minority languages Soga, Samia and Luuri (among others)
were expected to engage in Luganda as LoLT as their languages were categorised as mutually
intelligible with Luganda. Such an arrangement has been criticised by scholars as violating
linguistic justice and linguistic human rights because it denies speakers of minority languages
an opportunity to learn in their MTs (e.g. see Heugh, Benson, Bogale, & Yohannes, 2007;
Kirkpatrick, 2013; Stroud, 2001).
In 2006/2007, room was again made for the use of MTs and/or languages of wider
communication as LoLT for the first three years of schooling in rural primary schools (Kateeba,
2009; Ministry of Education & Sports, 2004, 2008; National Curriculum Development Centre,
2006a, 2006b, 2011). (Thereafter, in the fourth year, a transition to English takes place, and
from the fifth year onwards English is used as the only LoLT.) By contrast, urban schools,
because of their assumed complex multilingualism, use English as LoLT throughout primary
schooling but have to teach MTs as subjects. There are, however, no guidelines on how urban
schools choose a language to be taught as MT when in fact they cannot choose one to use as
LoLT. The current language-in-education policy was introduced simultaneously with a theme-
based curriculum which is purportedly more child-friendly than the old subject-based
curriculum (Kateeba, 2009; National Curriculum Development Centre, 2006c).
Against this background, this paper attempts to show how, over time, Uganda’s language-in-
education policies have intrinsically promoted English at the expense of MTs. Considering
Bourdieu’s (1991) work on language and symbolic power, the question arises as to whether
language-in-education policies in Uganda have the inherent aim of exclusion, that is, of keeping
the capital within a small minority.
The data reported here are part of an ethnographic study that focused on how Ugandan teachers
understand and manage the process of transitioning from MT education to English as LoLT.
Data were collected in 10 schools between the months of September and November 2012. Eight
schools were rural (from Rakai and Oyama districts, in the south and north of the country,
respectively) and two were urban (from Kampala district, the capital of Uganda). Data
collection involved the use of questionnaires, classroom observations, follow-up interviews,
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
note-taking and document analysis. Data were analysed thematically (cf. Saldana, 2009) and
quantitatively, the latter with SPSS (although no quantitative data are reported in this paper).
The policy documents were analysed by means of critical discourse analysis in order to point
out the contradictions in definitions and stipulations of the policy. Such contradictions might
generate different interpretations of the policy, ultimately instigating a gap between policy and
practice. All interviews and classroom observations were conducted in four rural schools in
Rakai district. All four schools (A, B, C and D) were located in the same sub-county. Schools
Gov-A and Gov-B were government schools, whereas schools Priv-C and Priv-D were
privately owned. Learner numbers in schools Gov-A and Gov-B were smaller than those in
schools Priv-C and Priv-D. Data related to language repertoires of schools, classrooms and
teachers were also collected, but from all 10 study schools: Kampala schools Priv-U (private)
and Gov-W (government-owned), and Oyam schools Gov-N1, Gov-N2, Gov-N3 and Gov-N4
(all government-owned). This data on the language repertoires were collected with an aim of
gaining an impression of the nature of multilingualism in both rural and urban schools. This
was done bearing in mind that the current language policy mandates schools to select a
dominant local language (i) as LoLT and subject in the case of rural schools and (ii) as subject
only in the case of urban schools.
In the next five sections, we present and discuss our findings. In the first three sections, we
show that the different language policy documents do not use the same language in giving
guidelines for the implementation of the MT education, that the policy has escape clauses and
that the unclear stipulations are prone to different interpretations among schools, something
that one might infer as equalling political play. In the last two sections, in turn, we refer to the
interactions we had with teachers to demonstrate the frustrations experienced by teachers in
implementing the MT education policy.
Possible involvement of hidden agendas in the definition of mother tongue education in
Uganda’s policy documents
As will be revealed in the ensuing discussion, the term mother tongue has not consistently
been used in Uganda’s policy documents. This, we argue, may contribute to the confusion of
employing MT in education and/or be a part of hidden agendas as concerns the implementation
of MT education in Uganda. In the following paragraphs, we discuss what MT as a LoLT is in
the Ugandan policy documents.
The Kajubi report (1989: 33) uses the terms area language and language of wider
communication to refer to the proposed LoLT in P1 to P4. The languages singled out as area
languages or languages of wider communication are Luganda, Lwo, Runyakitara/Runyoro-
Rutoro and Runyankore-Rukiga, Ateso/Akaramojonj, and Lugbara. The Government White
Paper (Government of Uganda, 1992: 18-19), which is an official government document on
language policy in education, amended this to relevant local languages and singled out Luo,
Runyakitara, Luganda, Ateso/Akarimonjong, and Lugbara as LoLTs. National Curriculum
Development Centre documents interchangeably use mother tongue, the first or familiar
language and area language to refer to the MT that should be used as LoLT. The Ministry of
Education and Sports’ Education Sector Strategic Plan (2004, 2008) refers to MT as local
language or mother tongue interchangeably.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
There now appears to be a shift from languages of wider communication or dominant
languages to first languages (L1s) as LoLT. For instance, Kateeba (2009: 3) states that:
[O]n the advent of thematic curriculum [sic], the number of languages approved by
government as stated in the [Government White Paper] have been extended from 6 to
9. Besides the 9 languages that had orthography and written literature, 26 more
languages have developed their orthographies and other necessary requirements and
submitted to [National Curriculum Development Centre] for approval.
Furthermore, the National Curriculum Development Centre has set criteria to be met for a
language to qualify as LoLT (cf. Rosendal, 2010), which suggests that any language in Uganda
(no longer only so-called languages of wider communication) is now a potential LoLT. This
lack of a consistent vocabulary to correctly define what MT refers to in the Ugandan
education system is potentially confusing to teachers and the public at large.
The mandate to choose a LoLT is given to the District Language Boards in conjunction with
schools. A District Language Board is a group of individuals (mostly volunteers) charged with
the responsibility of planning and overseeing the teaching, learning and use of a local language
or language of wider communication as LoLT in primary schools in their district. District
Language Boards are also charged with developing orthographies and instructional materials
for a particular language. In practice, many districts in Uganda do not have operating District
Language Boards (cf. Read & Enyutu, 2004 for an early reference to this situation) and the
formation of districts in Uganda seems to be an ongoing process. By end of September 2015,
the number of districts stood at 132. The continuous creation of districts might well distract
from the implementation of the language policy, because a particular school might be in one
area with a particular dominant language, but upon such area being divided into two or more
districts, the school might fall in a district with a different dominant language altogether.
A question to consider here is why an unclear policy was put in place. The fact that it is not
clear whether every language in Uganda qualifies as a LoLT or whether only dominant
languages in schools should be used as LoLT causes one to wonder whether the current policy
is somehow politically motivated. Almost a decade after the current language-in-education
policy started to be implemented, confusion among schools and the general public is still
present, and there is little evidence of an improvement in the quality of the education Ugandan
children receive.
What is mother tongue education? Policy documents versus experts’ take
A close reading of language-in-education documents in Uganda calls for some reflections. The
first is whether MT education entails transmission of knowledge and skills from educator to
learner using (i) the teacher’s MT; (ii) the learner’s MT; (iii) the dominant MT used in the
locality where the school is located; or (iv) the dominant MT used in the region where the
learner ordinarily lives. In Uganda, teachers are not deployed according to where their
linguistic repertoire would be most beneficial to their learners. For this reason, it is not
uncommon to find P1 to P3 teachers (in classes that are supposed to be instructed through MT)
who cannot speak their learners’ MT (cf. Benson, 2004; Woldemariam, 2007 regarding the
challenges of failing to plan for teacher training and deployment countrywide). In sum, failure
to plan for teacher deployment (and the same could be said of appropriate teacher training) is
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
planning to fail in the implementation of the language-in-education policy, because teaching in
the learners’ MT will not be possible in all instances.
Teachers in this study reported that often the very teachers who had received training on how
to employ MT education and how to handle the transitional class were transferred to other
schools. Note that not all teachers at any given school received this training before MT
education and thematic curriculum teaching were rolled out (cf. Altinyelken, 2010).
Uncoordinated teacher transfers affect MT teaching in schools in that, when a trained teacher
is transferred from a school, such a teacher will not necessarily be replaced with another trained
teacher. The implication of this practice is that a school that loses a trained teacher due to
transfer may well stop MT teaching.
In the literature on MT and bilingual or multilingual education, MT is generally defined as a
language that one knows best or learnt to speak first. In many other contexts, MT is referred to
as first language (L1) (cf. Ball, 2011; Ouane & Glanz, 2010; UNESCO, 2003). MT education
refers to ‘a system of multilingual education which begins with or is based on the learners’ first
language or mother tongue (Kosonen & Young, 2009: 13; World Bank, 2010: 10). Alidou et
al. (2006: 4) define MT education as a language best known to the child, and Ball (2010: 7,
2011: 12) defines MT-based instruction as the use of the L1 as the primary language of
instruction across the curriculum and throughout the school day. The question arises as to
whether MT education signifies transmission of knowledge in all disciplines mathematics,
social studies, cultural education, science, etc. using the learner’s language, or if MT
education means that a local language, say Luganda or Acholi, is taught as a subject alongside
English and other subjects, as is the case in the rural private schools in this study (schools Priv-
C and Priv-D) (also cf. Altinyelken, Moorcroft, & van der Draai 2013). It appears as though
MTs in Uganda have only been listed as LoLT but the social and cognitive justice that should
result from MT education has not been brought to the attention of teachers. An appropriate
question to ask here would be whether the language policies indeed only have a political agenda
(Shohamy, 2006) and hoodwink the citizens, as Acemah (2014) has observed.
Mother tongue teaching in urban schools
Policy guidelines provide for teaching of MTs as subjects in urban schools. However, no
guidelines are given on how to select which language should be taught as subject in any
particular urban school. Teachers’ responses in this study indicated a misinterpretation of the
policy (cf. Johnson, 2009 for intepretation of language policy). For instance, respondent Priv-
U2 stated on a questionnaire that Ministry of Education and Sports guidelines did not allow
MT teaching in urban schools; however, the policy documents clearly state that urban schools
should teach a dominant area language as subject throughout the primary school years (cf.
Government of Uganda, 1992; Kateeba, 2009; Ministry of Education and Sports, 2004).
Furthermore, Respondent Priv-W4 claimed that urban schools were too multilingual to identify
one dominant local language to be used as LoLT in these schools. This teachers view is,
however, unfounded, as from the language repertoires of teachers, classrooms and schools
compiled during the course of this study, it transpired that the two urban schools (schools Priv-
U and Priv-W) each had a clear dominant local language; in both cases this was Luganda from
P1 through P4 (and indeed these data were provided by the teachers themselves, indicating that
they were aware that their individual classrooms had a dominant MT and were sure of what
said language was). Moreover, Benson (2005) and Lucas and Katz (1994) are of the opinion
that MT education is possible even in complex multilingual environments.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
Compared with Benson’s (2005) observation, Ndoleriire (2004) has also observed that
Kampala has Luganda as the dominant local language. Given that urban schools are required
to teach MT as subject, the question arises as to how urban schools are expected to choose a
local language to be taught as subject if they are too multilingual to choose one to be used as
LoLT. The confusion that the current language-in-education policy creates around choosing a
language to be taught as subject and/or to be used as LoLT is symptomatic of politicking in
language education, making the language-in-education policy but a document without proper
guidelines for implementation.
Commercialisation of teaching and learning materials used in mother tongue education
One of the many challenges facing MT education in Africa is inadequate teaching and learning
materials (see, among others, Bamgbose, 2004; Dutcher, 2003, 2004a, 2004b; Glanz, 2013;
Read & Enyutu, 2005; Stroud, 2001, 2002; Tembe, 2006). In Uganda’s context, Nabirye and
De Schryver (2010) and Trudell et al. (2012) have reported that materials for teaching and
learning MTs are very scarce for all the years of primary schooling. This has resulted in, for
example, teachers using an advanced user dictionary to teach P1 to P3 learners the MT in the
absence of more appropriate materials (Nabirye & De Schryver, 2010). The teachers in this
study reported that the materials provided by the government were insufficient and of poor
quality, as they did not fully address the curriculum; the materials did not arrive on time; and
teachers were supplied with different materials from those which they requisitioned. Although
this study observed a general consensus among teachers concerning the scarcity of teaching
and learning materials in both rural government and rural private schools, the situation is
deemed to be worse in government schools: government schools receive all their school
materials from government, whereas private schools acquire theirs privately, and government
school teachers reported that, for some subjects, curriculum materials were last received before
The data gathered in this study suggest that there are particular publishing companies
in which
the government and/or Ministry of Education and Sports seem to have a particular interest.
Teachers in this study indicated that, although they make well-researched and informed
recommendations to the Ministry of Education and Sports for particular material to be
purchased from a particular publishing company (because such material is better than that from
other companies), the Ministry will insist that the teachers requisition the teaching material
from a different company. From our interviews with teachers, it appeared that they wondered
whether this was due to officials having a vested interest in particular companies or even due
to outright corruption. Even if not one of these two is the case, teachers’ narratives still
demonstrated that procuring MT teaching and learning materials is politicised as it is influenced
by Ministry of Education and Sports officials. Teachers viewed this disregard for their justified
preferences as concerns learning materials as a game which, we argue in this paper, appears
to be politically motivated. This has far-reaching effects on not only MT education but the
entire education system. The teachers pointed out that the materials from the publishing
companies selected by the Ministry of Education and Sports were substandard, yet they were
the only materials available to government school teachers; therefore, teachers had no choice
but to use these materials, resulting in learners not receiving all the content they are supposed
to. For instance, one P3 teacher in school Gov-A said that the materials with which they taught
a particular language did not cover certain aspects of grammar and that private schools had
better quality teaching materials because the private schools could source their materials from
the open market. Because all the materials government schools use are supplied by the
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
government, government school teachers cannot easily access the better quality materials used
by their colleagues in private schools. Other interviewed government school teachers pointed
out that they were aware of good publishing companies in Uganda, but when they requested
materials published by such companies from the Ministry of Education and Sports, they
received other, cheaper (in the opinion of the interviewed teachers) materials from other
companies. The teachers reported wondering whether the process of procuring teaching and
learning materials in government schools involved institutionalised influence peddling, a
practice that totals to politics in education.
Note also that respondents reported that the thematic curriculum materials were in English, yet
rural teachers are required to teach in local languages. On the questionnaire, respondents
expressed their inability to translate these materials into local languages and mentioned this as
a reason why teaching in the MT was challenging. Consider the following selection of
Respondent A2: (i) We find a difficult of translating some words from English to MT.
(ii) We find a difficult in spelling some words.
(iii) All curriculums were written in English yet we are to teach in MT.
Respondent B7: I was not trained in writing [the local language]. So I find a problem in
writing local language.
These responses demonstrate that teachers face the challenge of accessing the curriculum in
local languages. Given the fact that not all teachers have the sufficient translation skills (cf.
Respondent A2 above), and that they have not been trained in their MTs (cf. Respondent B7),
different teachers are bound to translate the materials differently, potentially resulting in
different subject matter being taught to learners across the country.
In only one of the 36 classroom observations conducted in this study (a P5 English class in
Gov-B) did a teacher bring some textbooks into the class for the learners to use (although not
enough for each learner to have one). Apart from complaints about quantity of the textbooks,
there were also complaints about the quality of the teaching and learning materials. For
example, one of the teacher resource books (National Curriculum Development Centre, 2006d)
contained a number of orthographical errors as well as misleading information on Luganda
orthography and grammar. The question arises as to the qualifications of the authors and their
level of consultation with language specialists while compiling the material. The government
school teachers narrated that English language textbooks were also mostly of poor quality, that
the textbook content did not match the current syllabus and that learners were therefore not
well exposed to all aspects of English that they were required to learn in their first three years
of school. Generally, the teachers also said that even textbooks for subjects other than English
were published in English, even for P1 to P3 where the LoLT is MT. Consider extracts 1 and
2 in this regard, which are representative of the types of responses teachers gave during the
follow-up interviews after questionnaire completion. In the extracts, teacher turns are marked
with T and the researcher’s turns (those of the first author) with MS. Luganda text is in bold
while the English translation is italicised.
Extract 1: Taken from group interview with teachers of school Gov- A
1T1: Gavumenti egenda n’erimitinga ssente zaayo, n’erowooza nti nno ekintu
ky’ereese kirungi ate n’etandika okugamba ssente, kati ne kifuuka ekizibu.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
The government limits it expenditures thinking that what they have introduced is
good, but then they begin to limit money and this makes it difficult.
2MS: Mhm.
3T3: Ne batatuwa na bitabo oba ffe ne balowooza nti tunaabiggya wa?
They even don’t give us books. I wonder from where they expect us to get them.
4T1: Kuba kati tolaba singa syllabuses zonna baazifulumya from P1 up to P7, naye
from P5, five six seven, tezirina butabo buli ku syllabus.
Look, it would have been helpful if all syllabuses were published from P1 up to P7,
but unfortunately P5, 6, 7 do not have books related to the current syllabus.
5T2: Kyakubiri.
6MS: Ekyo sikiwulidde bulungi!
I didn’t hear that.
7T1: Kati syllabus, baakyusaamu syllabus, enkadde eri
The old syllabus was revised. The old syallabus is…
8MS: Mhm, mhm.
Yes, yes.
9T1: Okulaba nga bagikyusizza okulaba nga waliwo amagundi ge baggyamu ne
baleeta empya ze tulina okugoberera. Kati mu kuzigoberera, kitegeeza
bw’ofulumya syllabus n’ebitabo bibeera mu press. Texts zirina okubeera nga
weeziri, kati texts teziriiwo, syllabus efulumye mwaka mulamba ate texts
The syllabus was modified to see to it that some learning areas were taken out and
new syllabi were published, which we are supposed to follow now. When you
publish a new syllabus, it means that at that time books are in press. Textbooks
must be in place, but unfortunately they are not there. The syllabus was published;
it is now a year, but the textbooks are not coming out.
10MS: Mhm. Eeeh!
I see.
11T1: Okiraba? Kati ffe baatutendeka transition mu 2010 ate gundi syllabus
n’efululma, gwali mwezi oba Gwakusatu, ate syllabus n’efuluma mu
Gwamunaana. Syllabus bw’efuluma mu Gwomunaana, 2011 ne balyoka
baleetayo ku butabo.
Do you see that? For us, we were trained on how to handle the transitional class
in March 2010 but the syllabus came out I think in August. When the syllabus was
published in August 2011, it is at that time that some texts were brought to us.
12MS: Nga wayiseewo mwaka mulamba.
When a whole year is gone.
13T1: Yee.
14MS: Ate nga mubadde mukola?
And yet you have been teaching/working?
15T1: Ate bakugamba genda okole.
Yes, they tell us to go and work/teach.
16T2: Kati P5 egoberera thematic class, P5, P6, P7, naye ate abo tebafunangako yadde
n’ekitabo n’ekimu. Kati otuuka nga syllabus ekugamba kusomesa lesson eyo
n’ogenda mu old text nga temuli lesson n’emu.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
P5 is following the thematic classes, P5, P6, P7, but these classes have never
received any textbook. When the time comes that the syllabus demands that you
teach such a lesson, you go to consult the old textbook, but you do not find any
relevant lesson content.
Extract 2: Taken from group interview with government school A teachers
1T2: P1, P2, P3 babaweereza textbooks za Luzungu, kyokka ate nga bakwagala
osomese mu lulimi lwo lwonna. Mu lulimi lwo lwonna.
P1, P2, P3 were given English textbooks and yet you are expected to teach in your
mother tongue. In any mother tongue that applies to you.
2T1: Mu Luganda.
In Luganda.
3T3: Naddala mu Luganda. Abalala tugamba nti bitulemeredde.
Most especially in Luganda. Some of us are saying that we have failed to do this.
4MS: Temusobola kubivvuunula?
Are you not able to translate those materials?
5T3: Ffe situli Bazungu.
We are not English.
6MS: Ate Omuzungu ye yandikaluubiriddwa kati ggwe oba oyanguyirwa anti
It is the English who would find it difficult, but you the Muganda [speakers of Luganda
MES] find it easier!
7T1: Aha, problem eriwo…
The problem at hand
8T3: Anti nange waliwo ebigambo by’Oluzungu bye ssimanyi.
But there are some English words which I do not know.
9MS: Mhm.
I see.
10T1: Voca, waliwo ekibakaluubirira!
there are some words which are difficult.
11T3: N’eby’Oluganda gye biri nga nkyogera naye empandiika n’ennema.
There are Luganda words which I can say but cannot write them out.
In turn 1 of Extract 1, teacher T2 mentioned that the Ministry of Education and Sports sent
English textbooks to schools and yet they were supposed to teach the content of these textbooks
in the MTs. In turn 3, teacher T3 said that some teachers had failed to implement what was
expected of them, viz. to teach the curriculum in MT. When asked whether they could not
translate the materials into Luganda (turn 5, extract 2), T3 answered somewhat sarcastically,
We are not English. This was a strong statement from the respondent, by which she implied
that if she were expected to teach in Luganda, she should be given materials in Luganda and
not in English. The teachers explained that there were English words they did not know, which
would hinder their attempts to translate the curriculum materials into MT. In addition, T3 added
that there were Luganda words that they could not write even though they could pronounce
them (turn 10). If the reality is that teachers are not able to translate from English into MT
when teaching, the question arises as to why teachers did not receive MT material to teach the
MT curriculum. One possible reason why teachers’ guides were written in English could be a
desire by government to emphasise this language, i.e., a reason pertaining to linguistic ideology
(cf. Stroud, 2002; Tollefson, 1991). As there is no shortage of professional English-Luganda
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
translators, the reason cannot be a logistic one, unless there is limited funding for such
It is clear from the above teachers’ vignettes that the provision of materials in English differs
from those in MTs. Also, practically, learners in government schools are not exposed to the
same content as those in private schools given the fact that they do not use the same learning
materials. Also note that, because the English materials available to teachers in government
schools do not have the required content for particular levels of learning, learners in
government schools would not be exposed to the same content for English language learning.
In sum, the education system in Uganda would be producing two sets of learners, brought about
by the discretionary provision of teaching and learning materials and the failure of government
to enable the implementation of the language-in-education policy.
The politics of tests and examinations in mother tongue education
Shohamy (2006: xvi) contends that:
[T]he study of LP [language policy] should not be limited to formal, declared and
official policies but rather to the study of the powerful mechanisms that are used in
most societies nowadays to create and perpetuate ‘de facto’ language policies and
Shohamy believes that real policies of language are created through language-in-education
policies, language tests and language in the public space (cf. Cleghorn, Merritt & Abagi, 1989;
Ndlovu, 2013). Kaplan and Baldauf (1997) argue that, in multilingual contexts, tests in a
particular language signal whether that language is important or not, and may also determine
the acceptance of a language and rejection of others. The testing or non-testing of a language
manipulates language policy and creates a de facto policy which, in a way, represents the
language policy realities in a community and/or country (cf. Makoni, 2011; Nyika, 2008;
Shohamy, 2006). Tests are therefore an incentive to learn a language: if a language is for
instance not examined at the end of an educational level, it will most likely receive minimal
attention in the teaching process.
Furthermore, the current language-in-education policy of Uganda has an escape clause for the
examination of MTs in Uganda (Government of Uganda, 1992: 19):
However, students may or may not offer this subject for PLE [end of primary school]
examination. UNEB [Ugandan National Examination Board] will, nevertheless,
provide for examination in all the five main Ugandan languages (Luo, Runyakitara,
Luganda, Ateso/Akarimonjong and Lugbara) in PLE for those who study any of those
languages as subject for examination.
As Uganda’s education system appears to be examination oriented, the non-examined subjects,
like MTs, are generally not given as much attention as the examined subjects are, despite what
school timetables may indicate (cf. Ssentanda, 2013). For example, refer to following extract
which we reproduce from Ssentanda (2013: 286):
1MS: Kati mu P4 ne mu P5 Oluganda musigala mukyalusomesa?
Do you then continue teaching Luganda in P4 and P5?
1T1: Yee, kyandibadde nti wonna ppaka kumalako seven…
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
Yes, it would be the case that it is taught all the way to [P] seven…
3T2: Nga subject.
As a subject.
4T1: Nga subject, naye lwakuba nti olumu munnange nga bw’omanyi n’abantu
As a subject, but my friend, as you know some people with time
5T2: Ate nga n’engeri gy’etali examinable
And also being an unexaminable subject…
6T1: Kati ekyo kiwa abantu obunafu.
With that people become lazy.
7MS: Eeh.
I see.
8T1: Ne banafuwa. Abantu awo bajjamu obunafu n’agamba eeh…
They become lazy; at that point people become lazy saying…
9MS: N’agamba nti lwaki obudde tubumalira wano ng’ate science ye
They ask a question, Why do we waste time with this yet it is science that will be
10T1: Ahaa. Kuba ky’ova olaba nti bw’ogenda mu gundi, twesiba ku major. Zino eziri
major ze tukola ki?
Yes. That’s why you find that when you go to this…, we only concentrate on
majors. The major ones are what we do, right?
The teacher attitude that a certain subject is not as important as some others can eventually
trickle down to learners and their parents. One of the reasons why parents move their children
from government to private schools (Ssentanda, 2013) (at least to rural private schools), where
teaching and learning is conducted in English, is because parents do not understand why there
is an emphasis on MT teaching if the MT is not valued sufficiently as a subject to be examined
at the end of primary school.
Teachers in this study also reported that they had a challenge when setting examinations.
Ssentanda (2013) explains that private schools use English as LoLT in P1 to P3 while
government schools use MT. This also means that the two sets of learners in the two sets of
schools would not sit the same set of examinations. However, because government school
teachers want to see their learners compete with those in private schools, they often try to give
them examinations set for private schools. Unfortunately, teachers reported that government
school learners fail such examinations. The reason for government school learners’ failure of
examinations meant for private school learners is largely language related. Recall that
government school learners are taught and examined in MT from P1 up to P4 whereas those in
private schools are taught and examined in English from pre-primary onwards (cf. Ssentanda,
2014). Even though learners in government schools may have covered the same subject content
that learners in private schools have, they do so in their MT only; they are not exposed to the
English terminology in the subjects they are learning. It should therefore not be surprising to
see them failing examinations set in a language with which they are not as familiar as learners
in private schools are (cf. Banda & Kirunda, 2005).
Interestingly, none of the schools in the study area set their termly examinations themselves;
they all bought examinations from private companies. These companies also provide two sets
of examinations, some in local languages (for government schools) and others in English (for
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
private schools). This state of affairs in the education system and particularly concerning the
LoLT in lower primary appears to be unmonitored by government. It is therefore not surprising
that in this study area, parents who can afford to pay schools fees move their children from
government schools to private schools, as mentioned earlier. In sum, until MTs are made an
examined subject at end of primary school level, the current language-in-education policy is
likely to remain but a mere policy document in Uganda’s education system.
Findings presented in this paper point to political play involved in formulating language-in-
education policies in Uganda, policies which would, in principle, be promoting MT education.
From the evidence given, it is clear that MT education in government schools compares poorly
to the English education in private schools, and one can also say that MT education is not
working, either in government schools or in private schools. This study’s data demonstrate that
MT education was poorly planned. Theoretically, learners in government schools, in which
MT education is practised, should be outperforming those in private schools, who are instructed
in English from the beginning of their schooling. However, as MT education is not well
facilitated teacher deployment and teacher transfer are not well planned, materials are not
made available in the learners’ MT, teachers are not trained to teach in the MT, etc. the
benefits of MT education are not experienced by learners in government schools. Therefore,
these learners are disadvantaged for that matter. This paper has demonstrated that teachers in
government schools are not provided with the materials they consider appropriate for the task
of implementing MT education; the materials at their disposal are often incomprehensive and
in English only. This could mean that the subject content delivered to learners in government
schools is poorer than that delivered to private school learners. The task is also more difficult
for government school teachers, particularly because they have to translate the materials
themselves, a task they confess that they cannot do well. This means that much is lost between
the printed textbook content and its delivery in class.
Obviously, the task ahead is to improve MT education in Uganda so that the children in
government schools are on equal footing with those in private schools. It is anticipated that, if
MT education is well planned and facilitated, the good MT education practices will trickle
down to private schools, because although learners in private schools perform better than those
in government schools, they do not do so without the difficulties that come with learning
through an unfamiliar language. Of the many tasks that lie ahead to improve MT education in
Uganda, teacher training is on the fore. It has been reported that, when teachers are not trained
for a particular task, they usually resist it when it is later demanded of them to perform this task
in practice. This means that if MT education is to succeed, training on the teaching of and
through the medium of MT should take place prior to teachers’ deployment in schools.
Relatedly, as private schools are not under direct supervision of the government, teachers in
these schools are more likely to resist policies and practices that do not match with their
training. This is more reason for educating teachers about MT education and its benefits prior
to their deployment.
Finally, the aim of this paper was not to fault English education in private schools but rather to
show the weaknesses in the formulation of MT education policies which pave the way for
English-only education as is the practice in private schools in Uganda today. Our aim also was
not to call for the disregard of English education but to show that when MT education policies
are poorly formulated and when their implementation is not facilitated as required, (i) learners
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
miss out on the benefits that come with MT education and (ii) improvement in literacy skills,
which was the original drive for the current Ugandan language-in-education policy, will remain
The first author acknowledges the funding that was awarded to him by the Graduate School of
Arts and Social Sciences to pursue his doctoral studies full-time at Stellenbosch University. In
addition, he acknowledges the financial assistance of the Directorate of Graduate Training at
Makerere University for completing the fieldwork done for the study reported on in this paper.
‘Mother tongue’ usually refers to a language that one knows best or learnt to speak first. In many contexts,
mother tongue is referred to as ‘first language’ (L1; see UNESCO, 2003; Ouane & Glanz, 2010; Ball, 2011). We
acknowledge the terminological distinctions between ‘mother tongue’, ‘first language’ and ‘home language’, but
the most frequently used term in the literature on mother tongue education (and in bilingual or multilingual
education) is ‘mother tongue’ and as such this is the term we use in this paper.
Note that Makerere University categorises these languages as one language and teaches them under the subject
name Runyakitara (Bernsten, 1998).
P3 is the third year of formal education (excluding preschool years), equivalent to Grade 3 in the South
African education system.
There was however an apparent oversight in the strategy in that learners’ MT was used as LoLT for the first
years of school but were not compulsory examination subjects at the end of primary school. The non-
examination of MTs at the end of primary schooling has been pointed out by teachers as one factor that
demotivates the teaching of MTs in Uganda even to this date (cf. Ssentanda, 2013). This matter is addressed
later in this paper.
Although respondents referred to such companies by name, these companies are, for ethical reasons, not
named anywhere in this paper.
Responses are presented verbatim, with spelling and grammar mistakes left uncorrected.
Voca (short for vocabulary) is a word in Ugandan English used mostly by the youth to mean ‘a word of which
you do not know the meaning’.
ACEMAH, H. 2014, March. Is thematic curriculum a panacea or a gimmick to hoodwink the
wananchi? Daily Monitor. Available from
gimmick/-/689364/2226860/-/ow7qg2/-/index.html [Accessed 14 November 2016].
WOLFF. 2006. Optimizing learning and education in Africa the language factor: A
stock-taking research on mother tongue and bilingual education in Sub-Saharan Africa
education. Libreville, Gabon,: Association for the Development of Education in Africa
(ADEA) UNESCO Institute for Education. Available from
[Accessed 23 March 2012].
ALTINYELKEN, HK. 2010. Curriculum change in Uganda: Teacher perspectives on the new
thematic curriculum. International Journal of Educational Development, 30(2):151-161.
complexities of implementing language-in-education policies: Perspectives from urban
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
and rural contexts in Uganda. International Journal of Educational Development.
BALL, J. 2010. Educational equity for children from diverse language backgrounds: Mother
tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. In Presentation to
UNESCO International Symposium: Translation and Cultural Mediation. Paris:
UNESCO. Available from
10.pdf [Accessed 20 March 2013].
BALL, J. 2011. Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: mother
tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. Analytical review
commissioned by the Unesco Education Sector. France: United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization. Available from [Accessed 20 March
BAMGBOSE, A. 2004. Language of instruction policy and practice in Africa. Available from
[Accessed 20 March 2013].
BANDA, F & R KIRUNDA. 2005. Factors affecting the initial literacy development of urban
and and rural learners in the Iganga district, Uganda. Per Linguam, 21(2):1-23.
BENSON, C. 2004. Do we expect too much of bilingual teachers? Bilingual teaching in
developing countries. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,
BERNSTEN, J. 1998. Runyakitara: Uganda’s new language. Journal of Multilingual and
Multicultural Development, 19(2):93-107.
BOURDIEU, P. 1991. Language and symbolic power (JB Thompson, Ed.). Cambridge: Polity
CLEGHORN, A, M Merritt & JO Abagi. 1989. Language policy and Science instruction in
Kenyan primary schools. Comparative Education Review, 33(1):21-39.
DUTCHER, N. 2003. Promise and perils of mother tongue education. Available from [Accessed 5
April 2012].
DUTCHER, N. 2004a. Expanding educational opportunity in linguistically diverse societies
(2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Centre for Applied Linguistics.
DUTCHER, N. 2004b. Language policy and education in multilingual societies: Lessons from
three positive models. Linguapax Congress. Barcelona, Spain.
FERGUSON, G. 2013. The language of instruction issue: Reality, aspiration and the wider
context. In McIlwraith, H (Ed.). Multilingual education in Africa: Lessons from the Juba
Language-in- Education Conference. UK: British Council. 17-22.
GLANZ, C. 2013. Why and how to invest in African languages, multilingual and multicultural
education in Africa. In McIlwraith, H (Ed.). Multilingual education in Africa: Lessons
from the Juba Language-in- Education Conference. UK: British Council. 57-67.
GOVERNMENT Of UGANDA. 1992. Government white paper on the implementation of the
recommendation of the report of Education Review Commission. Kampala: Uganda
HEUGH, K, C BENSON, B BOGALE & MAG YOHANNES. 2007. Final report study on
medium of instruction in primary schools in Ethiopia. Available from
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
n_in_primary_schools_in_Ethiopia_-_Heugh_et_al_2007.pdf [Accessed 12 March
HOPSON, RK. 2011. Reconstructing ethnography and language policy in colonial Namibia
schoolling: Historical perspectives on St Mary’s school at Odibo. In McCarty, TL (Ed.).
Ethnography and language policy. New York: Routledge. 99-118.
JOHNSON, DC. 2009. Ethnography of language policy. Language Policy, 8(2):139-159.
KAJUBI, WS. 1989. Education for national integration and development: Report of the
Education Policy Review Commission. Kampala, Uganda: Ministry of Education.
KAPLAN, RB & RB BALDAUF. 1997. Language planning: From practice to theory.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
KATEEBA, C. 2009. Thematic curriculum; implications for mother tongue education in
Uganda. Mother Tongue Day Conference. Makerere University, Institute of Languages:
National Curriculum Development Centre.
KIRKPATRICK, A. 2013. The lingua franca approach to the teaching of English: A possible
pathway to genuine multilingualism in local languages and English. In McIlwraith, H
(Ed.). Multilingual education in Africa: Lessons from the Juba Language-in- Education
Conference. UK: British Council. 11-15.
KOSONEN, K & C YOUNG. 2009. Introduction. In Kosonen, KK & C Young (Eds.). Mother
tongue as a bridge language of instruction: Policies and experiences in Southeast Asia.
Bangkok, Thailand: Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Orgranisation (SEAMEO).
LASEBIKAN, EL, R ISMAGILOVA & R HUREL. 1964. Report of the study on the use of the
mother tongue and the preparation of alphabets for literacy. Available from [Accessed 2 March
LUCAS, T & A KATZ. 1994. Reframing the debate: The roles of native languages in English-
only programs for language minority students. TESOL QUARTERLY, 28(3):537-561.
MAKONI, S. 2011. A critical analysis of the historical and contemporary status of minority
languages in Zimbabwe. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12(4):437-455.
MANGO TREE LAΗO LITERACY PROJECT. 2010. Mango Tree Laηo Literacy Project:
Early Grade Reading Assessment P1 Baseline Survey 2010. Kampala, Uganda.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SPORTS. 2004. Ministry of Education and Sports
Education sector strategic plan 2004-2015 education. Kampala, Uganda: Ministry of
Education and Sports.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SPORTS. 2008. Ministry of Education and Sports draft
revised education sector strategic plan 2007-2015. Kampala, Uganda: Ministry of
Education and Sports.
curriculum primary 2. Kampala: National Curriculum Development Centre.
the thematic curriculum. Kampala: National Curriculum Development Centre.
school curriculum for Uganda, primary 1. Kampala: National Curriculum Development
(Luganda). Kampala: National Curriculum Development Centre.
the thematic curriculum. Kampala: National Curriculum Development Centre.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
NDLOVU, E. 2013. Mother tongue education in official minority languages of Zimbabwe: A
language management crtique. The University of the Free State. Available from
091525/unrestricted/NdlovuE.pdf [Accessed 18 September 2013].
NDOLERIIRE, OK. 2012. Some phonetic characteristics in English and French that facilitate
or complicate pronunciation by Runyakitara speakers of English and French. Kampala,
Uganda: Paper presented at the Linguistics Seminar, November 2, 2012.
NYIKA, N. 2008. Our languages are equally important: Struggles for the revitalisation of the
minority languages in Zimbabwe. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language
Studies, 26(4):457-470.
OUANE, A & C GLANZ. 2010. Why and how Africa should invest in African languages and
multilingual education: An evidence- and practice-based policy advocacy brief.
Hamburg, Germany: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Available from [Accessed 5 May 2012).
PIPER, B & E MIKSICK. 2011. Mother tongue and reading: Using Early Grade Reading
Assessments to investigate language-of-instruction policy in East Africa. In Gove, A &
A Wetterberg (Eds.). The Early Grade Reading Assessment: Applications and
interventions to improve basic literacy. Research Triangle International. 139-182.
READ, T & S ENYUTU. 2004. The Uganda primary curriculum review road map: For the
implementation of the curriculum reforms recommended by the primary curriculum
review report and approved by the Ministry of of Education and Sports.
RICENTO, T. 2006. Language policy: theory and practice an introduction. In Ricento, T
(Ed.). An introduction to language policy: theory and method. USA: Blackwell
Publishing. 10-23.
SALDANA, J. 2009. The coding manual for qualitative researchers. London: SAGE.
Available from
chaire/files/shared/documents/supports_cours/Saldana_ch1.pdf [Accessed 19 March
SHOHAMY, E. 2006. Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches. New York:
SSEKAMWA, JC. 2000. History and development of education in Uganda (2nd ed.). Kampala,
Uganda: Fountain Publishers Ltd.
SSEKAMWA, JC. 2008. Development and challenges of formal education in Uganda. Entebe,
Uganda: Nkumba University.
SSENTANDA, ME. 2013. Exploring connections: Reflections on mother-tongue education in
postcolonial Uganda. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus, 42:281-296.
SSENTANDA, ME. 2014. Have policy makers erred? Implications of mother tongue
education for pre-primary schooling in Uganda. Per Linguam, 30(33):53-68.
STROUD, C. 2001. African mother-tongue programmes and the politics of language:
Linguistic citizenship versus linguistic human rights. Journal of Multilingual and
Multicultural Development, 22(4):339-355.
STROUD, C. 2002. Towards a policy for bilingual education in developing countries.
Stockholm: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
TEMBE, J & B NORTON. 2008. Promoting local languages in Ugandan primary schools: The
community as stakeholder. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 65(1):33-60.
TOLLEFSON, JW. 1991. Planning language, planning inequality: Language policy in the
community. London and New York: Longman Inc.
M Ssentanda, K Huddlestone & F Southwood
Per Linguam 2016 32(3):60-78
TURNBULL, J. 2010. Oxford advanced learners’ dictionary: International students' edition.
(Hornby, J Turnbull, D Lea, D Parkinson, P Phillips, B Francis, M Ashby, Eds.).
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
UGANDA NATIONAL EXAMINATIONS BOARD. 2010. The achievement of primary
school pupils in Uganda in numeracy, literacy in English and local languages: National
Assessment of Progress in Education. Uganda National Examinations Board, Uganda,
Uganda: Uganda National Examinations Board.
UNESCO. 1997. Intergovernmental conference on Language policies in in Africa. Harare,
UNESCO. 2003. Education in a multilingual world: Unesco education position paper. Paris,
France: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa. 1985. African community languages and
their use in literacy and education. Dakar.
UWEZO. 2011. Are our children learning? Annual learning assessment report 2011. Uganda,
Kampala: Uwezo.
UWEZO. 2012. Are our children learning? Literacy and numeracy across East Africa.
Nairobi, Kenya.
WOLDEMARIAM, H. 2007. The challenges of mother-tongue education in Ethiopia: The case
of North Omo area. Language Matters, 38(2):210-235.
WORLD BANK. 2010. Mother tongue instruction and learning for quality education: The
World Bank’s education sector strategy 2020.
Dr Medadi E Ssentanda is a lecturer in the Department of African Languages, Makerere
University and Research Associate, Stellenbosch University. He is a reader in the field of
language education, particularly early literacy development in multilingual environments,
language and the curriculum and teachers’ attitudes. He was part of the 2012-2014 cohort
scholarship holders of Graduate School of the Arts Faculty at Stellenbosch University. He was
also appointed a research associate in the Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch
University for the period 2015-2018. Email: or
Kate Huddlestone is a lecturer in the Department of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch
University. Her research interests include the grammar of Afrikaans, specifically negation in
Afrikaans, code switching, especially in educational contexts, and sign language linguistics.
Frenette Southwood practiced as a speech-language therapist before joining the Department
of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University as lecturer and researcher in 2000. Her
research focuses on child language development and disorder in multilingual contexts. Email:
... 6 This was meant to promote interactive and dialogical learning, where each teacher handles all the teaching in one class, and so can (or should) communicate with and evaluate each learner individually. 7 Consequently, the TC also markedat least on a policy levela transition to child-centred pedagogy (CCP), as opposed to traditional authoritarian teacher-centred learning which has been criticized for fostering rote learning and undermining creativity and critical thinking (Altinyelken, 2010b;Ssentanda et al., 2016). In broad terms, CCP practices are aimed at making learning more participatory and interactive, "with a view to fostering conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills" (Dembélé and Lefoka, 2007: 536). ...
... Yet they have shown how the reform's goals are unrealistic in light of schools' material challenges, which are typically worse in rural areas and related to the exponential rise in enrolment following the UPE. In the TC's first years of implementation, challenges included large classes, a shortage of learning materials, insufficient teacher training, and teacher and pupil absenteeismoften due to the need to complement their family's income (Altinyelken, 2010a;Altinyelken, 2010b;Holland et al., 2012;Ssentanda, 2013;Ssentanda et al., 2016;Akello et al., 2016). In this situation, the TC exacerbated the competition between 3 SHRP is currently also funded by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which in 2013 pledged one hundred million US dollars to The Uganda Teacher and School Effectiveness Project (UTSEP) for the expansion of SHRP/ EGRA to additional districts in Uganda (Brunette et al., 2019;Amos and Brunette, 2019). ...
... All this created negative attitudes to MT instruction in rural communities where the TC was implemented, as parents felt the move to MT education was detrimental to children's acquisition of English. The better examination results of private and urban schools cemented the view that English was to be preferred, and that the TC was putting marginalized communities at an even greater disadvantage (Altinyelken et al., 2014;Ssentanda et al., 2016). Yet these previous studies were carried out before, or without a specific focus on, the SHRP program. ...
This article is possibly the first qualitative research on the USAID-funded School Health and Reading Program (SHRP), implemented in Uganda since 2012. The SHRP program is aimed at scaling up the Thematic Curriculum (TC) reform, which was the first attempt to standardize the use of mother tongues in lower primary schools through child-centred pedagogical practices. SHRP has expanded the TC to additional local languages and districts, providing new learning materials – including specific teaching techniques – and teacher training to support it. However, the implementation of SHRP is marked by the fact that it is a donor-led reform that is perceived by teachers as an external intervention not well suited for Ugandan classroom realities. Our research is a multi-layered analysis of how teachers perceive the reform as its grassroot implementers. We ask how SHRP’s pedagogical emphasis on child-centred pedagogy is linked to it being donor-funded, and how teachers translate this perceived link into their classroom practices. We trace the links between the policy, classroom, and community levels to make concrete suggestions on how the SHRP program can benefit from teachers’ resources and creativity, while highlighting which aspects of mother tongue education the Ugandan Government needs to prioritize on a national level, and which aspects need to be better adjusted on a regional basis.
... One of these was teachers' conflicting views on the importance of English visà-vis the MT, echoed in teachers' testimony that they often codeswitch between English and the local language to make learners understand the material while enhancing their English skills. Yet the fact that English is still the language of examinations -particularly the important Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) -is one of the main factors affecting the motivation to learn English, thus hindering proper implementation of the TC (Altinyelken et al. 2014;Ssentanda, et al. 2016). Also, during the annual end-of-year examinations, the language question was central. ...
... Also, during the annual end-of-year examinations, the language question was central. We found that in schools both in Kyotera and Teso examinations have been commodified and outsourced to external companies, confirming previous findings (Ssentanda et al., 2016). These companies offer examinations in both English and the local language. ...
... Having to choose the language of examinations leaves the teachers with an either/ or choice, which they see as a serious dilemma (turn 2). The importance of English is one of the main reasons parents in rural areas transfer their children to private schools, where the LoLT is English (Ssentanda, et al., 2016). At the same time, since Luganda is the LoLT, teachers acknowledge that setting exams in English disrupts the pupils' learning process (turn 2), again demonstrating that language is perceived as a problem. ...
... Various researchers have highlighted how the concept of mother tongue is becoming increasingly ambiguous and therefore problematic to use in education. 2,3,4 Amongst these problems, according to Banda, 5 Chimbganda 6 and Webb, 7 are a lack of clear definition of the concept, the multilingual nature of African countries and the effects of intermarriages on the home language (as propounded by Nchindila 8, Chimbganda, 6 UNESCO 1 and Webb et al. 9 ), and the socio-economic status of most Africans that results in most children not being raised by their parents. 6 These are some of the African population's challenges that present the concept of mother tongue as problematic and adding to the overall language problems. ...
... The DL could be viewed as the language that is most often used in the social context; it is the language of interaction with peers and those around. 3,48 Werker et al. 49 refer to DL as 'the language in which one performs best across a variety of language tasks.' It is the most valued language that one can trade with to save his life. ...
Full-text available
Background: The promotion of ‘mother tongue’ is at the core of the global education agenda. Aim: This article explored the problematic nature of the mother tongue concept, and the subsequent effects it has on language use in education. Method: Although the African continent is referred to wherever necessary to indicate this problem’s broadness, South Africa (SA) as one of the most developed African countries was used to contextualise the current study. This article adopted a transdisciplinary approach that intersected the theological and educational disciplines. The biblical text is used as the background for the current research about the concept of mother tongue as viewed within the broader context of language problems in education. Results: This article has argued that the concept of mother tongue and its use in education serves as one of the root problems underpinning South African education’s language challenges. However, this article was not meant to be polemical, but rather, it was intended to stimulate debate on the concept of mother tongue and its use in education. Conclusion: This article was concluded with advocacy towards the adoption of an alternative term to the concept of mother tongue. The term, dominant language (DL), was proposed which seemed to be clearer and more precise in describing what the concept ‘mother tongue’ ambiguously tries to express. Recommendations and policy guidelines were also provided should either the proposed term be adopted or a need arise to explore the mother tongue concept’s continued use.
... From Grade 5 onwards, teachers are required to use English as the medium of instruction and mother tongue to be taught as an examination subject. However, the major challenge with the implementation of the thematic curriculum has been the lack of instructional materials, particularly reading materials, in local languages (Ssentanda, Huddlestone & Southwood, 2016;Stranger-Johannessen & Norton, 2017). To address this challenge, the Government of Uganda has encouraged Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to come up with interventions that complement efforts to improve the quality of Ugandan education. ...
... Moreover, teachers have challenges such as large class sizes, pressure to complete the curricula contenthaving to choose which content to teach and what to leave out (Bloch, 1999). Content considered not to be assessed, such as that related to storytelling in learners' MTs, is left out (Ssentanda et al., 2016). Also, this study has discussed the change that is needed for storytelling to be implemented more widely in Ugandan primary schools. ...
Full-text available
The purpose of this article is to highlight teachers’ beliefs and practices towards storytelling in the mother tongue in Ugandan rural classrooms and the effect this could have on efforts to promote reading, such as the mother-tongue (MT) education programme in Uganda and the African Storybook Project (ASb). The article demonstrates that although there are initiatives to promote storytelling in the mother tongue in Ugandan primary schools to enhance reading and literacy acquisition, teachers are not prepared for the task and, therefore, disregard storytelling in the mother tongue. This disregard of storytelling in the mother tongue stems from the fact that teachers view storytelling as a waste of time, time that can rather be spent on ’real’ lesson content. Furthermore, they feel that storytelling adds unnecessary pressure to their already demanding workload. Moreover, learners are not assessed for storytelling at the end of their primary education. In addition, teachers are not trained on how to integrate storytelling in their teaching practices. The article presents classroom-based research which highlights teachers’ practices towards storytelling. The article ends with a request for ethnographic fieldwork to educate teachers on the social-cultural values of storytelling beyond learner assessments (among other benefits) and to facilitate teachers on how to integrate stories in the learning process. Keywords: Storytelling, literacy, mother tongue education, teacher attitudes and practices, African storybook project, Uganda
... In practice, many teachers have had trouble adjusting to the new curriculum due to limited access to materials, underdeveloped orthographies of local languages, and inadequate training, so these policies remain only partially implemented; see e.g. Altinyelken (2010) or Ssentanda, Huddlestone, and Southwood (2016). ...
Full-text available
We document substantial variation in the effects of a highly-effective literacy program in northern Uganda. The program increases test scores by 1.4 SDs on average, but standard statistical bounds show that the impact standard deviation exceeds 1.0 SD. This implies that the variation in effects across our students is wider than the spread of mean effects across all randomized evaluations of developing country education interventions in the literature. This very effective program does indeed leave some students behind. At the same time, we do not learn much from our analyses that attempt to determine which students benefit more or less from the program. We reject rank preservation, and the weaker assumption of stochastic increasingness leaves wide bounds on quantile-specific average treatment effects. Neither conventional nor machine-learning approaches to estimating systematic heterogeneity capture more than a small fraction of the variation in impacts given our available candidate moderators.
... In Uganda, most children grow up speaking one of the 35 Indigenous Ugandan languages e Mother Tongues (MTs) e at home and come to school knowing little, if an English. Beginning in the 1940s, there were several attempts to formalize MT instruction, particularly at the primary school level and in rural areas, but these were not implemented with consistency or effective guidance (Ssentanda, Huddlestone, & Southwood, 2016). However, in 2005/ 2006, the new primary curriculum mandated that MT be used as the LOI for pre-primary to Primary 3 (Grade 3). ...
Full-text available
h i g h l i g h t s Educators are interested in learning about gender and education policies and how to implement them. Educators can create culturally, linguistically, and contextually-responsive LTRMS promoting gender equality. Traditional pedagogies (e.g., song, dance, drama, storytelling) can engage students in gender-responsive learning. Educators welcome professional development opportunities to understand how to actualize gender-responsive schools. a b s t r a c t Although gender equality is a stated goal of Ugandan national educational policies and curricula, cultivating gender equality in schools requires gender-responsive pedagogical approaches as well as Learning and Teaching Resource Materials (LTRMs). This paper reports on a research project conducted with a group of in-service, pre-primary and primary educators in Northwest Uganda during two week-long professional development workshops. Using a qualitative, multimodal, feminist participatory action research methodology, we explored gender theory as well as local gender constructs and their impact on educational opportunities and experiences, and ways in which gender constructs and orientations might be reimagined through stories, especially written in Mother Tongue and depicting local cultural contexts. Findings reveal that professional development opportunities can support teachers to explore and gain deeper insight into understandings of gender and gender-based issues, and create contextually-and linguistically-age-appropriate resources (stories) that interest students, promote gender equality, and meet curricular objectives.
... In practice, many teachers have had trouble adjusting to the new curriculum due to limited access to materials, underdeveloped orthographies of local languages, and inadequate training, so these policies remain only partially implemented; see e.g. Altinyelken (2010) or Ssentanda, Huddlestone, and Southwood (2016). ...
... In Uganda, most children learn one of the 35 Indigenous Ugandan languages -Mother Tongues (MTs)at home and come to school knowing little, if an English. Since the 1940s, there have been several attempts to formalize MT instruction, particularly at the primary school level and in rural areas, but this was not implemented with consistency or effective guidance (Ssentanda, Huddlestone, & Southwood, 2016). However, in 2005/2006, the new primary curriculum, The Learning Framework, mandated that MT be used as the LOI for pre-primary to Primary 3 (Grade 3).This policy is aligned with research that overwhelming indicates that MT instruction, especially in the early years, is critical for children's literacy and numeracy development, the acquisition of foundational content and concepts, as well as their overall social, emotional and intellectual development (Brock-Utne, 2007;Cummins, 2006;Ngwaru & Opoku-Amankwa, 2009;Tembe & Norton, 2008). ...
Education is critical to the promotion, cultivation, and actualization of gender equality (Aikman & Unterhalter, 2007; Wilson, 2004). Educators who are expected to cultivate gender equality in their classrooms, are themselves shaped and influenced by gender, and associated gender constructs, roles, responsibilities and assumptions of their sociocultural contexts (Zilumu, 2014). Thus, professional development for teachers in the area of gender equality and gender responsive pedagogy and school environments is critical. In addition, Learning and Teaching Resource Materials (LTRMs) are needed to support a reimagining of gender constructs. In contexts, such as Uganda, where LTRMs are lacking in number as well as in gender-responsiveness, I propose that it is important that educators are encouraged and supported to recognize the value of their own knowledge, creativity, and expertise and are provided with opportunities to learn how they can draw upon their assets to develop powerful and poignant LTRMs for their students. This paper reports on an action research project conducted during professional development workshops for pre-primary and primary educators which used story-making and storytelling to promote gender equality, through both MT and English, in a primary school context in Northwest Uganda.
Full-text available
In Uganda and Tanzania, culture policies are among the key documents that provide for the statuses and educational functions of languages in these countries. Tanzania"s culture policy (famously known as Sera ya Utamaduni) explicitly postulates the statuses and the development of languages in its multilingual contexts. In Uganda, while Kiswahili is a foreign as well as the second official language, Uganda"s culture policy provides no references for its teaching in schools. This paper argues that the silence by Uganda"s culture policy to postulate the teaching of Kiswahili in schools contributes towards the further deceleration of its teaching in the country. Using Bowen"s (2009) proposals on text analysis, this paper reviews, compares and evaluates purposely selected texts on language development (mainly, in terms of teaching) from the Sera ya Utamaduni and Uganda National Culture Policy (UNCP). It intends to provide highlights on the Kiswahili (language) teaching gaps in the UNCP with possible solutions to be drawn from Tanzania"s cultural policy. In general, it advocates designing of a comprehensive and viable culture and/or language policy that can benchmark the teaching of Kiswahili (and other languages) within multilingual Ugandan classrooms.
Literacy in the early years is crucial but attained amidst various challenges, especially in the Global South. Based on fieldwork conducted in October 2018 in four primary schools in Gulu district, Acoli region, northern Uganda, this study investigates school characteristics and facilities available to learners and teachers to scaffold the acquisition of literacy in the early years of schooling. These are discussed within the framework of Uganda’s mother-tongue education programme with a focus on the challenges of literacy acquisition. Data were collected from four schools by means of questionnaires, classroom interactions, and interviews, and were analysed through triangulation. The findings suggest that there are difficulties to attaining literacy within the MT education programme. Some of the challenges relate to teachers’ attitudes and practices, lack of school materials, poor school conditions, and large learner numbers per class. The implications of the observed challenges to literacy acquisition are discussed.
Full-text available
Mother-tongue (MT) education in Uganda, like in many other countries, is a highly contentious subject. A plethora of problems plague MT education and all are similar to those mentioned in more than six decades of research and evaluations on the topic from numerous countries across the world. Based on fieldwork conducted in four primary schools in the Rakai district of Uganda, this paper attempts to demystify and critically theorise practices and ideologies of language in education. This study is inflected by the theoretical work of Tollefson (1991), particularly his challenging remark that “language is built into the economic and social structure of society so deeply that its fundamental importance seems only natural. […] For this reason, language policies are often seen as expressions of natural, common-sense assumptions about language in society” (Tollefson 1991:2). This paper therefore sets out to surpass the mere cataloguing of problems bedevilling MT education in Uganda by proposing an account of their possible genesis. Through an examination of dysfunctional state and government structures, the role of linguistic ideology as well as the distribution of symbolic and material wealth, it is herein argued that there should be a shift from the structural-functional model, where policies are considered bodies of discourse that should, or that fail to, be implemented. It is proposed rather that the education system mirrors a wider societal concern in which colonial legacies are miserably reproduced in postcolonial Ugandan structures.
Full-text available
The Uganda language-in-education policy is silent about pre-primary schooling. This level of education is largely in the hands of private individuals who, because of wide-spread misconceptions about learning and acquiring English in Uganda (as in many other African countries), instruct pre-primary school learners in English. This article demonstrates how this omission in language-in-education policy is creating competition between rural government and private schools regarding the teaching of English and the development of initial literacy. The absence of an official language policy for pre-primary schooling has also dichotomised the implementation of mother tongue education in rural areas. The policy allows rural primary schools to use mother tongue as language of learning and teaching in the first three school grades. However, whereas private schools instruct through English only, government schools to a large extent adhere to the policy, albeit with undesirable consequences. The practical implications of lack of a language-in-education policy for and minimal government involvement in pre-primary schooling are discussed in this article.
Full-text available
The initial motivation for the study was data from the Ministry of Education in Uganda that suggests that in terms of academic performance, urban learners continually outperform rural schools at primary and secondary school levels (Ministry of Education 2002). At present all government examinations are written in English. However, the language in education policy in Uganda differentially stipulates the use English as medium of instruction in urban schools and the use of the mother tongue in rural schools (cf. Kyeyune 2004). Other factors which mitigate against rural learners’ successful academic performance are untrained educators, poor infrastructure and school management practices in rural schools, poverty, lack of supportive academic discourse practices, and a general lack of enthusiasm among rural parents (most of whom have very little formal education) for their children’s education. Using data from observations of selected urban and rural homes and schools in The Iganga district and field notes in the form of diary entries, the study draws on New Literacy Studies (NLS) particularly the notion of literacy as social practice (Street 2001; Gee 2000; Baynham 2000, 2001), to explore the differential effect of urban and rural-based acculturation processes on the initial literacy development of learners. Finally, since 88% of Ugandans live in rural areas (Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2002), the pedagogical implications for primary schools are discussed and suggestions are made on how to establish an inclusive education system.
Policies concerning language use are increasingly tested in an age of frequent migration and cultural synthesis. With conflicting factors and changing political climates influencing the policy-makers, Elana Shohamy considers the effects that these policies have on the real people involved. Using examples from the US and UK, she shows how language policies are promoted and imposed, overtly and covertly, across different countries and in different contexts. Concluding with arguments for a more democratic and open approach to language policy and planning, the final note is one of optimism, suggesting strategies for resistance to language attrition and ways to protect the linguistic rights of groups and individuals.
Introduction - language policy and language learning the ideology of language planning theory mother-tongue maintenance and second language learning modernization and English language teaching language policy and migration revolutionary language policy education and language rights conclusion - language policy and democracy.
Preliminary Information and Comments This text is intended to accompany the Map entitled 'AFRICAN COMMUNITY LANGUAGES AND THEIR USE IN EDUCATION.'Forty-five countries are represented, and understandably, the languages are listed on the map close to the geographical areas in which they are spoken. However, the list of countries below is alphabetical, with the number of languages indicated in parenthesis after each country: Angola (7), Benin (13), Botswana (1), Burkina Faso (4), Burundi (2), Cameroon (9), Cape Verde (1), Central African Republic (1), Chad (3), Comoros (1), Cote d'Ivoire (5), Democratic Republic of the Congo (5), Equatorial Guinea (3), Ethiopia (5), Gabon (1), Gambia (3), Ghana (14), Guinea (6), Guinea Bissau (1), Kenya (6), Lesotho (1), Liberia (6), Madagascar (1), Malawi (2), Mali (7), Mauritania (4), Mauritius (2), Mozambique (5), Namibia (6), Niger (5), Nigeria (36), Republic of Congo (2), Rwanda (2), Sao Tome and Principe (1), Senegal (6), Seychelles (1), Sierra Leone (4), Somalia (1), Sudan (8), Swaziland (1), Tanzania (1), Togo (2), Uganda (8), Zambia (7), Zimbabwe (2). The total number of languages represented on the map is 212, which is quite small compared with the estimated 2,011 languages spoken in Africa. A number of factors are responsible for this small number of languages on the map. First, since data is gathered principally through questionnaires, the quality of information depends on the quality of input from the respondents. From experience, information requested on educational language policy is usually directed to Ministries or Departments of Education and the responses given are not always accurate. Second, the emphasis on community languages (languages that are used for inter-ethnic communication) means that a number of mother tongues used in education may not necessarily be included in the survey. Third the use of African languages for literacy, which is the norm in most African countries, is not represented in the notation used, although it is indicated in the narrative section on each community language and each country. Were this to be included, many more languages would have been listed.
The government of Zimbabwe officially declared that with effect from January 2002, it was to implement the use and teaching of the official minority languages, namely Venda, Tonga, Nambya, Kalanga, Sotho and Shangani, as the media of instruction and subjects in primary schools in areas where they are spoken. The Ministry stated that these languages would be introduced to a grade per year, increasing until they could be taught at grade seven by 2005. However, the reality at ground level reveals otherwise. After this welcomed move, there has been little commitment or urgency to implement this policy. Is it a question of the purpose for the encouragement and support by official policy of mother tongue education in the official minority languages? Is it a question of cost-benefit analysis? Is this not a violation of linguistic human rights in education, particularly the right to mother tongue education? This article seeks to address the above questions in view of mother tongue education in the official minority languages in Zimbabwe as well as to assess the impact of this delay in the implementation of the policy on the learners' learning experience.
The use of languages other than English in schooling is a subject of great controversy in the U.S., pitting those who hold assimilationist views (favoring English-only) against those who hold cultural pluralist views (favoring inclusion of the native language) (Secada & Lightfoot, 1993). A study of nine exemplary K-12 programs for language minority students in which English was the primary language of instruction showed that the incorporation of students' native languages in instruction need not be an all- or-nothing phenomenon. The use of the native language appears so compelling that it emerges even when policies and assumptions mitigate against it. Teachers who are monolingual English speakers or who do not speak the languages of all their students can incorporate students' native languages into instruction in many ways to serve a variety of educationally desirable functions. This article explores the complexities of the use of students' native languages in schooling, describes and illustrates various ways these languages were used in the English-based but multilingual programs, and argues that programs for language minority students should be reconceptualized to move beyond the emotional and politically heated debate that opposes English-only instruction to native language instruction.