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Teaching of Languages Sparks National Debate

  • Tatenda Gumbo

A debate is flaring up in social media networks with some people in Matabeleland region saying young children are being taught by non-Ndebele speaking teachers, resulting in a high failure rate in the region.

Agitated locals say they are not happy that children, as young as six, are exposed to teachers who hardly understand their language. Experts say this is not good for the cognitive development process of children, whose instruction of learning at an early education stage should infuse their mother language.

Parents of affected children and critics say government needs to take immediate steps to tackle the issue, which has been raised in various forums over the years.

Indications are that the Minister in the President’s Office, Simon Khaya Moyo, has summoned Education Minister Lazarus Dokora, to his office to discuss this issue.

Besides being versed in Ndebele, educationists in the region say other local languages including Kalanga, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, and Tonga, among others, have been overlooked.

The Zimbabwe constitution stipulates that the country has 16 official languages, meaning that the government must accommodate them in local schools in local dialects.

Some people also expect other languauges such as Ndau, Shangani, and Chewa to be included in the school curriculum.

For perspective reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke to Bekezela Maduma of the Gwanda Residents Assocaition and educationist and linguist Felix Mafa.

Mafa said it is gratifying that government has decided to take action on this serious matter.

"He (Simon Khaya Moyo) has accepted that there is disparity between languages particularly in Matabeleland. He has acknowledged that poor results are because of language barriers. It’s unfortunate that it has taken 34 years to be seen and implemented.”

Maduma agreed, adding this is a very senstitive issue to school children and parents in Zimbabwe.

“You have heard the term that Matabeleland, particularly Mat-South, is called the rainbow province of Zimbabwe. The rainbow of Matabeleland means that of the 16 official languages that are in the constitution 7 of them are spoken in Mat-South.”

Maduma said this should be a clear indication there is need to provide language-friendly school systems to give children an equal learning opportunity.

An assessment report of Zimbabwe’s primary and secondary schools produced by the National Education Advisory Board, and handed out to donors in London last year by Education Minister David Coltart, indicated that the high failure rate in schools was linked to various challenges.

The report indicated that more 'A’ Level students fail Shona than Maths, Physics and Economics.

In 2007, only 47 percent of students passed Shona, dropping to 43 percent in 2008 compared to 77 percent and 80 percent for Physics, 58 percent and 68 percent for Economics and the pass rate for Maths which was 54 percent in 2007, and 47 percent in 2008.

The failure rate for Shona examinations was even more pronounced when the statistics were compared to Ndebele, which was passed by 91 percent of 'A’ Level students in 2007, the figure dipping slightly to 88 percent in 2008.

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