E=mc…okobye ki?

Future scientists without a language

Uganda’s Education ministry is facing a storm. It hasn’t entered the public debate yet since the bimeeza are still obsessing about Betty Kamya and Salim Saleh and the pros and cons of a government minister doing his job (Giving out money to people who need it, regardless what party their area MP shouts for).

But when the shit hits the fan, there’s going to be lots of smelly faced people around because they didn’t see what was coming at them. It is being called the new Thematic Curriculum.

Starting next year, kids from Primary One to Primary Four will be learning in their mother tongues. After that, English can be introduced. The powers that be have decided that since the children learn their first language at home and it comes in the way of real comprehension when they go to school, it is better to continue the basic education in this mode.

The campaign has started and soon, the radios and TVs will be chocked, I guess. To follow will be the bill boards on the roadside so the parents can see what’s coming as they drive their kids to Kitante Primary and Greenhill Academy.

I still haven’t understood the whole “thematic curriculum” spin yet. I guess its one of those things I will have to wait patiently for.

I know if this had happened to me as a kid, I’d probably have flunked badly. But then again, it is said the kid’s mind is like a super computer. Kids can adjust quickly to all sorts of change.

Or can they?

I think in English. Have thought in English since I was a kid. I know lots of kids today who learned English before their first tongue. And in this age of Babarita and all her Latino cousins masquerading as actresses on TV, I know there’s going to be a few more kids that think in English. Because their mothers don’t live here. Where they live, cool kids speak English.

Maybe it’s okay for our generation, since we are already wasted. But what about the generation of the Solanges, Shaniquas, Tyrons and Laquandas that are causing lots of aural pain to priests as they try to christen them every week? What is going to happen to the TV generation of a few years from now?

True, government has survived bigger storms. They have introduced strange policies without sensitizing the public and they’ve gotten away with it. Somehow. They’ve pushed VAT on us and a decade later, we still don’t understand what its all about. They’ve given us UPE, USE, Multiparty politics (when all along they said this is the devil’s business)…

Maybe English is becoming obsolete. Recently, His Lordship, the Mayor of Kampala said he admired the Chinese so much because they “can’t speak English yet they are very successful.” And it’s true. Those guys, like many others around the world don’t need to know English to do business.

My generation is full of people who believe that what they’ve had growing up is the best and they want to give the same to their kids. This of course goes against the progressive thinking that you should always be ready to question your old beliefs. But they will probably be teaching the chilluns English on the sly.

Enter home schooling. And you thought it would never come to Ug! Short of teaching your child from home, how are you going to keep them from being confused? If you speak English at home, Junior is going to speak English wherever he goes and when he gets to school, depending on where you live, he’ll come back speaking a language you have never heard before.

Maybe it’s worth it. Just think; a whole new crop of scientists who don’t speak the same language. That Swahili project seems to have stalled somewhere and without a national language, with English being kicked out, we’ll probably have a Tower of Babel right here along the Equator.


About Steven

It wasn't me; arrest the voices. It was the voices in my head. Sike! I am Ugandan first. I care for development in my country. I am a curious observer second and I care to know what you think.
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12 Responses to E=mc…okobye ki?

  1. joshi says:

    LA..i was thinkin the same thing.But since the creation and re-creation of the EAC,arent we supposed to be learning swahili??

  2. Degstar says:

    i worked on d PR plan 4 d new Thematic Curriculum b4 resigning to pursue fame n fortune. dere’s a lot of well thot out rationale, research n fact behind it, unfortunately, its an entire year behind schedule whh means dere hsnt been enuff tym, n money, available to properly sensitise y’all as well as do all the pre-testing n shit. blame dat shit on the Govt, dey’re d ones who’ve been dragging their VX-driving asses around, to d detriment of d kids nationwide.

  3. Savage-No, I didn't quit says:

    Wasn’t it because we were being taught in English from the get go that Tanzanians were flocking over for a good education in Uganda?

  4. Pea says:

    Lovely Amphibian, I’m confused! Is this true? Kavuyolizing the whole system! Mother tongue bikyi? Way to fuel severe brain drain! I am all for people preserving their tongues but is this realistic? Aren’t there more than 30 languages in Uganda? How will they cater for each mother tongue? Will it be a go to Kitante p1-p4 for Luganda, go to Nakasero p1-p4 for Japadhola type of thing? I think they should do it like Kenya… learn in English, but make Kiswahili a compulsory language class throughout primary and high school. That way, people speak fluent English and Swa, and learn their mother tongues from, well, their mothers, metaphorically speaking, i.e. @ home. Degstar please enlighten us ko.. Pre-testing is key, je pense! This can be catastrophic if it’s not planned for.

  5. Savage-No, I didn't quit says:

    The developed counties that don’t speak English can pull it off because they have one/ two languages so there is some kind of unity.

    This thing is just gonna divide us more.
    Didn’t we learn anything from the Bible story of the Tower of Babel?

  6. Kenyanchick says:

    Actually, I hate to break it to you Pea, but in most rural schools in Kenya small children (nursery to about standard 2 or so) are taught in vernacular. It’s come under scrutiny lately, and I think the Ministry’s going to try to get rid of it…

    I’m a bit ambivalent about the whole thing, but do have one question: how much is this going to cost?

  7. countryboy says:

    You know what guys, i think it’s cool if kids are taught in their mother tongues in lower primary. From P1-P3, i was taught in Rukiga. We read storybooks such as KENGORO NA RUTARO and other thrillers like the story of KAPELE. We started on English in P.4. When you learn to love and appreciate your mother tongue at a tender age, it’s important for cultural identity. I envy Kenyans and Tanzanians for Kiswahiili, the Rwandese. People can study and become professors and write books for their own people in their languages -it’s the best way both the educated and the illeterate can communicate well. It’s said Chinua Achebe wrote all his famous novels in Yoruba before he directly translated them to English. I wonder if he would have communicated as powefully in English. Personally, i’ve been painfully writing short stories in English yet in my own language, i sail. In fact, i want to do a master’s degree in literature and major in Runyakitara. I’ve friends who are Banyankole-Bankiga but can’t speak well in their mother tongues because they were brought up in the city with remote controls in their hands. Imagine that. We were colonised and so was our language. Because English is not our language we can’t master it and because we’ve not studied our mother tongues from day one we wander aimlessly like a solitary cloud, linguistically speaking; you can ferment great ideas but fail to put them down in your language. This obsession for English has so spoiled us that when you read ‘Orumuri’ or ‘Bukudde’ and you are a university student some people find you weird. Have you heard people making jokes of the way Nigerians speak? What brings about this thing of forcing accents? My point it this: learning in English and other languages is not a bad thing but importanly, our mother tongues should come first because an own language is the backbone of a peole. And the only way we can protect our languages is if the young ones are initiated at birth.

  8. Degstar says:


    research has it documented – come round 4 hot choclate n i’ll show u – dat kids taught in dere mother tongues learn about shit like syntax n diction n enunciation n pronounciation n spelling an all dat a lot better wen dey go on 2 learn a 2nd language (english). dats why ur grandfather speaks better english dan u. remember dat d english alphabet is limited to like 26 letters n ur mother tongue, well many more. dats why u gat phrases dat r d same thing but sed differently, mean different things. e.g wen M7 – 4 want of a better example – wants to mek a point he goes native, not because d proverb aint dere in english – n it usually aint – bt mostly bse shit is richer, more descriptive, more flowery, more laden with meaning, in vernaular. try saying d marriage vows in english n den in vernacular to illustrate this point.

    here’s how it will work. kids will b taught in the dominant vernacular of d area where dey live. if u from acholi n living in kabale den ur kids gon learn rukiga from p1 – p3, so those tribes dat have like 50 people r gon lose out.n wats more important is dat;

    1. kids wont be taught sst, science, maths, english etc (p1 – p3), dey will b taught themes – hence Thematic Curriculum – dat encompass all dat stuff e.g Our environment, Our Home, Our health, Our Community, Counting, etc. key point, a theme like Our Environment will include stuff like Primary Health Care, Basic Science e.g washing ur hands, how to keep ur community clean – basically a bit of everything.

    2. in any case, in case y’all 4got, u started d serious learning in P4 didnt u? b4 dat u spent p1 – p3 playing with slates (in my school) or repeating after d teacher; 1+1=2, 2+2=4 und so veiter (German 4 “etc”).

    here’s where d prob is gon be. r u gon let ur kid in a govt sch like Boogie Rd study in vernacular knowing dat at private Lohana Academy dey’re teaching d kids English (n Mandarin Chinese probably)? …. i didnt think so. i wldnt with mine either. dey’ll have private tutoring 4 dat – if dey can choose whh 1 to study of the 5+ tribal backgrounds dey’ll belong to.

    can we afford it? we have no choice but to implement it. UPE as it is has messed up kids! believ u me, go upcountry n u’ll find kids in P7 who cant construct a sentence in English let alone write or read it, inspite of supposedly having been instructed in it from p1! dts why u gettin dumbass graduates from Makerere Uni; 1st class degree n stupid as a door post – garbage in, garbage out. dont worry tho, our Development Partners have commited to paying our way, we just need to sort out some technical details – e.g lifting d ban on teacher recruitment, finding enuff language teachers n paying d existing teachers a bit more, convincing d donors dat we wont make a mess of this like we did UPE – stuff lik dat.

    in d words of some wiseass chinese – n oft quoted by d Education Minister – “the journey of a 1000 miles, begins with one step”. word.

  9. Pea says:

    Kale Degstar, but does that first step have to be so humongous? They should do small-small and then see. The Buganda Rd example you give is exactly what I’m saying – soon even the Lohana whatevers aren’t going to be good enough and people will be shipped off to this dreaded America of a place to be educated! Scary, if you ask me.

    Kenyanchick, (gasp!) is that right? I honestly didn’t know… but then again it isn’t intentional, it’s not the ministry that implemented it.

    I don’t know… I spoke English at home and at school but going to the village three times a year helped me hone my mother tongue, so… I guess not everyone can do 8 hour journeys every other day. I still don’t think vernacular has to be learnt at school but reading Degstar‘s comment has comforted me somewhat.

    I really hope it works.

    PS: If Makerere is among the better African unis and they’re breeding garbage… wait, it is among the better African unis, isn’t it? Has that changed? Isn’t that why all the Kenyans ran them sides? Or was that just because it’s cheaper?

    Hoo… This is all very tragic. I worry, I do. Hope it all works out okay.

  10. ish says:

    u wanna see how kids who learn in their vennacular struggle to become part of the increasingly globalized economies of the world? come to india. grown ass men and women trying to learn english so that they can get jobs. full degree holders who don’t go past “how are you?” in english. sure they’re chock full of national identity and pride and all that, but when has that ever enabled someone to feed their family?

  11. Degstar says:

    curous but it is 8 hours to my village too, what’re d chances of dat?
    d kenyans only come to Makerere coz its cheaper.
    Ugandans with colour go to Daystar, USIU n Uni of Nairobi, all of dem in Kenya.

  12. Pea says:

    Degstar, lovely to have something in common! 😉
    Quite interesting, the uni thing.

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