Early Childhood Development centres countrywide are teaching learners all subjects using local languages common to their areas to “enable (children) to fully grasp key concepts”.
This began when the first term of 2017 opened, and stems from the new education curriculum which targets sharpening cognitive and psychomotor skills, among other areas.
The approach means learners in, say Binga, will get Mathematics, Computer, Science and other lessons in Tonga, the district’s dominant language.
The Constitution lists Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa as Zimbabwe’s official languages.
ECD has the following learning areas: Languages, Visual and Performing Arts, Physical Education, Mass Displays, Mathematics, Science, Family and Heritage, and ICT.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora told The Sunday Mail, “The medium of communication or instruction for infants or our ECD is supposed to be the mother language. This will ensure children feel at home during lessons and that they express themselves freely.
“If you look at the Nziramasanga Commission Report (on education review), these were some of the recommendations we adopted. What we took, among other areas, were the issue of language as a medium of instruction and increasing the number of years for primary education from seven to nine.”
Dr Dokora also said, “Some among us would have taken me to court if we had said children must learn (using) their mother languages without the backing of the Constitution. However, this is all constitutional. We want to ensure our children interact with everyone.
“Language must not be seen as a barrier to learning or communication. This new (curriculum) ensures children master skills at an early age, and we must be proud of ourselves. The same emphasis we are putting on mathematics or English is the same emphasis we are putting on sport. We all want to ensure our children eke out a living from this education, and we all know that we can’t all be academics.”
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association secretary-general Mr John Mlilo said while the approach was commendable, Dr Dokora should ensure adequate teacher training first.
“Early Childhood Development involves a lot of playing; it’s important for the activities to be packaged in the language learners understand. The question is: If the medium of instruction is Venda, for example, do we have enough qualified teachers?
“The issue of textbooks at that level is not critical unless the teacher does not speak a particular language. So, we need more qualified teachers at ECD.”
Progressive Teachers’ Association of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Raymond Majongwe said, “The new curriculum is noble, but its implementation has been chaotic. Teachers are at sea; there is unbelievable chaos in our education sector at the moment.”
An analyst who preferred anonymity weighed in: “Ideas such as these are transformational. However, it is implementation and relevance that concerns some of us. The key questions we should ask ourselves are; are some of the recommendations made in 1999 relevant to our times? If other countries adopted certain things successfully, does that mean we can copy them and also get the same results?
“Where are the Mathematics or Science books that are written in Ndebele, Venda or Shona? If we are able to answer these questions satisfactorily then we are on the right track. Those countries that use their indigenous languages have such books translated to support the concept.”
Government introduced the new curriculum in 2016 to balance academics and vocational technical training.
The document was crafted around the recommended around recommendations of the 1999 Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training which was headed by Professor Caiphas Nziramasanga, with input from a cross-section of stakeholders.
It also includes emerging global education trends.
Countries like Germany, China, Cuba and Russia deliver lessons in their indigenous languages, and research indicates this accounts for their high education standards.
The Nziramasanga Commission pointed out that educational, technological and cultural attainments could be raised if instruction was in a learner’s first language. It implored Government to review the policy on indigenous languages to make them compulsory in schools.
At the time, only English, Ndebele and Shona were in the curriculum.
Part of the Commission’s report reads, “There is need for language policy that is clear and explicit. . .Indigenous languages facilitate participation by all in the process of development. Throughout the colonial era, indigenous languages were denigrated.”
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