Mother tongue instruction in schools said to be pivotal

Batswana want the Languages Policy 2022 that makes recommendations for mother tongue instruction to be compulsory in schools across Botswana implemented immediately.

This is according to the recommendations of the Presidential Commission report that was released recently. The findings also indicate the need to develop inclusive language policies which will provide for the use of the diverse African languages in Botswana.

From the interviews, the commissioners established that it is imperative to do so, because vital indigenous knowledge, which can contribute to sustainable development, can only be best understood in the languages of the people.

Despite the fact that indigenous languages are invaluable carriers of environmental education, the current language policy in Botswana does not provide room for the use of the different indigenous languages. The hegemony of English and Setswana prevails in the communication of information on environmental issues, even in instances where other local languages could have been utilised to effectively communicate the intended message.

Botswana has 28 ethnic language communities, although in most literature only Setswana is spoken of. English and Setswana are the only languages used in education. This practice of using only two languages started during the colonial period and continued after independence in 1966.

Languages which were set to be introduced in the beginning of this year are Sheyeyi, ThiMbukushu, Ikalanga, Shekgalagari, Chikuhane (Sesubiya), IsiNdebele, Afrikaans, Naro (Sesarwa), Shona, Otjiherero and Sign Language.

The languages were supposed to be used from pre-primary level until Standard Two in a bid to allow for smooth transition of learners as of last year but it was put off to this year but the plan did not take off, with Government indicating that it is still carrying out a piloting and training programme to ensure smooth implementation of the Policy.

BOSETU President Winston Radikolo earlier this year told media that teaching in mother tongue languages is a welcome development in our education system.

When launching the Languages Policy in August last year, Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) promised to introduce 11 new local languages in schools to be used as mediums of instruction, as from January 2022 for the

purposes of inclusivity and equity.

MoBE had collaborated with the Department of African Languages at the University of Botswana last year to host a collaborative seminar with stakeholders in education to solicit views on mother tongue learning and subsequently carried out a nationwide consultation.

MoBE Minister Fidelis Molao has indicated that the introduction of indigenous languages in schools would be realised through the implementation of the Botswana Languages Policy in Education, enacted last year.

He said that "the main intent of the Botswana Languages Policy in Education is to promote language development and quality education that is accessible, equitable and relevant to all learners."

He also noted that the Languages Policy would serve as a democratic and unifying factor for a proud and self-respecting nation and promote languages’ development and facilitate access to relevant quality education by all learners, and also help to facilitate systematic transition from home to school using mother tongue for instruction.

Molao confirmed that findings from research in the Ministry has demonstrated that teaching children in their mother tongue or local language, during their formative years, creates a crucial foundation for their conceptual, cognitive, and affective development.