The new education system launched by President Jakaya Kikwete on February 13, 2015, in line with National Vision 2025 will also extend basic education from seven years to 11 years, provide free education at primary and education levels and abolish national examinations for primary school levers.
This appears to be one of the first times that a country in Africa will teach students at all levels in an African language instead of a foreign language.
Commenting on the language shift, Atetaulwa Ngatara, the assistant director for policy at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, said English will still be taught as a language, but for students to learn English it's not necessary that all their subjects be taught in it.
An article about the policy shift posted on Facebook by Oliver Stegen, a Swahili speaker of German origin and a linguistic advisor at language development non-profit SIL International, elicited mixed responses.
Nancy Petruzzi Maurer joked:
“Goood mauning teacha!” No more
Paul A Kijuu commented in Swahili saying that English has turned the educated class into robots:
Kwa upande wangu, Oliver Stegen mimi naona hii ni hatua nzuri sana. Shida yetu ni kulalamika. Elimu inapaswa itolewe kwa lugha inayoeleweka kwa mtumiaji. Kiingereza hakitusaidii zaidi ya kutufanya maroboti. Wasomi wetu hawafikiri kwa kujitegemea kwa sababu hakuna walichojifunza wanachokielewa.
On my side, Oliver Stegen I see this as the right move. Our problem is complaining. Education has to be given using the language that the user understands. English does not help us apart from turning us into robots. Our educated elites do not think independently because they do not understand what they studied.
Vera Wilhelmsen noted that not everyone needs to go to university but everyone deserves a good basic education:
I think it is important to consider what kind of basic education will benefit the most people. It is clear that per today not very many people make it to secondary school, and even fewer graduate from it. There is a problem when neither students not teachers are equipped to make the switch from Swahili to English in secondary school. Of course we have to watch for the effects, but I also do think it is a good step forward. Not everyone needs to go to university, but everyone deserves a good basic education!
However, not everyone was in support of the new education system. Steve Nicolle pointed out one possible effect of the new policy:
I suspect one effect of this legislation will be an increase in enrollments in private schools that continue to offer tuition in English. Keep an eye open for politicians opening new English medium schools in the near future!
Elly Gudo agreed with Steve Nicole, arguing that politicians will be the main beneficiaries of the policy:
I totally agree with Steve Nicolle. Having lived in Tanzania, I can tell you for sure that politicians are the highest beneficiaries of this new policy. Majority of Tanzanian middle and all upper classes who have identified with the global village will do anything to take their children to English Medium Schools. The common man's child will then be highly disadvantaged when it comes to University admission and by extension job acquisition. After 2 decades, the country will be highly classified. Tanzania needs a French-type Revolution in many facets.
Opposing the policy, Muddyb Mwanaharakati said the following in Swahili:
Oliver Stegen usichekelee. Wametia siasa ndani yake. Watoto zao wanasoma international schools. Sisi akina kajamba nani tutasoma zilezile S.t vichochoroni ili tubaki na Kiingereza chetu cha ya, ya, yes no yes no. Wakati watoto wao wanamwaga ngeli ya maana. Sijaifurahia hatua hii. Kwetu bado sana Oliver hata matangazo na sehemu nyingi ya masuala ya serikali yapo Kiingereza.
Oliver Stegen do not make me laugh. They have politicised the issue. Their children go to international schools [where the language of instruction is English]. We, the poor ones, will continue with going to under performing and poorly equipped schools and continue with our English of ya, ya, yes no yes no. At the same time their children are speaking English fluently. We are still very far, Oliver, even public notices and government information in many places are still in English.
Josephat Rugemalira observed that the new policy is not as radical as people think:
You need to read carefully what the policy says: it says Swahili will be used at all levels and ALSO says English will be used at all levels (that means including primary level). So my interpretation is that the only NEW thing made possible by such statements is that it is possible now for some people to establish Swahili medium secondary schools, and it is now official that local government authorities can convert existing primary schools to become English medium.
Reacting to the same article posted on Trending Kenya, Margaret Njeru explained that the new system does not kick out foreign or second languages but put them in their appropriate places in the learning process:
Indeed, bold and in the right direction. Education is about development, and that development can only come through a language a people make sense of. The world over, none of the so-called developed economies operates in a foreign language, and the use of the former colonial languages in many African countries has definitely contributed to the marginalization of the majority in the development process. If we have to define “our” development path, then the language choice must go hand-in-hand with it. And this does not in any way mean kicking out the foreign (or second languages), rather putting them in their appropriate place in the learning process.
Kwame Aboagye said it is time Africans used their languages:
It is about time that our African countries should speak our own dialects such as Twi, Yoruba, Swahili and Mandingo. English wasn't our original language in the first place and we need to wake-up and go back to our principals with pride.
The shift is monumental but it comes with significant challenges, noted Christina Higgins:
What good news indeed. Now the big test will be how to transition to Swahili in terms of materials, exams, and more. Despite challenges, this shift is truly monumental.