Education expert Jonathan Kivumbi sends intriguing missive to Minister Janet Museveni over instruction in local languages

Education Minister Janet Museveni (PHOTO /Courtesy).

Unlike many (if not all), of my write-ups, that I have always kick-started from the know, please kindly allow me begin today’s write-up, with a jargon, of Japanese origin, genchi genbustu, which literally means ‘going to the source’.

One of the most revered principles at Toyota, is ‘gench genbustu’, which, as earlier stated, means ‘going to the source’. Going to the source involves providing a swift response to ‘small’ problems that might have ‘large’ consequences, if not allowed to continue without remedy, including those problems that are ‘large’, and costly from the start.

At Toyota, going and seeing is required by employees at all levels, from entry-level workers, to senior-level executives. Going to the source enables you establish facts, thereby enabling you to make correct and/or well-informed decisions.

Besides, it also enables you build consensus and arrive at your goals at the required speed. Maama, this is one area that I have convincingly introduced to you, throughout all my correspondences, only that you have not yet fully embraced it. It is very important you go, and see the problem first-hand, for, as is the case with Toyota, it is strongly believed that practical experience is valued over theoretical knowledge.

You must see the problem, to know and fully understand the problem, as this is the only way you can come up with workable, practical, and lasting solutions.

It is, therefore, against the aforementioned background, Maama, that I wish to draw your attention to my concerns, and, of course, the concerns of the general public, regarding your desire of teaching science, at the primary school level, with the aid of our local languages.

Prior to proceeding with my submission, allow me pose this question, Maama, ‘What informed this decision’? Precisely, before embracing the recommendation given to you by the said group of educationists, did you bother going to the source, yourself, so as to establish the problem, yourself, firsthand, as earlier stated?

‘The Minister of Education and Sports, Ms. Janet Museveni, has concurred with the recommendation from a section of educationalists, that science be taught in local languages, at primary level’, reports the New Vision, of Friday, October 8, 2021. For goodness sake, Maama, what exactly compelled you, to welcome this highly controversial, unfortunate, and questionable recommendation, surely?

What is that, that informed the brains behind this recommendation, surely? Put differently, why did the architects of this recommendation, come up with such a recommendation? Could there recommendation be guided by empirical research? And if so, what was/is their sample space? Precisely, out of the 146 districts, that make up the Pearl of Africa, how many districts did they cover? And how many schools, in the districts covered, did they look at? How comprehensive was their questionnaire?

And throughout this research, what exactly where they looking out for, surely? What quality of the population (or sample), did they perform their research on? Precisely, was their research performed on the literate population, or not?

And assuming it was conducted on the literate population, the next question that any researcher would still raise, is, ‘Was/is this sample of the population, on which research was conducted, knowledgeable enough about education management, with specific reference, to Uganda’? And if so, by which magnitude?

For heaven’s sake, Maama, in the absence of a national language, how possible is it for one to talk of conducting instruction, in school, in local language, surely? In other words, in your opinion, Maama, do you think it is possible to disseminate knowledge to learners, at whatever level of instruction, with the aid of our local languages, in a country, like this one of ours, that has a multiplicity of local languages?

Surely, aware of the fact that, as a country, our total number of local languages ranges between 50 and 60, how possible is it, to effect the aforementioned recommendation?

‘Teaching science in local language, will make sense to us, and we will become transformational, when we really get involved in teaching science in mother tongue, at primary level’, says Ms. Museveni, the story continues to read, in part.

‘When you bring it in mother tongue, it becomes real and meaningful, and then, perhaps, we can have more scientists, in our society’, you further stated, Maama. Based on this analogy, Maama, allow me, pose the following questions, to you, of course.

(1) What makes you believe that once science is taught in our local languages, we (of course, as a country), will attain insurmountable strides in socio-economic transformation levels?

So, do you want to say that the elephant in the room, is language deficiency? Precisely, is it because of the failure, for us, as a country, to instruct our learners, specifically at the primary school level, in their respective mother tongues, that we have failed to attain the desired transformational levels, more so, in the field of science and technology?

(2) And secondly, Maama, ‘did you take some time off, to further study the aforementioned recommendation, before giving it green light, surely? Precisely, did you take the initiative to study the recommendation, so as to find out its practicability, ahead of giving it your blessings? For goodness sake, Maama, how practical is it for us, as a country, to conduct the teaching-learning process, with the aid of our local languages, in a country comprising of a multiplicity of ethnicities, as earlier discussed?

(3) ‘When you bring it in mother tongue, it becomes real and meaningful’, so, you say. Okay then! Let us look at the topic of REPRODUCTION, which is normally covered in P.6. ‘Class, today we are going to look at the female reproductive organ’, says, a typical science teacher, in one of the schools in Buganda regions. So, Maama, can you please kindly, help this teacher introduce this topic (sub-topic) to his/her learners in Luganda, without sounding vulgar?

And can you please, also help the same teacher to introduce this 11-year old girl/boy to the ‘male reproductive organ’, in Luganda, without sounding vulgar, still? Generally, Maama, can you please kindly, help this teacher come up with a lesson plan, of the aforementioned topic, in Luganda, without sounding vulgar, at all? Precisely, Maama, please kindly assist this teacher come up with the Luganda version of words such as penis, testicles, vagina, ova, sperms, and cervix, among others, without, practising offensive communication, before his/her target audience.

(4) But surely, Maama, how possible is it for one to come up with the mother tongue version of the countless scientific concepts? In line with this, Maama, can you please kindly, assist this science teacher in a school situated in Ankole region, conducting a lesson on the topic of LIGHT, with the Runyakore version of the terms ‘concave mirror’ and ‘convex mirror’, for example.

And what could the Runyakore version of the terms ‘hypogeal’ and ‘epigeal’ germination, be, surely?

(5) Is it possible for you, Maama, to request the people who came up with this recommendation, to come up with the drawings of all the diagrams that our children are introduced to in science, fully labelled and/or named in the different local languages, we have in the country?

As a Muganda, I am, for example, very anxiously waiting to see the different parts of the heart, ear, and eye, for example written in Luganda. And, Oh my God, I also just cannot wait to see the different parts of the molar tooth, brain, and skeleton, take the Luganda version, as well.

Generally, I pray, Maama, that you request these people to come to our rescue, and specifically, to the rescue of our dear teachers, and present us with each and every diagram looked at, in science, giving us, not only its translation in the different local languages, but also, presenting us with the translation of all the parts of this diagram.

(6) So, now that you have already embraced the idea of mother tongue instruction, Maama, when should we expect the literature, of the same, on market? Precisely, when should we expect the translated teaching-learning aids, of course, from English language, to the different local languages, operational, in Uganda?

(7) Of all subjects covered at the primary school level, why are we singling out only science, surely? Precisely, what is the essence of teaching science, with the aid of our local languages, and then leaving instruction in the rest of the subjects, go on in English language?

So, should we say that learners, across the country, encounter more problems in science, when taught in English, compared to any of the remaining three subjects, including English Language, itself? Maama, are you aware that the different disciplines (or subjects) that we are introduced to, at the different levels of instruction, throughout our academic journey, compliment, each other?

Surely, in your opinion, as the minister, do you find it worthwhile, for learners to excel in science (that is, if they will excel, anyway), while they continue posting miserable grades in the rest of the subjects? Are you sure, this is going to lead us, as a country, to the desired transformational levels, as you have already, stated, surely?

(8) So, after studying in their respective mother tongues, in which language are these learners, of ours, going to be examined, surely? Are we soon seeing national examinations administered in the different local languages, we have in the country, specifically those of ‘Integated Science’? Or, we should expect instruction to go on in our local languages, but, at the end of the day, administer exams, in English language?

And I want to strongly believe, this is your arrangement as a Ministry/minister. And so, if this is the case, why then, should we bother ourselves with these so many local languages, during the teaching-learning process, surely? Precisely, what is the essence of teaching someone in their mother tongue, and all of a sudden, examining them in an alien language, surely?

(9) Aware of the fact that, there isn’t a single school, countrywide that is compromised of learners the same ethnic background, how possible is it to start talking of the thematic curriculum, surely? Precisely, Maama, with each school, across the country, having learners hailing from different ethnic backgrounds, in your opinion, as the minister, do you really think it is possible for the teaching-learning process to go smoothly, with the aid of our respective mother tongues, surely?

In fact, like one respondent puts it, ‘Conducting science lessons, or lessons, of whichever subject, cannot ever happen in any of our local languages, officially, unless the minister expects the ratio of learners to teachers, to be 1:1. If there is, a learner called Nnabwire, in class, for example, there should be a Ssamia teacher, as well. And if there is, a learner from South Sudan, say of the Dinka origin, then the school, must, under whatever circumstances, hire the services of a Dinka teacher, as well. So, with this arrangement, how many teachers will occupy the same class, moreover, at the same time, surely?

(10) And Maama, are you aware that there are so many teachers, countrywide, teaching in areas/regions, which are not necessarily, their original home areas? So, with this fact at the back of your mind, how do you expect the teaching-learning process, to go on uninterrupted, surely?

In other words, how do you expect a one Jonathan Kivumbi, a Muganda, by tribe, but teaching science, in Ntungamo, Busia, or Kasese districts, to carry on with business, as expected, surely? And how will a one Aceng Mary (Ms), say, an Acholi, by tribe, conduct her lessons in Luganda, Lusoga, or Lugisu, assuming she is teaching science in one of the schools situated in Wakiso, Iganga, or Sironko districts, surely?

For goodness sake, Maama, prior to embracing this highly debatable recommendation, did you first think of this question, and, of course, all the questions, already underlisted? And if so, what answers, came to your mind, exactly?

(11) ‘Jonathan, I very well knew, actually from the day I heard of it, that introduction of the thematic curriculum, was not only a joke, but a real gamble, and that it would NEVER be effective and efficient, to whichever extent, for the obvious reasons (majority of which, if not all), you have already thoroughly explained, which reasons are without any doubt, obvious to any adult of sound mind, whether literate, or illiterate.

However, despite its highly undisputable challenges, as already mentioned, the Education Ministry, even way before Maama Janet’s coming, went ahead, and implemented this curriculum, and, to my dismay, it is still funding it’, reacted one of the respondents, to my comment about the aforementioned recommendation, who preferred anonymity.

Based on this person’s remarks, Maama, allow me pose this question: Ever since the thematic curriculum was introduced to learners in the lower primary school section (P.1-3), as the minister, currently in charge, do you really think, this curriculum has enabled us, of course, as a country, realize the required dividends, the reason you are now stretching it to P.7, though limiting it to only science?

Do you have empirical evidence, of course, based on empirical findings, that the thematic curriculum has really achieved its intended objectives? Are you aware that from the time this very highly controversial, unfortunate, and, of course, debatable curriculum was introduced, monitoring and evaluation of the same, has NEVER been conducted, in any school, across the country?

For goodness sake, with all due respect, Maama, are we going to just keep on flooding the sector with all these countless changes, majority of which, are not only controversial, but also highly challengeable, by the way, without carrying out a litmus test on them, to find out whether we are on the right track, or not?

(12) But surely, Maama, in a country full of countless lingual-related anomalies, how do you start talking of the thematic curriculum? So, after failing to even put right the name of our country ‘Uganda’, to correctly read ‘Yuganda’, so that the mismatch between phonetics and orthography, is erased, we are now jumping onto conducting science-related lessons, with the aid of our local languages? Surely, are we being true to ourselves?

With almost every part (village-district), carrying wrongly spelled names, which anomaly we have failed to rectify, despite the so many graduates and post-graduates (including doctors [PhD] and professors), of Linguistics, we have passed out, as a country, in the 59 years, of our existence, how do we expect to now begin translating typically science-related concepts, in our local languages, surely?

(13) In a country, where, say 5, 6, or 7 people carrying the same name, have it spelt in 5, 6, or 7 different ways, how do we start talking of the thematic curriculum, surely? Precisely, how do we expect teachers to come up with the rightful translation of scientific concepts, surely, after failing to even spell their names, correctly?

(14) Maama, are you aware that our children are introduced to wrong syllables, as early as their pre-primary level of education?

And as a graduate of early-child development, are you aware that it is these syllables, that have been wrongly introduced to our children, that form the basis of the teaching-learning process? So, after failing to even put right, something as basic, as syllables, why should we then jump onto the translation of scientific concepts, in our local languages, surely?

Does this, therefore, imply that it is much more easier to, say, find the Luganda version of the different parts of the flower; the leaf, or the onion, than putting right the existing mess in the Luganda syllables, surely?

(15) And Maama, what is your plan for the so many learners, hailing from the different parts (countries) of the world?

Consider an example of a class, composed of five learners from Kenya, one with a Kikuyu background; the second being a Luo; the third belonging to the Kalenjin speaking community; the forth being a Kamba, and the fifth a Masai.

For goodness sake, how is ateacher, conducting a science lesson, say, on LIGHT, SOUND, MAGNETISM, in any school, across the country, going to attend to all these learners, in their mother tongue? Yes, it is easy for one to say, that he/she [the teacher] should now resort to Kiswahili, since it is believed that all Kenyans know Kiswahili. Fine, but how many of our teachers, back home, know Kiswahili, surely?

And besides, how many of our learners back home, still, have prior knowledge of Kiswahili, surely?

(16) And what is the meaning of ‘science’, anyway? Precisely, what is the rightful description/definition of the term ‘science’ ‘surely’? Maama, are you still among those people carrying the HIGHLY MEANINGLESS, description of science, that you and me were introduced to by our teachers, as early as P.1, of ‘science being the study of living and non-living things’, surely?

So, after being introduced to the wrong definition of ‘wind’, as ‘wind is moving air’, are you also still among those people carrying these lies, in your head/brain, surely?

And then the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), comes up with yet another description of the subject called science, by referring to it as ‘Integrated Science’, in an effort to eliminate the noise in the initial concept ‘science’, but still, get it wrong.

For goodness sake, do the people at NCDC know the meaning of the word/verb ‘integrate’? Surely, how do you start integrating something that is already, singular? Precisely, how possible is it for one to combine, bring together, or join, something that is already existing in its singular form?

Take it, or leave it, Maama, the subject called ‘Science’, or ‘Integrated Science’, is INEXISTENT, and certainly, like I have already told you, throughout all my correspondences, for the years we have lived with this so-called subject ‘Science’, or ‘Integrated Science’, we have studied it in error, the reason, everything done in the name of this subject, of which instruction with the aid of the thematic curriculum (or local languages), is part, is NULL AND VOID.

By and large, Maama, not even the most renowned scholar of English language, world-over, can come up with the rightful and/or definite meaning of the term ‘science’, or ‘integrated science’, since this represents an abstract noun. Indeed, science, is among those abstract nouns, that carries no definite meaning. So, before coming up with the rightful name, or description of the subject called ‘Science’, or ‘Integrated Science’, I can assure you, we shall keep on gambling, with the subject.

(17) ‘Jonathan, Iike I have always told you, there is a group of people, within the ministry, working towards failing the minister’, said a friend, who preferred anonymity, when I shared with him the latest development, in the sector, of conducting science lessons, in our local languages.

‘Remember after her appointment, as minister, in 2016, there were a series of strikes in almost all public universities, across the country. The 2017 UNBEARABLE, leakage of the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), that left many of us, in shock, also happened, shortly after she [Maama Janet] had been appointed, minister’, this person continues to say.

‘These people are busy doing surgical operation on both the minister and the President’, he concludes. Therefore, based on this background, Maama, don’t you really think, this person has a point, that I have also mentioned to you, already, that necessitates you to move some steps backwards, and re-think your actions, surely?

You can imagine, nobody is talking about the people that provided you with this highly debatable recommendation, as earlier stated, but everyone, has decided to extend their wrath on you, as the minister and, of course, person, that blessed the idea. For example, when I posted this question on one of the WhatsApp platforms, ‘But who are these people misleading the minister, surely’?

One of the respondents had this to say, ‘Jonathan, take away! Stop defending this woman. Should development that attracts public attention, always be attributed to being advised’? Asked this person. ‘Leaders should also be in position to make own decisions, based on prior knowledge about the subject matter, and not necessarily, basing on advice’, he concludes.

(18) And lastly, but not the least, Maama, throughout my research about the aforementioned controversial recommendation, as earlier stated, another respondent, left me with these two questions, that I would also wish to leave with you, Maama, ‘Who is this person, that has taken it upon him/herself to sponsor this VERY UNVIABLE project of destroying Uganda’s education, surely?

And what exactly does he/she need so that, we, as Ugandans, can mobilize the necessary resources, and raise the amount/item that this person needs, so that he/she can back off, our education?

In a final analysis, Maama, without any doubt, you will agree with me, that unless answers to all the underlisted questions are found, the idea of flagging off the teaching of science, at the primary school level, must have an oversight, and for this reason, it should be dropped, with the urgency, it deserves.

With all due respect, Mama, I strongly advise you, like I have, of course, done before, to please kindly, ‘genchi gebustu’, that is, ‘go to the source’, yourself, as this is the only way, you can be in position to see the problem first-hand, and hence, deal with it, as required.

As earlier discussed, Maama, once you genchi gebustu, you will be in position to find the facts, first hand; make correct decisions; build consensus, and achieve the desired goals, at your best.

However, if you are still going to rely on reports and advice, you are being furnished with, from the people around you, majority of whom are opportune seekers, I can assure you, Maama, you will continually be belittled, insulted, and to the extreme, even abused, by people like Dr. Stella Nyanzi (PhD), and all her, accomplices. Maama, I pray you think about it.

Without any doubt, teaching learners in their local languages would, actually be the most ideal situation, because of the numerous and undisputable benefits associated with the approach. However, as earlier stated, not until we labour to fix the numerous gaps evident in the thematic curriculum, that we can start talking about the curriculum, in question.

Arguably, holding other factors constant, among the reasons responsible for the poor performance of learners in UPE schools is predominantly the use of the thematic curriculum during the teaching-learning process. Yes, these learners fail to even interpret the basic concepts of English language using in question formation, simply because they picked up such concepts in their mother tongue, during the teaching-learning process.

I am convinced beyond doubt, Maama, once you genchi gebustu, as initially advised, there is no way, absolutely, you will fail to agree with me, as the case has always been.

Consider an example of a driving school that instructs its learners with the aid of automatic cars, but then on going for the final driving test, ahead of acquiring the driving permit, these people are tested using manual, and not automatic cars.

Frankly speaking, with this kind of arrangement, nobody shall pass the test. This is not any different from our focal point of discussion. You just cannot instruct learners using their mother tongue, and then provide them with exams designed in English language.

I beg to submit!

Jonathan Kivumbi

The writer is a senior educationist, a self-educated linguist, and a communication skills expert.

0770880185 (WhatsApp 0702303190)

EDITORIAL NOTE: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect our editorial stance.

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