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'Use indigenous languages to teach sciences'

by Lungile Tshuma
20 Sep 2015 at 10:12hrs | Views
SPEAKING MATHS | We will never learn mathematics as long as it is taught in a foreign language, argues Professor of Physics, Themba Dlodlo.
MATHEMATICS and Science subjects should be translated into indigenous languages, a development academics believe will result in a high pass rate in schools. It has also emerged that some African and European countries are already teaching all subjects in their local languages. Dr Temba Dlodlo, a lecturer in the Department of Physics at the National University of Science and Technology, is working on a paper demonstrating how feasible the concept can be.

Dr Dlodlo said people should be proud of their languages and through teaching pupils all subjects in local languages, the teacher conveys knowledge easily.

He said most students were struggling to understand a number concepts in science subjects because the language of instruction is foreign - English. The country has been recording poor Ordinary Level pass rates. In 2014 the pass rate was 22,38 percent while in 2013 it stood at 20,72 percent. In 2012 the pass rate stood at 18,4 percent which was marginally lower than that for 2011 which was at 19,5 percent.

Tanzania and Somalia are notable countries which are using their local languages KiSwahili and Somalis, respectively, as a language of instruction.

"The fact that people learn in a language that is not theirs or they don't know, will make them hardly understand many complicated concepts. Concepts need to be translated into local languages so that students understand what is being talked about. It is very difficult for people to assimilate concepts in a foreign language.

"All other countries in the world use their languages. Only Africans like to speak in French, Portuguese and English. After speaking those languages, they see themselves as clever, developed and modern but that's embarrassing. English is a foreign language. Even though we have had generations of people who have been taught in and learnt English but the majority of people who did not go to school do not understand it and even those who have gone to school always speak broken English but we still insist that we should all speak on English," Dr Dlodlo said.

"I studied in other countries where I did not use English but had to use their local languages. I studied my Physics in Dutch in Holland and went on to do my PhD in Finland and I used the Finish language. We used to have Russian and Polish visiting lecturers and they were using their local languages but to us it was translated in Dutch. We should follow that model as Zimbabwe and promote our languages."

Dr Dlodlo said just like the Bible, most textbooks had to be translated from other languages to English.

"The science which I use was developed by Germans in their language and it was translated to English and French. Why can't we translate English to our own languages so that it can be easy to understand concepts? These concepts need to be translated and this is what I am doing. We must stop pretending that we are Americans, Portuguese and French. We are not. Let us promote our culture through our language," he said.

Commenting on his paper, Dr Dlodlo said it is likely to be published in January next year. He said his main aim was to prove that it is possible to translate any subject which is written in English to local languages.

Prominent educationist Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga, who was the chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training, a commission to establish how best the school curriculum can tailor-made to suit the country's needs, popularly known as Nziramasanga Commission, said he was also advocating for translation of all text into local languages.

"Most Northern African countries are using their local languages when teaching at school. What is surprising is that mostly Southern African countries are still stuck in the colonial era where we highly regard English at the expense of our own languages," said Dr Nziramasanga.

"People have their reservations but I will be happy to see my grandchild reading a Shona translated Geography textbook. Russians and Germans are using their languages as a language of instruction including in their textbooks; so why can't Zimbabwe do the same? As a country and a continent, we should move away from this colonial mindset. This is the time to promote our local languages."

Dr Samukele Hadebe, a linguist and former chairperson in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Zimbabwe, said people should change their attitude if the move was to be adopted. He said there is nothing that can stop the country from implementing the move because it has the required personnel.

"This exercise is not difficult or impossible to do. I am a linguist. We have many other linguists who can translate anything to our local languages. We just need specialists in the specific field and they then explain to us concepts and we interpret them. The only problem which we have to address is change of attitudes. People must accept that English is not our first language and we are not specialists in English and this is the reason why when people get scholarships they are tested for their language proficiency," said Dr Hadebe.



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