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Birgit Brock-Utne


This article looks into the unfounded belief in many so-called anglophone countries in Africa that mathematics and science are best taught in English and not in an African language, the language pupils and teachers normally speak and command much better than English. Examples are given from Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Ghana. The reintroduction of English from the 5th grade in primary school in maths and science in the Kiswahili speaking island of Zanzibar is discussed at some length. Examples from Africa are contrasted with examples from some Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The attitudes of parents which are built on a misconception are analysed. The article ends on a more optimistic note claiming that misconceptions can be altered.

Language and liberation

Language of Instruction for Mathematics and Science: A Comparison and Contrast of Practices Focusing on Tanzania


Birgit Brock-Utne

Sura hii inahusu lugha ya kufundishia kwenye nchi za Afrika (anglophone). Hasa inahusu ufundishaji wa sayansi na teknolojia. Nchi zilizoiwala Afrika zinatumia misaada kuimarisha lugha zao kama lugha za kufundishia katika shule za Afrika. Hakuna shule hata moja ya sekondari Afrika nzima inayotumia lugha ya kiafrika kama lugha ya kufundishia. Mifano kutoka Sri Lanka na Malaysia inaonyesha kwamba ni muhimu sana ufundishaji wa sayansi na teknolojia ukafanyika katika lugha ambayo wanafunzi wanaielewa, yaani lugha wanayotumia kila wakati. Mwaka 2006 Zanzibar ilitangaza kurudisha lugha ya kiingereza kama lugha ya kufundishia masomo ya hisabati na sayansi kuanzia darasa la tano, katika shule zote za serikali. Aidha kiswahili ni lugha ya kwanza kwa wakazi wengi wa Zanzibar. Kwenye sura hii ninajaribu kuchambua misukumo nyuma ya mwenendo huu na nani anafaidika nao. (Translated to Kiswahili [swh], the lingua franca of Tanzania, by the author, with thanks to Jane Bakahwehmama for making a final check.)

This chapter deals with the language of instruction (LOI) issues in so-called “Anglophone” African countries. It especially looks at the teaching of science and technology. The former colonial powers use large parts of their aid budgets to promote their own languages as languages of instruction in the schools in Africa. No secondary school in Africa has an African language as the LOI. Examples from Sri Lanka and Malaysia show that it is especially important that the teaching of science is done in a familiar language, the language children normally speak. Yet in 2006 Zanzibar reintroduced English as the language of instruction from grade five in mathematics and science subjects in all government primary schools – and that on an island where Kiswahili is the first language of the whole population. In my chapter I attempt to analyze the forces behind this move and who profits from it.


Allan Pitman, Suzanne Majhanovich and Birgit Brock-Utne


Edited by Birgit Brock-Utne, Z. Desai, Martha A.S. Qorro and Allan Pitman

This book is based on chapters in a series of four books from the first five years (2002-2006) of the Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA) project. LOITASA is a NUFU-funded (Norwegian University Fund) project which began in January 2002 and will continue through to the end of 2011. The chapters reflect the state of the research at the end of the first five years of LOITASA in 2006 and were selected by reviewers independent of the project.

The selection of chapters brought together bring to the forefront the dilemmas facing developing countries as they seek to position themselves in an increasingly interconnected global system, while at the same time maintaining a sense of national and regional identity. The chapters in this collection reflect both positive outcomes when the medium of instruction is a widely-known language as well as the challenges of mother tongue instruction in countries where historically a powerful language like English has dominated.

The four LOITASA books in this series from which the chapters in this book are drawn are:

Language of instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA) published by E & D Ltd, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Researching the language of instruction in Tanzania and South Africa published by African Minds, Cape Town South Africa
LOITASA Research in Progress published by KAD Associates, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Focus on fresh data on the language of instruction debate in Tanzania and South Africa published by African Minds, Cape Town, South Africa.

All four books are edited by Birgit Brock-Utne, the Norwegian project leader of the LOITASA project; Zubeida Desai, the South African project leader and Martha Qorro, who is on the project steering committee in Tanzania.


Birgit Brock-Utne, Zubeida Desai, Martha A.S. Qorro and Allan Pitman