The challenge of mother tongue education in Kenya
The importance of mother tongue in the cognitive, linguistic, personal and educational development of children cannot be overemphasised. It is out of this recognition that the UNESCO declared 2006 the Year of African Languages. In spite of this, the language policy in Kenya continues to be tilted in favour of English and to some extent Kiswahili, at the expense of mother tongues.
The question posed in this paper is: When will the mother tongues in Kenya take their rightful position in the education system? This paper aims at analysing the language policy in Kenya. Of particular concern is the significance of mother tongue in the school system, the wider community and the nation.
The paper addresses some of the persistent problems and challenges that hinder the teaching of indigenous languages in Kenya. It also suggests possible strategies that can be used to revitalize mother tongue education in the Kenya and elsewhere.
Mother tongue is defined by UNESCO (1953:46) as “the language which a person acquires in early years and which normally becomes their natural instrument of thought and communication”. In Kenya, the Kenya Institute of Education (2002:117) defines mother tongue as “the first language a child is expected to or the language of the schools' catchment area”.
Any attempt to define what constitutes mother tongue education has elicited controversy in academic circles. This paper will not focus on this debate but will adopt the one proposed by UNESCO as a working definition. According to UNESCO (1968:698) mother tongue education is “Education which uses its medium of instruction a person's mother tongue, that is, the language a person has acquired in early years and which normally has become his/her natural instrument of thought and communication.”
Lwati: A Journal of Contemporary Research Vol. 4 () 2007: pp.101-119