According to The Language Policy for Schools in Namibia, mother tongue or a predominant local language shall be the medium of instruction (MoI) throughout the Junior Primary Phase (Pre-grade to Grade 3). Additionally, it shall be a transitional language (TL) in Grade 4. In compliance with the above interpretation, Oshindonga First Language has been in use as an MoI throughout the Junior Primary Cycle in the Omusati region, as well as a TL in Grade 4, with the motive to promote the language and cultural identity of pupils.
Furthermore, it is enacted to aid in the acquisition of the second language, i.e. English. Above all, it is adopted to ensure the attainment of concept formation, literacy and numeracy – whereas, in Grade 4, it serves for A supportive role; hence, the MoI switch to English on the Senior Primary Phase and continuing throughout the school system.
Languages serve as a means of communication in societies and classrooms. The familiarity of a language to learners to be utilised as an MoI in the Junior Primary Phase and Grade 4 as a TL plays an imperative role, as it aids in the elaboration of concepts to be comprehended easier. It also aids in the acquisition of early literacy and numeracy.
The use of a predominant local language has been viewed as a fashionable practice to ensure inclusiveness in multi-lingual classrooms. As a result, languages of the majority have been imposed as MoI and TL in the communities of the minority.
One objective of The Language Policy for Schools in Namibia is to unite the Namibian inhabitants from different tribal groups. It is in support of the above statement that Oshindonga is chosen as an MoI and as a TL in schools within the Omusati region for political rationales, but not for educational justifications (i.e. to aid in the acquisition of early literacy and numeracy) as argued.
Omusati region is a multi-lingual locale (being a home for Oshikwambi, Oshingandjera, Oshikwaludhi, Oshinkolonkadhi, Oshimbandja and Oludhimba speakers). In reality, the above-mentioned languages are the predominant local familiar languages in the Omusati region. However, Oshindonga has been exclusively utilised as an MoI and TL, on the notion that it is the predominant local language. Most learners from this region are unfamiliar with the Oshindonga because it is not their first language and they only stumble it in classrooms. It is also complex for them to understand Oshindonga concepts; hence, it serves as a lingua franca in their region. As a consequence, these learners have lower literacy and numeracy acquisition due to the fact that they are not proficient and fluent in Oshindonga as far as vocabulary, syntax and morphology are concerned.
There is a need to develop orthographies for those languages for them to be standardised and survive in today’s world. It is, therefore, high time for educational experts to look into this matter with big eyes. As educational scholars, we do make head or tail that the standardisation process may be a burden, as there may be a shortage of qualified teachers to lecture through the use of those subjects as MoI, teach them as subjects, as well as scarcity of teaching and learning resources.
However, the issue of lack of qualified teachers can be bridged by training teachers first before those languages are used as MoI in the junior primary juncture, transitional languages and taught as subjects, while the scarcity of teaching and learning materials is not a Gordian knot as teachers can consider adaptation of learning materials. In addition, they are up-skilled to be creative, rather than being textbook bound teachers.
In conclusion, the objective of the language policy for schools in Namibia to ensure “equality of all national languages, regardless the number of speakers or level of development of a particular language” remains a nightmare since 1992, because the ministry of education and that of higher education have never run any campaign to fuel the standardisation of the languages of the minority.
The standardisation of the languages mentioned in the first instance will come with various advantages, such as super academic performance, languages preservation, employment creation and moneymaking. Therefore, the million-dollar question is: How does standardisation of the languages of minority aid in academic performance, language preservation and employment creation?
* Shifela Johannes and Wapota Jonas are students at The University of Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba Campus in the School of Education.