Mother tongue education in Zambia: Aspiring hopes in a challenged realm


Start date: 31 December, 2007 End date: 30 December, 2010 Project type: Smaller projects: PhD Project code: 921-AU Countries: Zambia Thematic areas: Conflict, peace and security, Lead institution: Aarhus University (AU), Denmark Project coordinator: Nana Clemensen Total grant: 2,041,681 DKK

Project summary

In recent years, mother tongue education has gathered increasing attention within academic and practitional domains as an important tool for expanding cultural resources in developing countries. This includes countries in sub-Saharan Africa, most of which hold vast varieties of local languages, but continue to maintain the former colonial language as the sole or dominant medium of class instruction. However, altering language practices in African schools has shown to be a complicated process, intersecting with various sociohistorical, educational and ideological traditions. Based on nine months of fieldwork in a rural community in Zambia, this study investigates issues of language and education ‘from below’, that is, everyday experiences, orientations and linguistic practices prevailing among people at the crux of primary education. Based on extensive sociolinguistic analysis of everyday interactions between children, parents and teachers, I have found both disparities and similarities between the language practices characterising classrooms and local homes. Rather than resistance against the implementation of local languages, many of the challenges facing the day-to-day interaction and children’s acquisition in Zambian primary classrooms can be linked to the rigidity and restricted accessibility characterising the wider school system, limiting the socioeconomic value of formal education in the eyes of many rural families. Also, the continued dominance of English characterising all educational levels in Zambia above Grade 4 impedes the educational potential of allowing local languages in early school grades. Alas, the increasing orientations among stakeholders towards ‘quality’ in African education must be implemented more thoroughly across primary, secondary, and, preferably, tertiary levels, ensuring a wider accessibility also for families with restricted financial and educational means.

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