Language Considerations in Curriculum & Instruction in Malawi Andrea Sterzuk, October 2, 2013
Macro Micro If we want to understand English vocabulary development in a Math classroom in Malawi, we need to place it socially, historically and politically. Europeanimperialism; settlercolonialism; official languagepolicy; globalization… Where is the school located? Who is learning? Who is teaching? Which languages are spoken by the teacher and learners? Which languages are not?
Questions – History of English in Malawi • What do you know of the history of English in Malawi (Zambia)? • Has your family shared stories of grandparents and great grandparents learning English at school? Through commerce or trade? Through church? • Are there other languages in your family’s past & present besides English and Chichewa?
English in Malawi • Matiki (2001) explains that the history of English in Malawi is tied to three things: • the presence of British colonial administration • missionary educators • the Shire Highlands planters.
English in Malawi • British interest in the area that is present-day Malawi began in 1858 with visits by David Livingstone. This encouraged missionary activity starting in the 1860s followed by a small group of settlers. The British Central Africa Protectorate (BCA) was proclaimed in 1891 (Wikipedia). • In 1907, Britain appropriated Malawi, then called Nyasaland. The 1911 census of Nyasaland indicates that the population was: Africans 969,183, Europeans 766 and Asians 481 (Wikipedia). • English became the official language used by the colonialists.
English in Malawi • Matiki (2001) indicates that Chichewa and other African languages were used with & among the African population. English was used for administration, education, and commerce. Christianity “further entrenched the position of English vis-à-vis local languages” (p. 202). • An English-Chichewa colonial language policy was developed. English was used for administration, commerce and in the higher levels of schooling. Chichewa was used in lower levels of primary school.
Languages in Malawi • The last population census with questions on linguistic patterns took place in 1966. Matiki states that “the census revealed that Malawi had more than fourteen Bantu languages” (2001, p. 203). • “The majority first languages were identified as Chichewa (50.2%); Chilomwe (14.5%); Chiyao (13.8%); Chitumbuka (9.1%). Other languages had less than 4%” (2001, p.203). • Chichewa was the most understood language (76.6%)” (2001, p.203).
Languages in Malawi • Matiki (2001) also explains that the 1966 census showed that: • “only 0.006% used English as a home language while 4.9% understood it.” • 22.5% understood only an indigenous language other than Chichewa • 0.9% understood English and another language but not Chichewa.
Languages in Malawi • In 1968, Malawi declared Chichewa and English as official languages. Matiki (2001) states that “the idea was that both languages would have roles in all official domains of national life such as in government and administration, the judicial system and the legislature” (p. 201). • Matiki explains that subsequent implementations of the policy have “heavily favoured English over Chichewa and the other indigenous languages” (2001, p. 201).
Languages in Malawi Official text from the language resolution states: • “Malawi adopt Chinyanja as a national language. • The name Chinyanga henceforth be known as Chichewa. • Chichewa and English be the official languages of the state of Malawi and all other languages should continue to be used in everyday private life in their respective areas (Matiki, 2001, p.204).
Official Languages – Pierre Bourdieu “[t]he official language is bound up with the state, both in its genesis and in its social uses. It is in the process of state formation that the conditions are created for the constitution of a unified linguistic market, dominated by the official language. Obligatory on official occasion and in official places (schools, public administrations, political institutions, etc.), this state language becomes the theoretical norm against which all linguistic practices are objectively measured” (Bourdieu, p. 45, 1991).
Whichlanguages are legitimate? • Official languages are languages which are linked to societal institutions; they have prestige and provide access to systems like employment, housing, healthcare, and the judicial system. • Some languages provide more access than others because they are the state or official languages of the nation-state; these languages are legitimate. • Some minority languages have little legitimacy and, therefore, provide much less cultural and linguistic capital to their speakers. Speakers of these languages have to work harder to have access to official places.
Languages in Malawi • No official justification for adopting the policy was given. Dr. Hastings KamuzuBanda gave statements indicating that “Chichewa was chosen as a national language because it was the most widely spoken language and, more importantly, that it had the power to unite all the people in Malawi” (Matiki, 2001, p. 204). • The establishment of state-mandated or national languages is an inherently political act and one that clearly advantages some individuals and groups at the expense of others. This idea of national languages resulting in national unity was not uncommon at the time.
Events of the 1960’s in Canada The tense relationship between English and French Canada & growing unrest among French Canadians lead to the establishment of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism from 1963 to 1969. This enquiry revealed that Francophones didn’t have the economical and political opportunities that their numbers warranted.
Events of the 1960’s in Canada The main outcome of the Royal Commission was the Official Languages Act of 1969 which made French and English Canada’s official languages. Programs supported by this act included minority and second language-learning opportunities country-wide (and bilingual food labels, biensûr!)
Minority Languages in Malawi • Matiki (2001) explains that since 1994, “Malawians have questioned the legitimacy of Chichewa as the national language and also as the only indigenous language in schools” (p. 204). • “The government has also decided to introduce other indigenous languages into the primary school curriculum. Given that the role of these languages in the new political dispensation has not been spelled out, these changes are basically meant for political gains rather than the government’s recognition of ethnolinguistic diversity” (p.205).
Questions: Bilingualism in Postcolonial Contexts • How do you balance bilingualism in your life? When do you use Chichewa? English? Other languages? With whom? For what purposes? • Do you have friends or family with whom you mix languages? • Do you write in Chichewa? In English only? • Do you use social media in Chichewa? In English? • In your teaching, do you use English and Chichewa? English only? When do you use Chichewa? For what purposes? What languages do your students use?
Linguistic Hegemony & Schools • “Kindergarten teachers in Malawi routinely conduct their classes in English. While the role of these special schools is to encourage young children to develop their skills and social behaviour before entering primary school, in Malawi kindergartens are used primarily to give children a head start in English” (Matiki, 2001, p. 206).
Linguistic Hegemony & Schools • Matiki (2001) states that “Chichewa is unquestionably subservient to English; it is mainly used to aid the learning of English” (p. 206). • “Among all the school subjects, English has more class periods per week than any other subject” (2001, p. 206). • The University of Malawi maintains English as the sole language of classroom instruction
Linguistic Hegemony & Schools • In all three national exams, “English is the passing subject. Not only are students expected to pass a certain number of school subjects, but English must be one of the subjects passed to qualify for a certificate and advance to the next level of education.” • “That is, if a student excels in all other subjects but fails his English paper, she or he is considered to have failed and cannot get a certificate, let alone advance to the next level of education” (Matiki, 2001, p. 206).
Linguistic Hegemony & Schools • Colonial educational language policy is “probably the major linguistic broker for the hegemony of English over Chichewa and other indigenous languages. It is not surprising, therefore, that Malawians have come to view English as a socially and economically more viable language than Chichewa. (2001, p. 207). • “Speaking English is equated with being educated. The use of English as a measure of intelligence forms the basis for similar use in other spheres of life, such as in employment” (2001, p. 207).
Minority Languages in Malawi • Fait accompli? “We may well regret the past, but there is nothing we can now do about it, so it should not, nor can it, usefully inform our present. What is done is done. • The problem with this position, however, is that it attenuates, and in most instances forecloses, the possibility of considering alternative conceptions of rethinking the nation-state in more culturally and linguistically plural ways, not least via the application of language rights for minority language speakers” (May, 2005, p. 325).
Minority Languages in Malawi • “It also understates, and often overlooks, the many counter-examples evident, not only historically, but also contemporaneously, where MLR have been considered, and in some cases successfully implemented. • Such examples vary widely. The most obvious are those that are based on territorial language principles instantiating minority languages in the public domain, alongside a majority language in particular territories; Quebec, Wales, Belgium, Catalonia, Switzerland are obvious examples here” (May, 2005, p. 325).
A counter-example: Nunavut In May 2013, the Nunavut Official Languages Act was introduced. This means the Inuit language will be given equal status to English and French, as official languages in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Begin by reading the article. After, discuss the following questions in your groups: • How will the Languages Act affect schools in Nunavut? • Are there parallels or differences between Nunavut and Malawi? • In your opinion, how do the current positions of English, Chichewa and other indigenous languages in Malawian schools serve the needs of Malawian students?