The role of foreign and indigenous languages in primary schools: The case of Kenya
AbstractThis article investigates the use of English and other African languages in Kenyan primary schools.English is a foreign language to the majority of Kenyans, although there are some who claim that it isa Kenyan language. English is however the official language of Kenya and, in terms of policy, themedium of instruction from Grade 4 onwards. Kiswahili, an indigenous language, is the nationallanguage in Kenya which is taught and examined as a compulsory subject from Grade 1 up to Grade12. Kiswahili is also a subject at Kenyan universities. The other indigenous languages are only taughtup to Grade 3 and only in rural schools. While the situation described above is the language policy inschools, the practice differs from the policy. Based on a comprehensive study conducted in 2006, thispaper shows how English and the indigenous languages complement each other to facilitate teachingand learning in primary schools. It is shown that Mathematics and Science lessons in Grade 4 (whenEnglish becomes the medium of instruction) are conducted in bilingual English-Kiswahili codeswitching and in trilingual English-Kiswahili-native language code switching in urban schools andperi-urban and rural schools, respectively.Keywords: Medium of instruction, Kiswahili, English, mother tongue, primary school, urban, periurban.
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