ZANU PF MP for Buhera South, Joseph Chinotimba has demanded the teaching of mathematics and some school subjects in Shona and Ndebele arguing this was the best way students not gifted in the English language could pass.
Speaking in Parliament last week, Chinotimba said Zimbabwe should take a cue from countries such as China and Cuba which were schooling their young in local languages.
“If you go to China, the people in China learn Chinese until they attain their degrees. The same applies to Yugoslavia and Cuba,” Chinotimba said in a question he was directing to Education Minister Lazarus Dokora.
“My question is when are we going to respect our local languages such as Shona and Ndebele so that we are able to work mathematical problems either in Ndebele or in Shona?
“When are we ever going to reach that stage because our people are failing examinations because they are using a language that is foreign to them?”
The fiery MP is not so gifted in the English language either and has often confined his parliamentary debates to Shona, his mother tongue.
Chinotimba was adamant English was not the alpha and omega of life as was shown by Chinese nationals he said were among the world's most skilled expatriates.
“Those that are from the east come here and they will be speaking Chinese. They are building structures here yet they are good at it," he said.
“When are we going to change our mind-set so that our education is administered in our local language for our children?”
On his part, Dokora said his ministry has started the process of accepting in schools, the 16 official languages recognised under the country’s new Constitution.
He said the task was being implemented with support from language development experts in the Higher and Tertiary Education ministry.
“...In our Ministry,” Dokora added, “we have others that are learned in other languages with a view that they can be able to know about computers so that we can have Shona, Ndebele and Nambya and you have an equal opportunity to explain the issue of computers without you having problems with the language that you are using.
“So, we say that we have started the process but it is not for a single Ministry alone.”
Dokora took the opportunity to reveal that cabinet has agreed that elementary education pupils going up to Grade 2 must be taught in vernacular languages.
Said Dokora: “In his (Chinotimba) question, I get the chance to explain to this august House that we now have the position that has been agreed to by the Cabinet Committee in terms of how four year olds up to Grade 2 are to be instructed at school.
“They will be instructed in the languages that have been accepted in our Constitution.
“That is the focus that we are now going to take and those are the steps that we are going to implement.
“We now have teachers that are advancing themselves in those languages such as Nambya, Tonga, Shangani, Venda and other languages.”
The proposed switch to local languages in teaching subjects traditionally taught in English is most likely to receive stiff resistance from a largely conservative citizenry which wants its offspring to fit easily into a universe governed by the use of English.
Top government officials have not helped matters either by continuously schooling their children in better managed education systems abroad.
Critics of the idea have often raised concern with the practical difficulties and costs involved in training as well as employing teachers in the 16 recognised languages.
Currently, Shona and Ndebele are only being taught autonomously with the rest of the subjects taught in English.