In 2018 South Africa’s Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, said that South Africa intended to teach Kiswahili in schools as an optional language to promote unity and “social cohesion with fellow Africans”. This is part of a broader movement among many African countries who are looking to reform and critically assess their education systems when it comes to language teaching.
Indigenous languages have been phased out over time in favour of foreign languages. The reason given was to keep the African student “current” and capable of navigating on a global scale. Now governments are questioning the wisdom in dispensing of indigenous languages in school curriculums and inadvertently fuelling their extinction.
Among the African countries rectifying the situation and going on to embrace Kiswahili as a potentially continental language is South Africa. On behalf of her government, Minister Motshekga recently visited Kenya to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenyan Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha that Kenya will help facilitate the introduction of Kiswahili in South African schools.
According to a number of Kenyan publications, the agreement will provide a basis for the two countries to share technical capabilities in education and a mutual exchange of intellectual capital. This may mean availability of teaching jobs in South Africa for Kenyan educators in the coming years.
Following the signing, Motshekga said, “The MoU will make it possible for learners in South African to take up Kiswahili as an optional language besides French and Portuguese.”
Motshekga also praised the steps Kenya has taken in digitising its education system. “Kenya’s Digital Learning Programme has the potential to address gaps in skills between learners, apart from addressing the problem of teacher shortages,” she said.