Lost in Translation: The Hardship Of Transitioning From Swahili Primary Education To English Secondary Education

It’s two months into Form I (grade 8) but it’s clear as day that Mwamvita wouldn’t be successful here. Although she successfully completed grade seven at Hunyari Primary School last year, Issenye Secondary School has proven to be quite a challenge for her. You see, in Tanzania, primary school is taught in Swahili, but secondary school is taught in English. Students in primary school take every subject in Kiswahili expect for their English language class, but when they start secondary school all subjects switch into English except for Kiswahili.

So, even though Mwamvita and her classmates would have successfully completed all coursework required to enter secondary school, they need to learn English in order to thrive here. The shift from learning Physics in Swahili to learning it in English makes even the simplest concepts in the subject extremely difficult for a student like Mwamvita to grasp. When her teacher comes into the class, she constantly has to choose whether to focus on learning the concepts presented or the vocabulary used. Most teachers are either uncomfortable speaking English themselves or try to help their students understand the material better, by teaching their classes in Kiswahili, which perpetuates the issue. Because of that, of the hundreds of thousands of students who advance to secondary school in Tanzania, only 30% of them successfully complete their secondary education. English becomes an unfair barrier to higher levels of education.

To bridge this gap the Grumeti Fund has partnered with Concordia Language Villages to develop a week-long training program that supports primary school English teachers in creating immersive language learning experiences in their classrooms. During the week, teachers from Serengeti and Bunda districts stay at our Environmental Education Center compound and learn tried and tested effective methods for teaching English as a second language. During this time, the teachers play both the roles of the students, playing the games and singing the songs they’d eventually teach, while also learning how to teach them to their students.

The participatory element of the Grumeti Fund English Teacher Training program aims to encourage teachers to bring these active learning techniques to their own classrooms. Our hope is that by adopting simple and fun songs and games in their teaching, students will find English less intimidating and become more confident speaking the language. Daniel Ng’hwaya, a fifth-grade teacher at Singisi Primary School, has been part of our program for three consecutive years. Since attending this training, Daniel has incorporated singing, dancing and games into his lessons. “My students used to be really scared and overwhelmed by speaking English, but now they’re always excited to attend my class,” he says.

Classrooms like Daniel’s are hard to come by in public schools in this region, but we hope to change that. We’ve run the teacher training program for three years now, growing and reaching more teachers, and in turn more students every year. Our goal is to make sure no student in this region has an experience like Mwamvita’s.

You can donate to Grumeti Fund Education Projects here: https://www.grumetifund.org/donate/