Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Somali as a medium of instruction

The successful use of Somali as a medium instruction in primary and secondary schools is always cited as a convincing example about the resilience of the Somali language and creativity of Somali educators and language specialists. Mohamed H. Rabi, a leading Somali linguist, and author of, among other books, two Somali grammar books, discusses
the role of Somali language in education and strategies used by Somali educators in their efforts to translate social and natural science subjects for the Somali national curriculum. Professor Rabi's paper touches on approaches used by Somali educators to facilitate the use of Somali as a medium of instruction. However, a couple of formulations in Professor Rabi's paper on the impact children's exposure to foreign language while " in their language environment" has on their critical thinking merits some discussion. Professor Rabi writes:
"A child’s language engulfs him like sea water engulfs a fish. If the water gets saturated with pollutants, the fish finds it difficult to extract oxygen to breathe. This affects its health. Similarly when foreign languages are exposed to children while they are living in their language environment during their formative years, the foreign languages serve as obstructive agents to their critical and creative thinking. This, of course, makes a child’s speech defective and his ideas become strange. Foreign languages saturate his talk and an alien culture his behavior." ( Italics mine)

Before Somali was introduced as a medium of instruction, Somalia was a trilingual nation: Arabic, English and Italian were used as medium of instruction. Those who came of age during Somalia's trilingual era spoke Somali but never read it because Somali language did not have an orthography. Those who spearheaded the use of Somali as a medium of instruction, and for the media as well as for the administration had earlier exposure to foreign languages. Parents did not have any other choice than getting their children educated in schools where Somali was not a medium of instruction. In fact Somali language owes much to the three languages that were widely used before it was reduced to a written language.

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