Despite the government’s commitment to take French Language teaching to the highest level, the teaching and learning of the language is beset by several challenges, especially the shortage of teachers.
The teaching of French began soon after independence in 1961, The Guardian on Sunday learnt during a seminar. Yet to date the country has two PhD holders, and only one is a professor.
Prof Imani Nitike Swilla, an associate professor of French at the Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics completed her first degree, Bachelor of Arts in Education, at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1974. Thereafter, she went to the University of the New Sorbonne- Paris III in France (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris III) for Masters of Arts in Linguistics (M.A Linguistics) in 1976.
In 1981 Prof Swilla joined Laval University (Université Laval) in Canada for PhD in Linguistics, graduating in 1986. Laval University is said to be the oldest centre of education in Canada and was the first institution in North America to offer higher education in French.
The second French Language subject lecturer is Dr Joel Hawanga who is now stationed at the University of Dodoma (UDOM). He, too, was lecturing at the University of Dar es Salaam until recent years when he shifted to UDOM following the introduction of a course, Bachelor of Arts in French.
Speaking exclusively to The Guardian on Sunday Dr Hawanga said though French language teaching and learning at the University of Dar es Salaam started some decades ago, there has never been any programme in place to take French subject graduates to the Master’s Level.
Even when such idea (Masters Programme in French) was conceived some years back, lack of human resource was noted to be a stumbling block. Absence of Master’s courses in French in the country prompted the government to take students abroad, a trend that continues to-date.
The rather disturbing situation also has it that even after the introduction of a B.A programme in French at the University of Dodoma (UDOM) Dr Hawanga has remained the only reliable lecturer.
Dr Hawanga did his first degree at the University of Dar es Salaam before joining the University of Franche-Comté at Besancon (Université de Franche-Comté) in France for Masters and PhD programmes.
The shortage of French lecturers in higher learning institutions is expected to be highly felt in the near future considering the fact that advanced level secondary schools that receive French Language students from Ordinary Level secondary schools have been increased from three to seven.
Traditional Advanced Level secondary schools that were teaching French were Zanaki Girls, Korogwe Girls and Milambo for boys, with the added schools being Arusha, Old Moshi, Usagara and Kazima.
Challenges in secondary schools
Stakeholders of the French language who convened in Dodoma for the seminar listed numerous factors affecting the teaching and learning of the language in secondary schools.
Convening under the facilitation of France Embassy in collaboration with the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) and the Prime Minister’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments) the stakeholders, who consisted of education inspectors, district education officers, heads of French language departments in secondary schools, heads of schools, government officials and French language teachers, blamed education policy makers for making French an optional subject in a crowded ordinary level field.
They said if French was treated equally with other language subjects such as English and Kiswahili students would make efforts to study it.
According to stakeholders, the subject is not counted in the pass mark requirements of the Form Two level national examinations, creating a loophole for students to look down upon it right from the start in Form One before dropping it upon entering Form Three.
Raymond Gowele, a secondary education coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Governments - education) said there was a need to re-examine the decision that gave French Language subject an optional status. “We have to go deeper to see what happened.” Gowele said.
Gowele told participants that French Language in Tanzanian context should not be compared with Kiswahili or English Languages as their status was different. Instead, he said teachers have turned out to be not pro-active. “Some teachers lack commitment and they need to be pushed,”
Aron Sokoni, the Eastern Zone schools inspector, observed during the seminar that from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s French student teachers were sent to France, Reunion or Burundi to improve their language skills before being dispatched to secondary schools.
According to him, such study tours boosted the spirit of learning the language among students but when the tours were cancelled the spirits also diminished.
He similarly noted that failure by the government and the teachers themselves to sensitize students on the importance of the language, especially its benefits, and allocating only 80 minutes per week instead of 120 minutes for the subject, was among the factors that slowed down learning the language among students.
However, it was hinted during the seminar that the decision to reduce the duration of teaching and learning the language from 120 to 80 minutes per week in Ordinary Level secondary schools was reached after optional status was placed on the subject.
Most participants again blamed the government for not crafting mechanisms to boost the morale of teachers in general.
In seeking to illustrate how students dropped the French language in secondary schools, French language project coordinator Mohammed Abdi said data collected from over 130 schools in May this year showed that a total of 12,832 Form One students were studying the French language in the country.
But the picture was gloomy for Form Two students as only 6,840 of them were found to be studying the subject. The number dropped further for Form Three students as only 2,428 were found to be studying the subject. The number of Form Four students doing the subject was further discouraging as only 1,544 were studying the foreign language.
Lack of French language texts and reference books in secondary schools was also listed in the factors affecting the learning and teaching of the language. It also turned out during the seminar that most teachers are ill-trained especially on the teaching methodology aspect.
Shortage of education inspectors and teachers’ incompetence in the subject were also mentioned as obstacles to effective learning and teaching of the language.
An official of the National Examinations Council of Tanzania (Necta), Asixtus Ngailevanu, said it came to the attention of the Council that most students failed in the French Language due to their lack of French vocabulary, poor comprehension of passages, influence of English and Kiswahili, lack of language practice and lack of motivation.
Initiative to revamp the teaching and learning of French in the country
French language teaching began soon after the country’s independence in 1961 but in recent years the teaching of the language was beset by several obstacles, including the shortage of teachers and teaching and learning materials, as well as absence of a common textbook.
The state of affairs prompted President Jakaya Kikwete to seek assistance from the French government to help revamp the teaching and learning of the language when he visited France in 2006 for the first time as Head of State.
As the government was pondering the way forward, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the governments of France and Tanzania was signed in 2008, setting in motion a plan to re-invigorate the teaching and learning of the language qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
On the basis of this agreement hundreds of French Language teachers have undergone on job training under the sponsorship of the French government. Some teachers have undergone training in France and some in the country.
The French government went further, supplying textbooks and reference books to secondary and primary schools teaching French.
Last year, French language teachers underwent special training on how to teach using a newly distributed textbook called ‘On Y Va’ (Let us go). Curriculum developers at the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE),with French Embassy support, played a key role in reinvigorating the teaching and learning of the language, participants noted.