The use of Kiswahili as an Official Language of the East African Region
Language plays a pivotal role in creating a country’s identity. The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has decided to reclaim its identity by passing a resolution to make Swahili the second official language of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The resolution promotes the use of Kiswahili as an official language in domains like offices, hospitals and schools.

Kiswahili has been an official language of the African Union since 2004, and the language will help define the EALA as a union. An agreement between EALA members to speak the same language will represent a stalwart bond between them.

Kiswahili’s roots are in the Bantu language, a language spoken by about 50 percent of the African population. The language’s prevalence will make Kiswahili easier to integrate into society.

In all EALA countries except Uganda, Kiswahili is commonly spoken among the general public. The assembly is looking for help directing the education of Ugandan youth, women and civil societies in the language.

Unifying the EALA’s official language will help create a shared East African identity among member countries.

The language of Kiswahili will facilitate all goings-on in the EALA, from government activities to the tourism industry. In addition to this, according to Rwandan legislator Patricia Hajabakiga, “besides promoting unity among the EAC populace, Kiswahili is a critical medium of communication that will facilitate trade in the region.”

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Education in Rwanda
Education in Rwanda has blossomed in the years following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, currently boasting the highest primary school enrollment rates in the entire continent of Africa. The challenge now is to increase secondary school enrollment, which was only 28 percent in 2011 and get more students to enroll in higher education.

Rwanda’s educational system operates on a 6-3-3-4 system; there are six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four (optional) years of university to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

Children are instructed in three different languages in Rwanda: Kinyarwanda, English and French. Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language spoken by around seven million people in Rwanda. These official languages were established after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained control of Rwanda’s government in 1994; many of the RPF’s members grew up in English-speaking Uganda and Tanzania.

Kinyarwanda is the primary language of instruction during the first three years of primary school. When children enter secondary school, most of their classes are taught in English. Prior to 2009, French was the principal language of instruction after year three of primary school. Now, French can be taken as an elective in both primary and secondary school.

Fluency in English, Claver Yisa of the Rwandan education ministry said, will help strengthen Rwanda’s ties with their English-speaking trade partners Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as help attract foreign investors in education in Rwanda—most of whom will speak English.

The switch from instruction in Kinyarwanda to English is difficult for some teachers, which is why Rwanda launched STEM (Supporting Teachers’ English proficiency through Mentoring). For effective learning, teachers themselves needed to be more fluent in the language they must teach. Their innovative and effective program earned Rwanda the prestigious Commonwealth Education Good Practice Award in 2015.

Yet there is still a long road ahead of Rwandan teachers, as they work to improve the English skills of students and themselves so more students can go on to further education in Rwanda and abroad. Students’ immersion in the English language has positioned them to be larger contributors to the global economy and will no doubt play an important role in defining Rwanda in the coming years.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr

Conflict in Thailand
Since 2004, 6,500 people have died as a result of cultural conflict in Thailand between Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists in the ‘Deep South’ (Thailand’s three southernmost provinces). The culture clash stems partly from the majority Muslim area’s desire for autonomy, a hot topic in Thai politics. On numerous occasions, public schools have been targeted for attacks, leaving educators concerned about their students’ safety.

In the Deep South, four out of five individuals identify as Muslim, compared to Thailand’s overall 93 percent Buddhist population. Many of Thailand’s Muslims believe the country’s public education system, which is geared toward Buddhists, only serves to exacerbate the ongoing conflict. Although Malay Muslims’ first language is often not Thai, all public school classes are taught in it.

Professor Suwilai Premsrirat of Thailand’s Mahidol University has spent the past 10 years working to integrate the Patani-Malay language into public-school curriculum in the Deep South through a pilot program to deter cultural conflict in Thailand.

Although Premsrirat faces criticism from both sides for incorporating elements of the opposing group’s language, she believes the bilingual approach is the key to success. Primary school teacher Mrs. Hareena promoted the pilot program, saying “you can see [the students] are understanding better now.”

Hopefully Premsrirat’s initiative will also serve to reduce cross-cultural violence in the Deep South by promoting understanding and diversity. “We want to make it [clear] we respect [Patani-Malay language and culture],” Premsrirat said, speaking for the Thai public school system.

According to Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives, incorporating the Malay language into the public school system may discourage Muslim families from sending their children to private Muslim schools. More Malay children attending public schools will result in increased diversity and mingling between the two cultures. This in turn may help promote national unity and reduce cultural conflict in Thailand.

Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives is quick to point out, however, that while language integration is a major step, the ultimate goal is to shift educators’ perspectives on the importance of diversity in language and religion.

Because of the cultural conflict in Thailand, many Malay Muslims feel alienated by their native tongue. Hopefully, incorporating their language into Thailand’s public school curricula will provide Malay Muslims a sense of belonging and Thai Buddhists an opportunity for understanding.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Learning to be Smarter: How Bilinguals Have a Cognition (and Communication) Advantage
Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Learning a language is something most of us strive to do. Whether it’s travel, business, new friends or even literature, learning a new language is something that appeals to people for a wide variety of reasons. At its core, language learning is kind of like finding a key that unlocks new countries, cultures, and people.

However, recent studies have shown that there’s an advantage to being bilingual beyond the ability to immerse oneself in new places. Researchers have found that those who learn a second (or third, or fourth) language have more gray matter in the “executive control areas” of their brains in the frontal and parietal regions. This extra tissue supports memory management, reasoning, planning and problem-solving. The cognitive control required to determine which language is spoken in what context requires increased tissue growth that leads to better control over other brain functions as well.

The study, led by Dr. Olumide Olulade, found that this advantage was only present in individuals who spoke both languages out loud. English-American Sign Language bilinguals did not have increased brain matter while English-Spanish bilinguals did. Communication, the greatest part of language learning, is key to increased development.

Beyond enforced executive control skills, people who speak more than one language have been shown to have improved listening skills, multi-tasking abilities, attention spans and vocabulary in their mother tongue. Beyond this, they learn to perceive the world in a whole different way and come into contact on a deeper level with a greater number of people.

And the fastest, easiest way to learn a new language? Visit a new country. Live amongst new people, visit local haunts, read books in the new language. Fully immerse yourself not only in a new language, but a new way of life. That way, when you become proficient enough to speak to your new friends, you’ll be a true inhabitant of this new place. Becoming a global citizen not only means being able to interact with people from around the world, but also sharing their mindsets, cultural references and perspectives. Global citizens are knowledgeable and, more importantly, compassionate about people in all corners of the world.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: PsyBlog 1, PsyBlog 2
Photo: ZDNet