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Use of local Kenyan languages: Working group formed to promote multilingual education

(February 2008) Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on 6 February, a group of education and development experts met to discuss ways to promote the role of Kenyan languages in educational contexts. One result of the meeting was the formation of a working group on multilingual education (MLE).

The group, led by Dr. Margaret Muthwii, UBS Translation Consultant, and Dr. Barbara Trudell, Director of Academic Affairs, SIL Africa Area, included representatives of six non-governmental organizations, two government agencies, one donor agency and UNESCO, as well as scholars from four Kenyan universities.

The proposed action areas of this working group are advocacy, knowledge generation and knowledge sharing, coalition building, and the implementation, tracking and support of on-the-ground activities in MLE.

Although the purpose of the working group is to focus initially on the Kenyan context, there is openness to broadening the geographical range of the group in the future.

An ad hoc topic was the current inter-ethnic conflict in Kenya, where some today suggest that the use of local languages might play a part in ethnic tension. The working group, however, shares a conviction that promoting local language use for learning can, in fact, enhance development possibilities and facilitate educational access and quality, leading to a more democratic and peaceful national environment.

Successful MLE enables learners to build a culturally and linguistically appropriate educational foundation first in their home language. Then learning can successfully extend to one or more additional languages. MLE provides the opportunities for lifelong learning in national and international languages as well as the local language. SIL International’s participation in MLE involves serving as an advocate for and with local communities, linking them to supportive resources and helping each build capacity to develop appropriate programs.

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