Mixed reaction to calls for local language ICT use

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Aboubacar Mbaye, a retired teacher in Senegal, has told Biztechafrica that calling for a promotion of mother tongues through ICTs was counter-productive, and may not after all lead to the sustainability in education.

The National Union for the Association of Languages (UNAL) this week called for the intervention of ICTs to promote Senegalese mother tongues.

"It is necessary to use technology to promote our mother tongues, because they are powerful tools that offer huge opportunities in Senegal to expand the field of education," UNAL President Landing Massaly told the audience attending the commemoration of the International Day of mother tongues.

Conservative-minded Massaly stressed the importance of preserving language and adult education through ICTs, as well as enhancing the relationship between diversity and development.

However, former IT teacher turned businessman Mbaye, while acknowledging the importance of mother tongues in the education, said ICTs – already a scarce resource in this West African poor country – would better be used to teach international languages, a field he said Senegal was seriously lacking. “Surely, there are other better, effective but cheaper solutions of preserving languages than the one suggested by Massaly,” he said, without elaborating.

Very few Senegalese speak French, the official language, as most parents prefer to send their kids at ‘informal schools’, where they are only taught in their mother tongues. An ‘informal school’ can mean anything in Senegal from a Daara (Qur’anic  school) to a backyard assembly of kids singing songs in their mother tongues and writing some ‘unintelligible’ stuff being spoken by ‘some guy’.  

“It will be a waste of resources for a country that is already swimming in the sea of illiteracy, and where even high school students and teachers cannot express themselves well in French, let alone write it properly,” Mbaye said.

“We already have too many people speaking their mother tongues, and the field we should be focusing more on and undoubtedly calling in the ICTs to help is international languages,” he said.

Several high school learners interviewed around Dakar echoed Cisse’s sentiment, saying they would rather strive to improve their French and probably learn one or two more international languages such as English and Spanish.

Mbaye urged Senegal to start training a new generation of young people, people who are multilingual and multiskilled, adding that this can only be achieved through the use of ICTs in education, which he described as fantastic tools providing sustainability in education.”

However, despite the drive by many African educators to embrace ICTs in education, the eLearning Africa 2012 Report found that many African countries are facing several obstacles to make it to the e-learning podium. The report cited the following significant constraints:

  • Limited bandwidth
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Inadequate human resource capacity, and
  • Limited electricity

While Senegal has bandwidth to last a lifetime thanks to Sonatel – as most Senegalese here put it – the country might struggle with the three remaining factors.

Mbaye agreed. “We are a country of scarce financial resources, that’s why it’s better for us to use those resources wisely and in the right channels so that we can generate a quality product.

“Secondly, we lack qualified teachers, particularly in the field of IT and thirdly I can’t even talk about electricity because you live here and you know what’s happening here.”

Senegal has one of the most unstable electricity supplies in Africa, as frequent power outages and load-sheddings, some of which lasting four to five hours, put a strain on businesses, schools and households.

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