A case for the adoption of Swahili as a language of early school literacy instruction in Ekegusii-speaking areas of western Kenya
Swahili, a national and official language in Kenya, is in wide use in the country as an inter-ethnic medium of communication and, generally, as a lingua franca. The operative language policy for lower primary – up to grade three – provides for the use of languages of the catchment as languages of instruction. The languages of the catchment refer to the more than 42 indigenous languages spoken in the country. The purpose of this study was to determine and discuss institutional and extra-institutional factors that might favour adoption of Swahili as the best medium – in the current sociolinguistic realities – in the ‘language-of-the-catchment-based’ literacy learning in Ekegusii-speaking areas of western Kenya. Data were obtained through classroom observations, teacher and church leaders’ interviews, observation and analysis of language trends at church worship services, and critical literature review. Findings indicate that acquisition-based factors, attitude-based factors, technical factors, and statutory factors – all supported by second language learning theory and research in diverse settings – are in favour of Swahili being used in Gusii as the language of the catchment. We observe that, in the absence of compelling conditions against the foregoing factors, the language might not bear significant adverse learning consequences on learners at the basic education level in the region. We do, however, state that the use of Ekegusii (the mother tongue) for early literacy teaching would have been the best choice were it not for the local sociolinguistic dynamics and the prevailing technical factors.