Private schools, local languages and all the rest…

Tinashe Nyahasha Avatar

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense why certain stories find their way on Techzim right? An example of such is this very article. Why would a tech blog talk about vernacular languages in the education system?

Here’s the short explanation: First, you are right, Techzim is a tech publication with a hint of business. Education, however, is important within the tech, startup and business ecosystem as both a facilitator and developer of the human capital that builds things and as a consumer of tech solutions.

Yes that makes sense but how is language important? Language at its core exposes what particular populations truly value and the biases they hold towards life. It becomes important for you to understand as much as you can the intricacies of a people’s language if you are to build solutions for them. More importantly, language imparts cultural identity which influences internal things like self esteem.

Anyway, I thought of writing this article when I came across a video that’s circulating on WhatsApp of a white guy in the UK who was speaking very fluent Shona and then asking his daughter to give the names of some specific animals in Shona, which she did. He then challenges Zimbabweans (especially in the diaspora) to teach their children vernacular languages.

I don’t think he needed to merely target Zimbabweans in the diaspora, his lesson is needed by a number of parents with children in private schools here in Zimbabwe too. It is embarrassing how it is somewhat fashionable to have your son or daughter highly fluent in English and be poor at vernacular. As silly as it sounds, a lot of parents choose specific private schools kuti mwana ataure chirungu (for their child to get to speak fluent English). People feel proud to inform that their daughter is not allowed to speak Shona or whatever other vernacular in school.

Indirectly this tells the child that they have something to be ashamed of just for being born on African soil and within the family they belong to. It tells them that their identity is not allowed. Added to these psychological implications are a host of other social problems. When we outlaw local languages in school we are outlawing local knowledge too. We are keeping knowledge from diffusing across the greater population which predominantly speaks vernacular. There is plenty that your child can learn from people who may not have a good command of English and there is a lot that your child can teach them too.

The site of this man on this circulating video reminded me of Dr Edwin whom we met at the Troutbeck School in Nyanga. Dr Edwin is a Scottish gentleman, yea the kind we read about although his accent was toned down by living in the US for some time. One of the things that worried him was how many of the kids that got enrolled at their school did not speak their vernacular languages well, if at all. Their school is thus very deliberate on the development of local languages.

It is embarrassing to  have someone from a totally different culture come and attempt to revive or birth expressions of your own culture within your own children. I wish it were considered embarrassing by all of us. I was at a dinner with people from different African countries recently and I was really inspired by the Nigerians. They were happy to express themselves and their culture without any inhibition. How I wish more Zimbabweans will be like this.

Another departure in practice between the Troutbeck School and other private schools particularly at primary level is the training of kids from a very young age to take care of their own stuff. The Montessori method of learning encourages students to be responsible for their own learning material. The first thing the child does when they get into the classroom is to get their mat from where they work and spread it on the floor. They then get the material they will be using on that particular day. The last thing they do before leaving the classroom is to return all the material properly where they got it and to neatly fold the mat and place it back where it was initially. This happens every single time.

From an early age children must know they have responsibilities and they must be diligent to make sure they carry them out. Over and above this, at the Troutbeck School the kids wash their own socks before bed. I remember my first conversation with Dr Mugadza (co-founder of the school), she told me that there were some parents who took exception to their children being asked to wash their own socks. I was surprised! Is that the generation we want to raise? Folks who cannot converse with their fellow countrymen because they don’t know the language, folks who believe they are entitled to things being done for them, without a shred of responsibility?

The Troutbeck School and others are doing a good job to instill values to our children in an environment that is rid with self preservation and selfishness. Let’s take a cue from these efforts and infuse our children with pride in their identity and with responsibility and service. Let these values inform our choice of school for them.



  1. TheKing

    This is my reason why kids should learn local languages, people will tolerate your Englishness so long as you have money. It’s hard getting by as a broke salala

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      Hahaha It must be hard!

  2. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    I appreciate some of the points raised in the article, but we must remember that we also use English as a “common denominator”. Because of that, Zimbabweans have found it easy to find jobs elsewhere, because they will be moving to English speaking nations. A lot of business, local and abroad is conducted in English without interpreters.

    It’s not always practical to use vernacular languages largely because of the diversity of those languages, compounded by variation in dialects and lack of standardisation. For example, the official Shona word for a cellphone is nharembozha, it was created without foresight. The root Shona meaning of that word has lost context and as a result, barely anyone uses it to refer to a cellphone, except in the news. The vernacular languages must be nurtured to grow and remain relevant. Our languages end up being bastardised as we “create” our own words to name new things, since those responsible for doing so lag behind. These new creations are generally variations of the English word with modifications to make them phonetically correct.

    With regards to diversity affecting practicality, I challenge you to publish all your articles next month in Shona and Ndebele only. It will be tedious, and besides complaints about exclusion, you’ll immediately lose a big chunk of your international readership. Half the time you’ll probably be “creating” your own words to convey technical terminology and meaning.

    We must be proud of our local languages, but we must also be practical and realistic.

    1. Tinashe Nyahasha

      Totally agree with all you say. I think people who are coining words like nharembozha are contributing to death of the Shona language and that’s how Latin got extinct. For languages to remain alive, they need to borrow words from other languages_ the English language is a great example.

      I don’t agree in what you term “practical” though. The issue is not that English should not be used in school, no! The issue is vernacular should not be outlawed directly or otherwise. Kids must know that their language is important too and has no problems.

      1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

        Practicality was with reference to the use vernacular. The main purpose of language is communication. The language must be fit enough for use for all types of communication without occasionally having to switch to another language, due to lack of expressiveness or depth.

        Regardless of the language, you can’t just learn a language for the sake of it. It doesn’t make sense to learn English if you don’t use it. In as much as I would hope my child learns vernacular, if they don’t use it (at home, school or otherwise) there’s no point to learning it. It’s no different to those people that “learnt” French but can’t even string together a sentence, or tell you what was said in the French dialogue of a movie. They and my non-French speaking self are the same at the end of the day. If those people had day-to-day use for French, they would be applying it efficiently today. Vernacular languages must grow to retain relevance for day-to-day use.

        It was proposed to use local languages for instruction in schools, and one of the issues was to do with practicality. Presuming you speak Shona. Say the following in Shona to another Shona speaker and see how long it’s take them to understand you.

        From :
        The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, commonly approximated as 3.14159

        1. Tinashe Nyahasha

          Yea I heard about the initiative to push vernacular as languages of instruction. It’s actually led by the UN around the world. I don’t know about the practicality of such for example in the context you sighted above.

          I do think even if the child does not use vernacular at home it remains useful to thembecause the greater society uses vernacular. I therefore remain adamant that vernacular should not be discouraged in school. Let the language be respected or even encouraged

          1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

            I’m not discouraging it’s use. I am for it’s use but, the languages must develop to encourage use. You can do a full degree in French or English. Why not Shona? Shona, Ndebele e.t.c.. should facilitate the same to promote use. That’s why those individuals in greater society still have to speak English if they plan on tertiary education. Eventually, without intervention, vernacular languages will become languages spoken mainly in rural areas,

            The white guy in the UK taught his child Shona which is good. But, it’s not his vernacular language, is it? English is vernacular to him and his origin. To any other Zimbo in UK, languages like Shona have less utility because in that society it is not spoken, even amongst themselves. Don’t ask me why, but I experienced that. I spoke in Shona and was being answered in English. Shona was spoken when Zimbos meet, as a sort of exclusionary measure or just to identify yourself as one of us. A UK child may say they want sadza, the word “sadza” will be the only Shona word in the sentence. It’s sad, but that was my experience.

            1. Tinashe Nyahasha

              I think I get you.I agree with the need for the vernacular languages to develop and become robust. Sadly the so called scholars are killing the languages because they are forcing them to be static. They don’t understand languages to not survive by being preserved but by being used and dynamically at that

  3. Chihera

    Hope Troutbeck School is paying you good monies