A number of studies done concerning the language of instruction and students‟ performance in secondary schools show the deterioration of education standards. Tanzanian children receive seven years of primary education in Kiswahili medium which is now becoming the first language of many children especially those who live in urban areas.
But in rural areas, Kiswahili is still a second language to many children after their vernacular languages. English is taught as a compulsory subject in primary schools from class one instead of class three which was the case some years ago. As the children complete their primary education and continue to secondary school the switch from Kiswahili to English is difficult for most of them. Criper & Dodd (1984) in Rubagumye (1990) after their research concluded that the level of English in secondary schools was completely inadequate for the teaching and learning of other subjects and immediate measures were to be taken.
Roy-Campbell and Qorro (1997) identify two problems that result from using English as a language of instruction in secondary schools; first, little knowledge is gained from the subject matter since learners do not understand English well, and second, even their Kiswahili language skills tend to be lagging behind because they are not using the language as a medium of instruction. Furthermore, learners are restricted from adequately acquiring the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes intended for their academic studies because of using a foreign language as a medium of instruction.
The language problem can be traced braced back to the time when Tanzania decided to adopt African socialism (Ujamaa) and as a result of this, there was a move of Africanization where everything that had to do with the colonial heritage was seen as a means to corrupt the socialist system. English language also was inherited from the British therefore was seen as a negative influence especially when Kiswahili officially became the medium of instruction in primary schools in 1967. English still remained the medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary education but was not given as high prominence as Kiswahili.
However, in 1969 the Ministry of National Education sent out a circular to all heads of secondary schools which explained the possibility of introducing Kiswahili as the language of instruction in some subjects starting with Political education in 1969/70, then Domestic 2 science in 1970, followed by History, Geography, Biology, Agriculture and Mathematics in 1971.
My interest in doing research on this issue has to do with my personal experience of teaching in both urban and rural secondary schools during fieldwork. In my experience, I saw that the ability of students in using the language of instruction in class was very minimal and so was their performance based on class tests.
Also as a teacher at teachers‟ training college experience showed that even students who have been using the language of instruction from form one up to six are still facing the same problems despite having used the language for six years. Linguist specialists‟ claim that a language which is not used in daily interactions tends to suffer regression. Therefore, this is the case with English, it has become „a classroom language‟ because it is only used meagerly in the classroom.
Rural and urban schools differ in terms of the extent to which the language of instruction influences their academic performance because first, the teachers that are normally in rural schools are not as competent as those who are in urban secondary schools. Secondly, in the students‟ perceptions of the language of instruction, students from urban schools have a more positive outlook towards English and see the benefits that come with the language, unlike their rural counterparts who have little or no motivation to diligently learn the language. Socio-economic status also plays a role in this urban-rural divide in terms of the family individual students come from and their future prospects of further studies.
Special thanks and appreciation goes out to my dear mother Helen Mlay and my sisters Angel and Happy, my brother Simon and dear aunt Siaeli for the inspiration they have been to my work as well as the great support they have shown. Finally, my heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes to my cousin Janet Mlay and all my friends particularly Suzan Bipa and Sibeso Likando who have been so helpful and supportive throughout the writing of my thesis.