From Languages in Competition to Languages in Complementation: Accounting for Language-in-Education Policy Formulation and Implementation in Zambia 1964 - 2014

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John Simwinga (PhD), Lecturer, Department of Literature and Languages, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zambia


This paper outlines the history of language-in-education policy in Zambia from 1964 to 2014. It examines some of the major factors which informed language-in-education policy formulation and implementation in the country in relation to four landmark phases: the 1966 proclamation of English as sole official language at national level and as language of classroom instruction from Grade One to the highest level of education; the 1977 education reforms recommendations; the 1996 language-in-education policy; and, finally, the 2014 declaration and implementation of the policy prescribing the use of familiar languages for instruction in initial literacy and numeracy from Grade One to Grade Four. The paper concludes that though English has remained the sole official language at national level over the years, there has been increasing recognition of the role of local languages as languages of classroom instruction. As a result, the early top-down and monolingual approach to language-in-education policy formulation and implementation, premised on the principle of languages in competition, has since given way to the bottom-up and multilingual approach, guided by the principle of languages in complementation. In order to consolidate the gains scored over the years, the paper argues for a comprehensive operationalisation of the current language-in-education policy through formulation of a comprehensive language development plan and the production of sociolinguistic surveys at both national and community level to aid teachers in determining which language or languages to use as media of classroom instruction in a given locality.