Mother tongue based education in Northern Uganda
Although English and Swahili are its official languages, Uganda is a multi-lingual country, with around forty local languages spoken. The Government of Uganda has sought, through a series of policies, to promote local languages in education. Article 6 of Uganda’s Constitution (2005), for example, says that ‘any language may be used as a medium of instruction in schools or other educational institutions’. The government White Paper on Education for National Integration and Development (1992) states that local languages should be used as the medium of instruction in all education programmes up to Grade 4 of primary school. However, inadequate resources and ineffective implementation strategies have hampered efforts to put these policies into practice. This is especially true of northern Uganda where decades of civil war (since early 1980s), and their aftermath, have limited the impact education work has had on children, young people and adults. Moreover, existing education policies on the teaching and learning of local languages tends only to focus on formal education up to Grade 4. Thus, there are few opportunities for young people and adults, who have not received formal education and are unable to read or write in their native language, to build up literacy skills in their mother tongue through non-formal or informal education.
Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE) is a Ugandan non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1989 at Makerere University. It has contributed to government efforts in northern Uganda by implementing an education programme that focuses on local languages. LABE’s mission is to promote literacy practices among local community members (particularly women and children) and increase their access to information by enhancing their literacy skills in their mother tongue. In this way, participants become able to more effectively advocate and realize their rights and those of their communities. LABE has expanded its focus to include basic education for children, as well as for adults.