By Haji Nsereko Mutumba
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our health systems and our livelihoods, and among the long list of response measures taken by the government has been the closure of education institutions or schools.
For over four months now, we are staying safe at home with our children. Any responsible parent would view this as an opportunity not only to spend time with the children, but to teach them things that are not taught at school.
I was therefore disappointed to hear about the excitement surrounding the radio or TV learning, and calls by some parents for the re-opening of schools so that they can get rid of their own children.
The safest place for children to be is at home, and for once, let us spare them the tiresome school work. One of the things that we can teach them while at home is our native languages.
I have singled out President Yoweri Museveni as an example because he has been and he remains a champion when it comes to promoting his native language Runyakore (Runyakitara).
We do not have to hire a special tutor to teach the native languages to our children. We should introduce the language in our daily conversations, just as President Museveni does in his public engagements.
President Museveni has single handedly promoted Runyankore from a less known language to a popular and widely spoken language in Uganda.
To him, language is not just a spoken word; it is a source of pride, a celebration and preservation of a rich culture and a means of communication. He has repeatedly praised Runyankore as a very rich language.
During very early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda, he was the first to unpack its symptoms in local languages. Moments later, ‘okwetyamura’ was trending in Uganda as the Runyakore word for sneezing, one of the symptoms of COVID-19. To avoid the spread of the Coronavirus through sneezing, President Museveni introduced ‘otampika’ Runyakore for keep a distance.
It is therefore, not hard to teach native languages. We can creatively and strategically introduce the languages to our children word by word. If the President has done it for his ‘Bazzukulu’, we can also do it for our children.
There are schools and teachers that continue to administer corporal punishments to our children for speaking their native languages in school. Such schools and teachers severely penalized because they are destroying our rich culture.
According to UNESCO, approximately 600 native languages have disappeared in the last century and they continue to disappear at a rate of one language every two weeks. Up to 90 percent of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of this century if they are not protected and promoted. Moreover, fewer and fewer children are learning native languages in the traditional way, i.e. from their parents and elders. If we the elders just speak the languages amongst ourselves, without teaching them to our children, they could disappear together with our cultures.
The special thing about President Museveni’s approach is that, he does not only promote native languages, he also empowers Ugandans by extending key services to them, because a language cannot survive without the people.
For people to survive there must be security, health care, education and income. The President has been and remains at the front of promoting these services to Ugandans.
As leaders in our respective households, we should also emulate the President by ensuring that our children are safe, healthy and learning.
The writer is a Senior Media Consultant
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0772409504