USIU-Africa hosts 2023 International Mother Language Day Hybrid Conference

By Dr. Quin Awuor and Evelyne Suleh

The International Mother Language Day was observed on February 21, 2023 at USIU-Africa. It was hosted by the Department of Languages and Literature at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS). Dr Quin Juma, the Chair of the Department of Languages and Literature gave the opening remarks. This was followed by entertainment by USIU-Africa students appreciating indigenous languages.

The Dean of School of Humanities and Social Sciences at USIU-Africa, Professor Martin Njoroge who is also the Chair of the Multilingual Education Network (MLEN) steering committee welcomed and introduced the guests. He emphasized that the event was to celebrate, preserve mother languages and to advocate to policy makers the importance of harnessing mother languages in education and development.

Representing the USIU-Africa’s Vice Chancellor Professor Margee Ensign, Professor Munyae Mulinge, the Deputy Vice - Chancellor Academic Affairs, welcomed guests to the event. He noted that it was an honour for the institution to host the event which in turn was successful. He acknowledged the role of indigenous languages in communication and urged educational institutions to restore the dignity of mother languages and their place in everyday life.

The Chief Guest, His Excellency the Bangladesh High Commissioner to Kenya, Tareque Muhammad explained the background of the International Mother Language Day. He described multilingual education as a necessity to transform education and also noted that in order to maintain culture and heritage there was a need to preserve mother languages. He affirmed that the High Commission will be happy to establish collaborations with institutions of higher learning.

The conference was officially opened by Mr Boniface Simba who represented Honourable Peninah Malonza, the Cabinet Secretary, Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage. He articulated government policies and guidelines that have been put in place to protect and promote mother languages and how they face extinction. He described language as the most powerful instrument for promoting culture in research, economic and social realms and noted that if children cannot speak their local languages as a medium of socialization, interaction and communication, then communities will lose their identity and oral history. He recommended university partnerships with the Ministry in research.

Professor Kembo Sure gave key highlights on (MLEN) while Dr Justine Sikuku gave highlights on the Language Association of Eastern Africa (LAEA). This was followed by presentations by researchers: Professors Jane Oduor of the University of Nairobi, Dr Quin Juma of USIU-Africa, and Dr Phyllis Mwangi of Kenyatta University. Mr. John Olando, CEO SIL – Kenya, and Rev. Peter Munguti, CEO, BTL-Kenya, represented practitioners. The last session was the panel discussion and plenary session moderated by Professor Angelina Kioko of USIU-Africa. The presenters included Professor Kithaka wa Mberia (University of Nairobi), Timothy Kamau (SIL-Kenya), Professor Catherine Ndungo (Kenyatta University), Dr Peter Kiarie (Council of Elders) and Professor Mosol Kendagor (Moi University).

It was noted that the issue of mother language in education is complex, and it is upon linguists to engage stakeholders like parents and policy makers to preserve languages and culture. Children should be encouraged to speak mother tongue and researchers need to collaborate with policy makers to implement their research findings. Researchers were also encouraged to apply for grants and engage in the documentation of endangered languages. Communities should also be encouraged to preserve and use mother languages in all areas of their lives. It was observed that Multilingual Education preserves local heritage and culture therefore, promoting mother tongue education.

Social Media