Language of Instruction in Rural Tanzania
: A Critical Analysis of Parents' Discursive Practices and Valued Linguistic Capabilities

  • Danny S Foster

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In Tanzania, rural, indigenous language communities attain the lowest outcomes in education. Language of instruction (LoI) is a factor, but indigenous languages are proscribed from classrooms. The exclusive use of Swahili and English in formal schooling has been upheld in over 50 years of educational policies. Research shows that mother tongue-based multilingual education can improve the situation; however, there is little interest from government or society to pursue it. Parents’ linguistic values figure importantly into the problem, yet little is known about how language-in-education is conceptualised among minoritised language communities. This qualitative and transdisciplinary study explores parents’ ideological beliefs about language and language learning to better understand their support and rejection of specific LoIs. Perspectives on language were elicited through interviews and focus groups with parents from the Malila language community. Taking a critical realist position that there are deeper mechanisms at work when people act semiotically, interview responses underwent critical discourse analysis to draw out an implicit but well-established Family Language Policy.

The study reveals LoI preferences are deeply connected to ideologies which are dialectically related in terms of the kinds of opportunities they are believed to generate. From the Capability Approach, I argue that parents look to schools to provide their children with alternate linguistic identities that better position them to achieve well-being. This is an egregious form of linguistic hegemony that sustains inequality and social exclusion for the Malila community. The study affirms and elaborates work done by Rubagumya et al. (2011) that suggests social status in Tanzania is linked to language repertoires. The findings call for i.) linguistic research and development to more rigorously appreciate the complexities ‘behind’ parents’ stated LoI preferences, ii.) expansive training to address knowledge gaps about language-in-education, especially the efficacy of the mother tongue for learning and language acquisition, and iii.) vigorous work to validate indigenous languages so as to repair decades of discursive practices that have construed them in ‘common sense’ as inadequate for education.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAngeline M Barrett (Supervisor) & Frances Giampapa (Supervisor)


  • Language of Instruction
  • Critical Discourse Analysis
  • Capability Approach
  • Critical Realism
  • Linguistic Citizenship
  • Family Language Policy

Cite this