Introduction and Background
For a long time minority languages have played second fiddle to the main indigenous languages, mainly ChiShona and IsiNdebele in the Zimbabwean education system. This diglossic situation has seen children originating from minority language communities and backgrounds being grossly disadvantaged when it came to schooling. Yet literature by Mufanechiya and Mufanechiya (2011), Prah (2008), Setati (2005), Mutasa (2006) and others has pointed to the fact that children who learn using their mother tongue perform better as it reduces culture shock by bridging the school--home environment.
In Zimbabwe, there are a number of minority languages that had languished at the periphery of educational discourse. Children from these speech communities were and are forced to adapt and adopt either ChiShona or IsiNdebele for educational purposes placing a double burden on these children. They have to abandon their own languages and become content with one of the two indigenous official languages and English in the classroom. Nenty (1999) adds that classroom use of language which is not the mother tongue, the language already spoken by the child, results in cognitive and pedagogical difficulties. Successive efforts by these communities for recognition and highlighting the plight of the children seemed to fall on deaf ears. Work by Zimbabweans, namely: Chimhundu (1998), Gondo, Nyota and Mapara (2005), Magwa (2010b) and other international writers, like Ngugi waThiong'o (1994), Setati (2005) and Prah (2005) on how to take on board indigenous languages in education cannot be ignored.
Early work between 1978 and 1979 by the Tonga people in Zimbabwe which resulted in the formation of Tonga Language and Culture Committee (TOLACCO) tasked with production of teaching materials in Tonga cannot also go unnoticed (Ndlovu, 2013). It became a springboard for realizing the importance of language to children in these circumstances and the Zimbabwean government began to see reason. Academics from these communities began to agitate for the recognition of their languages in a united fashion with the formation of VETOKA (Venda, Tonga and Kalanga Association) after independence. In 1996 the Tonga speech community revived TOLACCO and in 2001 Zimbabwe Indigenous Languages Promotion Association (ZILPA) was formed and had six languages namely: Kalanga, Tonga, Sotho, Nambya and Venda. Circulars Number 2 of 2001, Number 1 of 2002 were generated to motivate the implementation of these minority languages both as subjects in the curriculum and as mediums of instruction. However, these efforts were not supported by the training of requisite manpower for effective implementation. Teachers colleges and universities remained seized with the traditional languages ChiShona and IsiNdebele leaving no space for minority languages. It was only in 2009 when Great Zimbabwe University in partnership with University of Venda introduced Venda and Shangaan at undergraduate level a positive step in realizing the importance of these languages.
Further, the Zimbabwean education system has remained grossly skewed towards examinations. Those subjects that are not examined by the evaluation board Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (ZimSEC) are usually given less attention and seriousness. However, in 2011 there was a positive shift with ZimSEC having its first examination in one of the minority languages, Tonga with hopes high that others will follow suit. This exposed the Zimbabwean education system to the discrepancy between the skills teachers possessed and what they were supposed to implement for examination purposes. It also put under the microscope the teacher deployment system by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education where primary school teacher graduates were deployed anywhere in the country responding to need regardless of their language background. Teachers without minority language background were and are deployed to those areas where minority languages are mostly spoken making it very difficult for them to champion the cause of these languages.
In 2014, the Zimbabwean government in partnership with UNICEF rolled out a programme, the Capacity Building Programme (CBP), primarily to develop and capacitate teachers from the minority languages hoping to improve teacher efficacy in these previously marginalized languages. A Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) and Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) in 2014 had two objectives namely to provide adequate and properly qualified teachers for all the officially recognised languages of Zimbabwe, and second, to create conditions necessary for the development of all the officially recognised languages of Zimbabwe.
The initially targeted languages were...