Leading scholars have called for the review of Kiswahili examinations to allow for the use of all dialects instead of the standard Kiswahili.
They said the impression created from the results of national examinations, especially the poor performance of candidates from the Coast, was misleading as it was not a yardstick for mastery of the language.
Speaking during a workshop to review performance in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, Kiswahili consultant Ahmed Sheikh Nabhany said the Education ministry had failed by only using one dialect to examine students.
The problem started with the colonial government sidelining all other dialects and settling for “Kiunguja” (from Zanzibar) as standard Kiswahili, Prof Nabhany told the forum organised by the Research Institute of Swahili Studies of Eastern Africa (Rissea).
“Kiswahili has about 15 dialects. The government should allow for the examining of students based on what they use as Kiswahili instead of the current system that threatens the existence of other dialects.”
Prof Nabhany said that most candidates failed because the words that they us are not recognised by the examiners.
Rissea acting director Kassim Omar said the language can only grow if more research is done so that terms and words from all the dialects can be used in teaching the language.
He said the workshop was part of the campaign to help change the perceptions that people have about Kiswahili, adding that recommendations would be presented to the government.
But the head of quality assurance and standards in Coast Province, Ms Susan Wanjohi, blamed the poor performance on people’s negative attitude, saying, it was the assumption that examinations will be easy for people who speak the language fluently.
She said schools from upcountry had been posting better results in Kiswahili because they take it as seriously as other subjects.