In sub-Saharan Africa, education conducted through a European language is associated with low school achievement. Both teachers and learners may often not be fluent enough to use the language as a medium of instruction. In these circumstances, both also make use of a common African language. They switch between two languages in the plenary classroom and - less commonly - learners talk in the African language when working in groups. These uses of African languages are often condemned by authorities and teachers feel uneasy about them. In other parts of the world, bilingual education is often planned, supported by authorities, underpinned by theory and its procedures well-defined. In the absence of such planning, teachers in Africa tend to generate their own creative bilingual practices. In this article we describe the extent to which this occurs, the forms it takes and the possible educational value these practices may have. We discuss the attitudes of teachers and authorities to the use of two languages. The article focuses in particular on the way low learner ability in the medium of instruction limits talk and necessitates bilingual interaction, and outlines ways in which teachers can make adjustments to the management of bilingualism in the classroom which facilitate learning in a European language. It emphasises the relative absence in African teacher education of the specialist pedagogy which learners with low ability in the medium of instruction require and proposes that bilingual education be formally recognised and promoted by authorities.
Comparative Education (2011) 47 (1) 61-77 [DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2011.541677]