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[LUSAKA] Young children in rural Zambia should learn about science in their local languages — not in English — according to the Basic Education Teachers Union of Zambia (BETUZ).

In a presentation to the parliamentary committee on education, science and technology on 21 June, BETUZ said the government should drop English in favour of local languages to teach science subjects in rural primary schools.

This would help the children understand and express scientific issues better, said the union.

BETUZ secretary-general Cosmas Mukuka told the committee the government is making it difficult for children to become scientists because they fail to understand lessons in English, which is not their mother tongue.

Zambia has 72 local languages.

Education minister, Andrew Mulenga, told SciDev.Net that the government is already taking steps to ensure that schools use local languages in place of English.

A pilot programme to improve basic literacy among children in northern Zambia, by teaching in local languages, has proved successful, said Mulenga.

"The course has been translated into seven major languages and we expect to expand to more languages as soon as resources are available," he added.

Mulenga said that science and mathematics would be the next subjects to be treated this way in Zambia.

In January, lecturers at Chainama College of Health Sciences and the University of Zambia were quoted in the Zambian press as saying that students admitted to their institutions were failing first-year science courses.

This raised concerns about the pupils' capacity to undertake classes in natural sciences at higher level.

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