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Kenyan scholars encourage native languages to promote cohesion

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Widespread use of native languages will restore Kenya’s rich cultural heritage while promoting national cohesion, experts have said.

Speaking at a public forum ahead of the International Mother Language Day to be observed on Feb. 21, Kenyan scholars regretted that native languages have lost allure thanks to urbanization.

"As a country, we need to reorganize school curriculum and make it mandatory for young learners to have acceptable literacy and fluency in their native languages," said Lillian Kaviti, a linguistics scholar at the University of Nairobi

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Feb. 21 as the International Day to honor linguistic and cultural diversity.

Kenya is signatory to global instruments that advocate for preservation of local dialects.

During her maiden speech at a public forum, Kaviti said that Kenya has a linguistic diversity that should be harnessed to promote the pursuit of collective aspirations.

"We have a huge repository of local dialects that have glued us together as a nation.

"These native languages are integral part of cultural tourism," said Kaviti.

UNESCO has organized a series of public forums in Kenyan to mark 15 years since the adoption of International Mother Language Day.

Senior Kenyan officials earlier reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promote native languages in learning institutions.

"We are promoting teaching of mother tongues in lower primary school in order to nurture a critical mass of young Kenyans who appreciates our indigenous heritage," said the Minister for Education Jacob Kaimenyi.

He said that literacy in native languages boosts cognitive abilities among young learners.

The young generation of Kenyans has a negligible grasp of indigenous language and culture thanks to rapid urbanization and the influence of a mass media.

According to Okoth Okombo, a linguist at the University of Nairobi, Kenya is among African countries where native dialects are facing the threat of extinction.

"Many urban children have limited exposure to native languages.

"Our school curriculum emphasize on use of foreign languages to gauge a learner’s intellectual capacity," Okombo said.

Okombo said that native languages will promote patriotism and self esteem among Kenyan youth.



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