Updated: Oct 3, 2022
If you grew up in Kenya, you are all too familiar with this term.
Popular in primary schools, the “monto” came in various shapes and sizes and was a form of punishment for children who would speak in their native / mother tongue and or Kiswahili.
The system was set up to improve language literacy skills in Kenyan primary schools.
How did it work?
The “monto” in circulation depended on the school’s choice.
If you were lucky, it was a brown repurposed sugar sack that you’d wear over your school uniform. However, If life dealt you the other hand, you’d be spotted walking down the school corridors with a rather odd piece of jewellery: an old unidentified animal bone, as a necklace!
One of our brilliant alumna; Clara Njeru, dug up this memory from her childhood as she led a rich discussion during our Decolonising Edtech Event that we held in partnership with EdTech East Africa & The Edtech Hub.
Clara walked our diverse audience of education experts and enthusiasts from 24 organizations through her relationship with languages as she went further along with her education.
“Later on, I left the school and joined boarding school where thankfully, there was no embarrassing monto, but four days of English and one day of Kiswahili plus a risk of getting punished if you spoke Kiswahili on any other day.”
This intrigued Clara as she wondered why the same level of attention and pressure wasn’t applied when students spoke English on the day intended for Kiswahili.
Later on, as she joined high school, Clara felt some level of shame. She knew her mother tongue and even though she was a top student, speaking your native language was associated with people who lived in the rural sides of Kenya and illiteracy.
In her final year of high school, however, she came across a quote that affirmed her identity and her culture, serving as a turning point in her general outlook on the matter.
“If you know all the world languages and do not know your mother tongue or the language of your culture, that is cultural enslavement.” - Ngugi Wathiong’o
Her understanding of identity, culture and languages and how they intertwine with education has only grown since as she actively pursued more knowledge on the matter and pursued a career where she has helped create both relatable content and functional programs for learners in Kenya & beyond.
The notion that English is superior to other languages is simply not true.
Psychologists say that people who speak more than one language have enhanced concentration, improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, multi-tasking ability, and better listening skills. The average African speaks at least three languages: a native language, a regional lingua franca and a colonial language.
The importance of mother tongue education and learning other languages will also open us up to ourselves and to the world. The misconception that “proper” English prepares us for international success, and will help us be world-class citizens, needs to be broken down in order for us to take ownership of our own language and our position in other languages.
Though the intentions of this “monto” exercise are to improve English literacy levels in Kenyan schools, there must be a way for us to reimagine an effective solution that does not include shaming or embarrassing our children into thinking that knowing their language is a bad thing.
Decolonising edtech is a rather broad topic and after Clara shared her story, the audience took part in a fun exercise that helped us further unpack it.
First off was an Agree/ Disagree exercise where the attendees had to respond to the following prompts followed by a reason for their choice. The prompts included:
Edtech is a key lever for education quality
Edtech is a colonial tool
We can decolonize edtech
We explored it all from power dynamics on ed-tech content creation to classroom application of edtech solutions. Did you miss out?
Check out their responses on our highlighted Instagram stories here: https://instagram.com/metiscollective?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Later on, in randomly generated groups, our audience dug even deeper as we explored the subtle ways in which colonialism is engrained into the system. We also asked ourselves important questions like “How can we ensure justice in the ed-tech products we create?”
As I sat in the midst of these innovative leaders, I was filled with hope for tomorrow’s generation of learners, & their fate was in good hands. I got an insider's POV of the work several organizations were doing to #DecolonisED in their own unique ways and how their efforts cumulatively made a difference. From our own work at Metis equipping, connecting & amplifying proximate leaders to Mshule co-creating learning content with their learners, Story Moja’s efforts to reshape mindsets with African books & literature and Ubongo’s efforts to leverage edutainment for African learners.
The event ended with a networking session after exploring Decoloniality and Justice Oriented Innovation as solutions to decolonising edtech.
Have you experienced coloniality in education?
Let us know how you’ve identified colonialism in education and how you are working to #DecolonizED. Tag us @metiscollective on all platforms so we can see & share them too!
Written by Tracy N Mwaura. Communications & Storytelling Officer, Metis.