Officials from HakiElimu, a Tanzanian group campaigning to improve schooling, say they are open to keeping English as long as teachers are better trained and the curriculum improved.
Tanzania’s education system faces numerous challenges, including low graduation rates, crowded classrooms and unmotivated teachers, analysts say.
Jonace Manyasa, assistant lecturer at Dar es Salaam University College of Education, believes many of his students are not really committed.
“They choose teaching as a final resort,” he said.
Education experts say the impact of changing to a Kiswahili-language system could be far-reaching, unlocking broader economic development.
“Japan, China, South Korea, the Nordic countries … they developed because they use their languages,” said Ms. Qorro.
“It’s not that they are using their own languages because they are developed.”
Still, it is unclear how any future overhaul of the system would be financed in a country still highly dependent on outside aid.
Though the main challenge is changing attitudes, cost is also an issue, said Mwajama Vuzo, who is leading a research project on language and education in Tanzania and South Africa.
“Would foreign donors be interested in financing such a policy?” he asked.
Britain, one of Tanzania’s biggest foreign donors, plans to spend $95 million over four years to improve teaching of the English language.
The international charity Save the Children and the British-based CfBT Education Trust have warned, however, that funds allocated to educating children in a language they don’t understand are “at risk of being wasted.”
Policymakers who claim language reform is not a priority are missing the point, said Ms. Qorro.
“It’s like wanting to send water to a village,” she said, “but saying we have no money to waste on the pipes.”