Penn Graduate School of Education master’s student Kimeze “Dickson” Teketwe has always been interested in understanding the educational practices of different countries, particularly around language. It’s the focus of his research at Penn, too. “I’m looking for insights that I can transfer to my country,” he says.
Teketwe comes from Uganda, home to 46 million people who speak more than three dozen languages. His family lives in the kingdom of Buganda, in the country’s central region, bordering Tanzania and Rwanda. At home, they speak Luganda. “Up to a certain point, children study in their mother tongue, then they switch to the ‘language of instruction,’ which is English, the official language of Uganda,” he says.
When Teketwe arrived at Penn in 2021, he sought out other Ugandans. “I spent the first six months trying to find someone to speak my language with,” he says. He encountered a master’s student at Penn Carey Law from Uganda, but she didn’t know Luganda. Hoping for some guidance, Teketwe reached out to Ali Dinar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Africana Studies, who connected him to the Penn Language Center in the School of Arts & Sciences.
Everything moved quickly from there, and during the spring 2022 semester, five undergraduates took the first ever Luganda language course at Penn, taught by Teketwe. This coming semester, he’ll teach another intro course and then in the spring offer a slightly more advanced class. The course design process has informed his view as an educator, too, he says. “There are many resources written in Luganda but few for a foreign student who wants to learn.” Perhaps, he says, he’ll write one himself.
Teketwe plans to return to Uganda when he finishes his degree, likely at the end of this coming academic year. Through the courses he’s teaching at Penn, he hopes to increase not just the number of people who know how to speak Luganda but those who know about its history and its present. He also wants his current and future research to spur geopolitical conversations back home.
“There’s a movement focused on decolonizing education, a discussion taking place in many parts of Africa,” he says. “What languages are you allowed to study? What language is best for children to learn? That’s where I eventually want to move in terms of my research and learning.” Teketwe doesn’t know whether Penn’s Luganda courses will continue after he graduates, but he hopes they do. “My language is one of the most widely used indigenous language in East Africa,” he says, “yet it has little visibility.”
Kimeze “Dickson” Teketwe is a master’s student in the International Education Development program at the Graduate School of Education. He is also a graduate fellow in the Center for Africana Studies and lecturer in the Penn Language Center in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.