The Minister of Education, Alhaji Adamu Adamu, recently expressed worry at the level of illiteracy in the country. This was during his visit to Kebbi State. He will be surprised that those children he classified as illiterate can possibly be fluent in Arabic and Hausa, for instance. Why insist on teaching them in English? In Nigeria, anyone who cannot speak English, is an illiterate. In an earlier editorial with the above caption, we argued against this position.
The concern over the vanishing indigenous languages pre-dates the current efforts to revive the dying use of these languages in schools. The governments did not do anything to counter the policy of declaring local languages as vernacular which must not be spoken during classes. The colonial masters and the early missionaries used that act of obvious cultural imperialism to stymie the growth and development of the local languages and, in the process, compelled the rest of us to learn to speak English language they foisted on us as the only accepted medium of communication.
The result today is manifesting in such bizarre ways that the average Nigerian child is neither fluent in his local language nor in the preferred language, English. That gave rise to the anomaly we call pidgin English that raises eyebrows when spoken outside the shores of Nigeria.
Language experts, after series of researches, had persistently called attention to the situation in which local languages are rebuffed in schools. They argue that if a child first learns to read in a language that he or she understands, then it will strengthen comprehensibility of English literacy later. The basis for that line of argument is hinged on the thesis that reading is the foundation for all the other learning. It was not by accident then, that the Europeans, identified a crucial learning aim in the early years of education- the development of basic literacy skills: reading, writing and arithmetic and emphasised them.
It is a known fact that over 95 per cent of Nigerian children do not speak English at home and they never hear English outside the school so they don’t have the comprehension. And yet English is the medium of assessing their educational attainment. Is it then a surprise that they do not perform well in public examinations? Poor and bad performance by learners who use a foreign official language in a multilingual situation could very well be partly a result of language inadequacies arising from total or near total marginalisation of their mother tongues.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), on its part had stated that a child’s first language is the optimal language for literacy and learning throughout primary school. In spite of growing evidence and parent demand, many educational systems around the world insist on exclusive use of one or sometimes several privileged languages. This means excluding other languages and, with them, the children who speak them and the result is that children whose primary language is not the language of instruction in school are more likely to drop out of school or fail in early grades.
In our considered opinion, everyone should be given the opportunity to speak his mother tongue. So it can be one compulsory subject. China, Japan, Germany encode their educational materials in the local language and that may explain their successes in the world.
Recently, the American University in Nigeria (AUN) carried out an experiment. They said that the computer students of AUN wrote apps for teaching Hausa and Fulfulde because people want to learn in their mother tongues.
In an academic environment, education for all can only be possible if children are taught in their mother tongue. According to Global Partnership for Education (EFA), some because they want to achieve the goals of EFA.
We urge the authorities to accept the urgent need to get the foundation right because if the foundation is not right, the entire structure will collapse.
And it is already collapsing with the difficulties so called educated youth are confronted with in communicating effectively in the local languages. We share the view that institutional education researchers in Nigeria must explore measures and best solutions to fortify the early learning years of the Nigerian child using their mother tongue. This, in our view, is imperative because the use of learners’ home language in the classroom promotes a smooth transition between home and school. It means learners get more involved in the learning process and speeds up the development of basic literacy skills.