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Addressing Nigeria’s learning crisis

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By Abraham Adekunle

How the Federal Government can implement the national language policy.

Over the past decade, Nigeria has achieved significant strides in enrolling more children in school. However, this accomplishment has brought to light a silent crisis: schooling does not necessarily equate to learning. A recent study by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF revealed that three out of four 10-year-old children in Nigeria struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills. This stark reality underscores the urgent need to address the root causes of the learning crisis and ensure that all children have access to quality education. Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) skills are essential for children’s educational development. By Primary 4, or before the age of 10, children should acquire these fundamental skills to set them on a path to continued learning, skills development, and employment.

However, achieving this goal requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various challenges, including language barriers in education. Language plays a crucial role in education, shaping children’s ability to comprehend and engage with academic content. Many children in Nigeria begin school with a strong foundation in their mother tongue but struggle to transition to learning in English, the language of instruction in most schools. With over 540 languages spoken in Nigeria, it is estimated that less than 30% of the population is proficient in English. To address this challenge, the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council (NERDC) approved the National Language Policy (NLP) in 2022. The NLP emphasizes the use of Mother Tongue (MT) or the Language of the Immediate Community (LIC) as the language of instruction from Early Child Care Development Education (ECCDE) to Primary 6.

This language policy promotes multilingual education.

Under the NLP, English is taught as a school subject from ECCDE to Primary 6 and becomes the language of instruction at the Junior Secondary education level. Additionally, French is introduced as a compulsory subject from Primary four, with optional study of Arabic and French at post basic levels. Furthermore, one Nigerian language is designated as compulsory at the post-basic level, promoting bilingualism and cultural diversity. While the NLP aims to promote indigenous languages and improve learning outcomes, challenges remain in its implementation. These challenges include a lack of political will and awareness, teacher shortages and capacity, and mismatches between teachers’ dialects and those of their communities. Despite these obstacles, Nigeria can draw from successful models of multilingual education implemented in other countries. India serves as an exemplar in managing its diverse linguistic landscape alongside the use of English.

Nigeria can learn from India’s approach to promoting indigenous languages while recognizing the importance of English as a global language of communication. Moreover, Nigeria’s literary and creative achievements, exemplified by authors like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, underscore the richness of its linguistic heritage. Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and Soyinka’s laureateship highlight the profound influence of multilingual education on cultural expression and intellectual discourse. In order to fully realize the benefits of education in the mother tongue, Nigeria must address existing challenges and invest in the implementation of the National Language Policy. This includes providing training for teachers to teach in indigenous languages, developing materials in local languages, and engaging parents and communities in supporting multilingual education initiatives.

Expanding on Nigeria’s language policy and its impact on learning outcomes.

As Nigeria commemorates International Mother Language Day on February 21, it serves as a reminder of the importance of language diversity and inclusivity in education. By embracing indigenous languages and promoting multilingualism, Nigeria can create a more inclusive and equitable education system that empowers all children to thrive. The National Language Policy (NLP) represents a significant step towards addressing the learning crisis in Nigeria by prioritizing the use of indigenous languages in early childhood education. However, the successful implementation of the NLP hinges on overcoming various challenges and leveraging the potential of multilingual education to enhance learning outcomes. One of the key challenges facing the implementation of the NLP is the lack of political will and awareness at the grassroots level.

Many policymakers and educators are unaware of the benefits of multilingual education and may resist efforts to prioritize indigenous languages in schools. Additionally, there is a shortage of qualified teachers who are proficient in indigenous languages, further complicating efforts to deliver quality instruction in the mother tongue. Furthermore, the mismatch between teachers’ dialects and those of their communities poses a significant barrier to effective communication and instruction. Teachers who are not fluent in the local language may struggle to connect with their students and convey complex concepts effectively. Addressing this issue requires targeted training programs to equip teachers with the linguistic and pedagogical skills necessary to teach in indigenous languages.

Related Article: UBEC, NERDC to implement language policy

Despite these challenges, Nigeria can draw inspiration from successful models of multilingual education implemented in other countries. India, for example, has developed comprehensive language policies that promote the use of indigenous languages alongside English in schools. By adopting similar approaches, Nigeria can create a more inclusive and culturally responsive education system that meets the needs of all learners. Moreover, Nigeria’s rich linguistic heritage and cultural diversity provide a unique opportunity to leverage indigenous languages as a resource for learning and development. Research has shown that children who receive instruction in their mother tongue perform better academically and are more likely to stay in school. By embracing indigenous languages in education, Nigeria can unlock the full potential of its young learners and foster a sense of pride in their cultural identity.

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