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Problems with the new educational policy

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By Abraham Adekunle

Teaching in indigenous Nigerian languages will be challenging.

Language is important to people the world over. In fact, it is the foundation on which human civilization is built. It is needed in every aspect of human interaction. Even though studies have shown that verbal communication accounts for not more than ten percent of human communication, it is still used at almost every point of human interaction. The paralinguistic information which accounts for about 90 percent of human communication is conveyed alongside verbal communication. However, because language is important, every government, society or institution is trying its best to preserve and promote the indigenous languages from dying.

This is why the Nigerian government has recently adopted a new educational policy that is to be implemented in a few years from now. According to that policy, schoolchildren will be taught in their indigenous language. This is similar to how school teaching is done in countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, India, etc., though a proportion of the population speak English, however small and to whatever extent. Since Nigeria gained independence, the government has in one way or another made efforts to preserve and promote Nigerian local languages in educational policies. The concern(s) about these policies is the implementation and/or their feasibility.

The problem of worldview and appropriate lexicon.

According to Ethnologue, Nigeria has more than 500 indigenous languages. This is second in the world only to Papua New Guinea which has 860 indigenous languages. This is why Nigeria is referred to as a microcosm of Africa in regards to languages. Apart from having so many languages, these languages belong to at least three of the four language families in Africa. What is more fascinating is that each of these local languages has a Culture or, most appropriately, a worldview. Language is learned in a culture, hence, its cultural transmission. This means that for a language to be used properly between teachers and students, both of them need to understand its culture and reflect it in the use of the language. This situation becomes complicated when one realizes that the worldview of speakers of a language informs its vocabulary.

For instance, though the English Language may have the words “yam” and “pounded” in its lexicon, nowhere in native English usage are those two words combined to make “pounded yam.” Thus, to express the concept, new expressions have to be coined. To put this in the educational perspective, there are words already coined and established in English that local languages in Nigeria lack. So, if teachers are now mandated to teach schoolchildren in their local language, how do they make up for the deficit in appropriate vocabulary? How many Nigerian languages have equivalent words for scientific, sociological or political concepts?

Now that migration and freedom of movement are legal, it is not uncommon.

The law would have worked better in countries like China and Kore, where it appears that the majority of the population speak one language but maybe in different dialects. However, in Nigeria, even the over-500 languages have their own dialect. The Igbo language has dialects. Yoruba does and so does Hausa. The Yoruba language, for example, has dialects based on its geography. But now that migration and freedom of movement are legal, it is not uncommon to find people who speak another dialect in an area where a dominant dialect exists. In fact, it is now much more common to find people of diverse dialects in a particular place. Also, this is assuming that people of different languages will not mix in a particular area.

If the policy is implemented, some dialects will gain prominence more than the others. Some languages, such as the three main languages of Nigeria (Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa), will gain prominence more than Tiv, Ibibio, Anang, Efik, etc. And these are minority languages that we know. Some are so obscure that they have less than 500 speakers worldwide. Those languages are bound to go extinct because the youngsters who are meant to continue speaking the language will be forced to learn another language for educational purposes. Gradually, the language will die off.

Educational policy may be inoperable due to the languages in Nigeria.

Main conclusion that any logical, forward-thinking individual can make from the new educational policy is that it is inoperable in Nigeria because of the number of languages in Nigeria. It will promote some languages over the others. There will be a clash of dialects. People will ask which dialect should be promoted in schools and why that dialect is superior to another. Also, does Nigeria have enough competent teachers who can use these indigenous languages?


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