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Mariam Augie: Why Your Language is Your Superpower



By Maryam Augie-Abdulmumin

With the approval of the National Language Policy by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), instruction in primary schools within Nigeria will now be done in the mother tongue.

As with every other issue of importance in this country, the policy was greeted with passionate arguments, both for and against. The Government’s decision to promote language learning for greater learning outcomes has been in the making for many years, especially at the lower primary levels.

The Federal Government may have officially made it compulsory for the primary mode of instruction to be in the mother tongue, however, this policy has been in practice in most remote communities, especially in the North.

Whilst some arguments against the idea (which we shall review shortly) were valid, it is worth considering the fact that Nigeria is currently facing what is akin to an education emergency. In this regard, whatever little effort is made especially at the policy level should be greeted with some positivity, whilst exploring ways to augment the effort in the non-governmental and private sectors.

Having said that, it is equally important we explore reasons why this policy might not work. This is because, it is only when we clearly understand the hurdles ahead, that we will be sufficiently prepared to effectively nurture the policy seed that has been planted by the Federal Government. Below are three strong reasons advanced against the policy:

The Financial Implication of Educating Children From 500 different ethnic groups.

Without mincing words, I agree with those who say it is unrealistic and unachievable to educate children from over 500 ethnic groups. This is especially true, considering that education has always been at the low end of budgetary allocations.

Let’s face it, the current economic profile of the nation does not look promising for a radical overhaul of this nature.

However, in order to take advantage of this policy and benefit from what technologically advanced countries like China, Germany, and Russia have benefited from for many years, we can start with the low-hanging fruits.

By this, I mean, let’s start with the 3 dominant languages. These languages already have advanced international media backing (BBC Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo for instance), and a copious body of knowledge accessible through search engines like Google.

There is a possibility of easily scaling beyond the 3 languages by leveraging the data and lessons learnt at this phase of the implementation.

The dearth of Qualified Teachers and Instructional Materials: Closely related to funding is the challenge of the dearth of teachers and the availability of adequate instructional materials to implement such a grand overhaul.

Truth is, even the current system is grappling with the same challenges, so it is an open secret that any change will mean more challenges. However, with what is available through scientific research on the benefits of children receiving instructions through their local languages, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before this issue becomes the front burner of national discourse. And although we don’t have it all figured out, we have to start with what is available.

The NCE curriculum makes provision for every college of education in the Federation to have departments of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba and some provision for the language of the immediate community. Community ownership, NGO, and private sector support will go a long way in ensuring effective implementation.

It is also important to note that whilst the Federal Government makes policies, the responsibility of implementing basic education lies with State Governments.

Thus, the onus of ensuring this success will vary from state to state. If, for example, northern governors believe this policy will serve their interest most, they should do everything within their powers to ensure the success of this policy at the state and regional levels.

The same may not be a priority for the southern region. What is significant here is how we make this policy work in the best interest of Nigeria’s peace and prosperity.

Favoritism and the Challenge to the Fragile Peace in Nigeria: Viewed from the historical context of education in Nigeria, it is obvious that English is more accessible, learnt, and understood in the southern part of Nigeria than in the dominantly Hausa-speaking North, where the region has always relied on Hausa language for the mass dissemination of information.

In such a situation, it is obvious that a policy of this nature will find more fertile ground in the north compared to other regions of the country. But let’s face it, the earlier we speed up access to quality education, through whatever medium possible, the better for our country’s peace and prosperity.

The data available on the out-of-school population in Nigeria is disproportionately in the north, and the earlier we bridge this gap the better for our developmental outcome.

In the final analysis, this policy might actually make it more cost-effective and efficient to educate a Nigerian child, than the current western-based model.

In conclusion, whilst a radical policy of this nature is bound to be confronted with many obstacles, research and comparative curricular studies have proven that our nation gains from a policy that favors our local languages over foreign languages.

It is true that the English language gives us a platform to compete globally, but the spice is in what is truly ours, our local languages which tell the stories of history and survival.

Let’s not forget that nobody says our own languages cannot gain global dominance under the right circumstances, and it all begins with the curriculum.


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