First off, it is a universal truth that education cannot occur in a vacuum, hence the need for a linguistic vehicle of instruction, and it is noteworthy that the language of instruction is as important as instruction itself since it can make or mar learning. The choice of language for the classroom business is less a problem in monolingual countries than in multilingual and multiethnic nations. Stuck in between actualising their national goals of education and maintaining academic uniformity in all constituent regions, such countries resort to the adoption of one or more foreign languages as mediums of instruction in spite of their native linguistic wealth, and this, we dare to pontificate, is where many multilingual countries such as Nigeria got it wrong!
The comeuppance of this decision has far-reaching consequences such as students’ loss of interest in schooling, teachers’ poor attitude to work, low productivity in the education sector, mass failure in public examinations, the nation’s inability to compete favourably in academics with developed countries of the world, etc. It is perhaps to palliate these woes that the National Policy on Education (NPE, 2004) recommends the use of indigenous languages for instruction at the pre-primary level of education in section 2(c) thus; “… ensure that the medium of instruction is principally the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community… develop the orthography of many more Nigerian languages”
but it is heartrending that despite the intrinsic inability of this policy to cover up for the lapses already created by the adoption of foreign languages, the government has even failed in its implementation.
More so, several insubstantial efforts have been made by the Federal government in recent times to bring the indigenous languages to the classroom. The attempt made earlier this year by the minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu in conjunction with the Ministry of Education under Mallam Adamu Adamu to effect the use of native languages in teaching Mathematics and Science subjects in primary and secondary schools is a step in the right direction but rather disappointingly, the project failed almost as soon as it was launched because adequate facilities were not put in place to abet it.
To remedy these problems, the government must be willing to undertake a revolutionary substitution of English as language of instruction with indigenous languages or languages of the immediate environment at least from the pre-primary level to the junior secondary level.
Below are few reasons why this is a must-do:
1.FOR LEARNER’S PROPER ASSIMILATION
Reports from the Babs Fafunwa Ife Primary Education Project (1970-1978) show that a child taught with his mother-tongue will understand better and quicker than those taught with the English language. Using indigenous languages as mediums of instruction will result in enhanced skill acquisition, greater cognition, language skills, etc because learners feel more at home and are able to interact and partake in the teaching-learning process.
2.FOR BETTER CREATIVE REASONING
Undoubtedly, language of reason matters if creativity and productivity must be birthed from the reasoning process. Students who conduct their cognitive process in their mother tongues have been found to think better and faster than those who attempt to do so in languages foreign to them. Thus, the adeptness, flexibility and recursive power of indigenous languages are what corroborate creativity of human thoughts and imagination, and eventually lead to scientific innovations.
3.TO BOOST STUDENTS’ CONFIDENCE LEVEL
English-only schooling as practised in most Nigerian schools today is destructive! It reduces the opportunities to enrich the first language of the children’s societies. The children grow up with the belief that expressing themselves in any language other than that of the former colonial masters is degrading. The use of native languages will however correct this as it will serve to students an opportunity to express themselves fluently, confidently and satisfactorily both within and outside the school without fear of being indicted for ‘murdering’ any language.
4.TO SAVE THE INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE FROM EXTINCTION
Since language is the primary means of cultural transmission, where the language is dead, the culture is dead as a result and by extension, the people’s identity treads the path of oblivion. What better way can we preserve, standardize, globalize and transmit our languages if not by adopting them for use in the classroom?
The benefits of using native languages in the classroom cannot be fully appreciated until implemented. The government is therefore saddled with the responsibility of comprehensively enforcing the use of our indigenous languages in schools and also training teachers in the effective use of these languages as well as developing the orthography. Authors and publishers are also enjoined to join hands with the government in providing literatures and textbooks in the Nigerian indigenous languages.