By Steve Oko – Aba; and Ugochukwu Alaribe – Umuahia

The United States Agency for States Department, USAID, has taken a bold step towards saving Igbo and other indigenous Nigerian languages from going into extinction.

Deputy Chief of Party, USAID Nigeria, Dr Mrs Lydia Onuoha stated this when the agency led a delegation to hand over copies of Igbo Early Grade Reading Materials to Abia State Government.

She said that the project which is now in three indigenous languages of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba was aimed at promoting the early teaching of children with their mother tongue.

According to her research has shown that an average child enters the classroom with about 6000 vocabularies in his/her mother tongue.

She however regretted that when the child has no background knowledge of the mother tongue, proper comprehension of the second language poses a challenge.

Dr Onuoha who stressed the need to promote reading in local language among pupils called on stakeholders to promote the use of their local languages.

She pleaded with the State Government to partner with the agency and make copies of the books including Teacher’s Guide available to all primary schools in the state.

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In his remarks, the Executive Director, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, Professor Emejulu Obiajulu, said pupils taught in their mother tongue in their first seven years had been confirmed to perform better than others taught in second language.

He noted with concern that though Igbo language might not die completely, it could be compromised, mutilated and reduced to mere pidgin if no conscious efforts were made to promote the use of the language among the younger Igbo generation.

He regretted that the younger Igbo generation hardly uses Igbo proverbs or idioms, and challenged parents to encourage their children to be proud of Igbo language.

Responding, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr Chris Ezem, that USAID for its efforts to preserve and promote Igbo language.

He observed that parents had an enormous role in promoting the use of Igbo language among their children.

The SSG who noted that education “remains a major pillar of development in Abia”, said the state would partner USAID to ensure copies of the books are made available to all schools in the state.

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He further hinted that Reading would be made compulsory in the state’s school system.

Speaking earlier, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr Eze Ajuzie, noted that any serious effort towards promotion of the culture and tradition of a people starts with the preservation of their language, just as any attempt to destroy a people’s culture starts with the destruction of their language.

He regretted that the zeal in writing and reading Igbo textbooks which was very high before the 80s is now on the reverse.

Stakeholders in the education sector including former Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University, Professor Mkpa Agu Mkpa; Dean Faculty of Humanities, ABSU and former Commissioner for Education, Professor Roseline Ndumele; ABSU Orator, Professor Ogbonna Onuoha; challenged Igbo parents to speak Igbo to their children.

Mkpa said that “the project would not only revive our resolve to speak Igbo but discourage patronage of elitist culture,” while frowning at the attitude of some parents who prefer enrolling their children in schools were Igbo is not spoken or used in teaching.

A representative of the Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs Chinyere Nwokorie, appealed to South-East governors to take the project seriously, partner USAID and ensure its success in their respective states.

She noted that the project had recorded tremendous success in the North, and urged states to also establish State Action Committee on Reading which she noted is critical in learning.

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