Editorial

December 6, 2022

On the new National Language Policy

Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu.

THE President Muhammadu Buhari administration appears determined to be remembered for one or two things after almost eight years of rudderless leadership. About a fortnight ago, embattled Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, announced  restoration of History as a subject in our basic education curriculum after 15 years of its unconscionable exclusion. On Wednesday, November 30, 2022, the Minister also announced on behalf of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the launch of a National Language Policy.

According to him, the scheme, which has officially taken off, will involve the adoption of the mother tongue as the exclusive medium of instruction for pupils from Primaries 1 to 6. The English language, which is officially our national lingua franca, will only get involved as a medium of instruction from Junior Secondary School 1.

Adamu admitted that implementation of this policy will be difficult, more so as the instructional materials have yet to be developed and the teachers trained. Despite that, the minister claimed that the policy had gone into effect.

On the face of it, this policy has been long overdue. Out of the 500 languages spoken in Nigeria, the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, warns that 29 have gone extinct, with 29 more on the verge of extinction. A language goes extinct when it is no longer spoken or studied.

Our adoption of the English language as our national language was a product of necessity because Nigeria was “invented” by its British colonial master, unlike India which had existed for millennia as a prestigious empire with a deep-seated outlook before the arrival of the colonialists.

Indians speak Hindi but use English as a commercial and diplomatic language. The English language is the only way Nigerians can communicate with one another. The mass migration of Nigerians to English was not managed by government, which is why vulnerable mother tongues are dying.

We believe that the strategy the Federal Government is pursuing is wrong-headed and liable to fail. It is ridiculous to start teaching the English language from JSS one! Who can mark an entrance exam written in an obscure mother tongue few people understand? How many of our local dialects have been orthographically developed and approved for classroom instruction? How do we teach the teachers? How would a child cope if transferred from one location to another?

We suggest that the mother tongue should be used alongside English from the kindergarten. But it will require special development and standardisation of mother tongues, training of local teachers and giving the mother tongue and its teachers a special status. Otherwise, the programme will collapse like other earlier experiments.

The National Language Policy requires a deeper thinking-through and implementation framework that goes beyond the classrooms. For now, it is just a flight of fancy.