January 9, 2023

Is our new educational language policy a misconceived idea?


By Chiedu Okoye

THE new educational language policy proposed by the government is not only misconceived and impracticable, it is an idea whose time has not come. Education is, indubitably, the bedrock of national development.

No country can become technologically and economically advanced without having functional educational systems. That is why the leaders of First World countries do not treat matters that affect their schools and educational systems with levity.

In the First Republic, when our political leaders were people who put education first, our standard of education was high. Then, foreign students would come to the first and foremost Nigerian university, which is in Ibadan, to do academic programmes so as to earn university degrees. In the succeeding years, second generation universities were established. And they became a sort of Mecca for other education-hungry African students looking for educational pilgrimages. 

But like other things in Nigeria that were destroyed owing to the prevalent bad political leadership in Nigeria, our educational system was bastardised and commercialised. So the glory days of our universities are long gone. They are no longer the bastions of scientific and humanistic knowledge; nor are they places where good morals are inculcated into students.

 As a result, today, a great majority of people who graduated from Nigerian universities are found wanting in both learning and character. But the assault on our educational systems did not start today. In the past, the military who held sway over Nigeria, introduced measures to suppress and repress the intellectual elite to avert their criticisms and prevent them from carrying out revolts. Do you still remember how Patrick Wilmot, a university lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was deported from Nigeria? 

And, after the exit of the military from power in 1998, successive political leaders we had in Nigeria did little or absolutely nothing to revitalise and revamp our dysfunctional educational system. That is the reason our universities produce half-baked graduates who cannot carry out humanistic, scientific and technological research that can aid our national development. Again, government-owned primary and secondary schools are strewn across Nigeria’s states, their buildings dilapidated and crumbling, and their roofs blown off.

And those schools lack science laboratories; and their libraries suffer from a dearth of books. In those schools, their teachers moonlight to augment their poor salaries. And, at the highest level of our educational architecture, the story is not different. 

Industrial action by university lecturers has become a recurrent feature of our tertiary educational system. Each year, the lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, will down tools to protest government’s negligence of their welfare and non-funding of our universities. 

The incessant industrial actions embarked on by our university lecturers have wreaked havoc on our universities. Consequently, we are experiencing rot in our universities. Our campuses have become breeding grounds for cult activities and sexual harassment of female students by randy lecturers. Sex for grades involving students and lecturers is still prevalent in our tertiary institutions.

Even our primary and post-primary schools have fared no better. In our secondary schools, principals and school proprietors offer inducements to NECO and SSCE supervisors and invigilators to make them turn a blind eye to the examination malpractice being perpetrated by candidates during national examinations like NECO and SSCE. And there are reported cases of child molestation in some primary schools in Nigeria.

It is amid these evils and problems bedeviling our educational system that the government of Nigeria announced that our pupils will be taught in their native tongues in the foreseeable future. The new education policy – using native languages to teach in our primary schools appears to be a laudable, noble, and patriotic initiative in that it will prevent our native languages from going into extinction.

But is this new educational language policy not a misconceived and impracticable policy for now based on some factors? Which Igbo language dialect should be used in teaching the pupils and students in schools in the South-East? I am not unaware of the existence of the touted central Igbo language and the controversies surrounding some Igbo dialects usage. And do we have enough language teachers who have the facility for speaking and teaching our more than 250 indigenous languages? 

And there are some concepts that, hitherto, were not translatable into our many indigenous languages. How can we expeditiously surmount that problem? And which indigenous Nigerian language should be used to teach pupils in a school in a cosmopolitan city that has a mixed population of Igbo people, Yoruba people, Hausa/Fulani people, Ijaw people, and others? Should an urban primary school employ more than 250 language teachers to ensure that each pupil is taught in his or her mother tongue? 

And if the three major languages are approved as the languages of instruction in urban primary schools, then, pupils whose native languages are different from our three major languages will be shortchanged. Is it fair? Language nationalism will lead to the preservation of our native tongues. But we should weigh the pros and cons of an idea before making it a national policy. 

So I urge our political leaders to urgently tackle the many problems bedevilling our educational system before romanticising an educational moonshine that is not implementable for now. 

Okoye, a poet, wrote from Uruowulu-Obosi in Anambra State