Ghana: Letter to speaker on language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Sep 16 15:51:42 UTC 2006

Towards a needs-based curriculum for schools

Mr. Speaker, Honorable majority members, Honorable members of the
minority, ladies and gentlemen.

      In my letter to you some months ago, I discussed programmatic
structures with regards to the curriculum in our universities, in which I
indicated that the current curriculum succeeds in producing students en
masse at the end of each academic year, but fails to make them productive
in society. Even though the greater majority of my audience understood the
import of my argument and agreed with me, in principle, on the challenging
issues I raised, others misread the piece and thought I meant that some
courses in the liberal arts such as History and Philosophy, among others
are irrelevant and should not be offered. I dont think I can ever dream of
such an idea, having gone through the same system and programs, myself. In
that piece, I argued that the current set up of programs, among which are
those in the liberal arts, have not been designed and taught with any
connection to the outside world, thus products of the universities become
displaced in the communities in which they have to serve because they find
it difficult if not impossible to apply such knowledge in the real world.
It has been seven (7) months since this piece and I am yet to hear a
single reform about that.

      We seem to be losing hold of a number of things, one of which
includes our English language. We can hardly talk of a language policy
which identifies us as real Ghanaians. I am not talking about whether or
not we should have a national language, but a national English language
policy that can identify us as Ghanaians and can identify us with one bloc
of the so-called powerful Western countries. Today, when experts talk
about the Englishes of the world Nigeria is mentioned. Nigeria has become
such a powerful bloc identifiable with a consistent, marked way of
speaking and writing that is uniquely Nigerian. There is no such thing as
Ghanaian English even though I can easily make out a Ghanaian from a
Nigerian should they both present themselves. Usually, for a developing
country, the success of language policy might be contingent on how well
its system is modeled after its colonial powers. Thus, one would easily
assume that the Ghanaian will take after the British both in speech and in
writing. Unfortunately, however, we seem to be at a cross-road in this
direction as one is not sure if our speech and written forms are American
or British. When the Ghanaian speaks or writes, it is very difficult to
decipher its form and function as it is not clear if it follows the
American or the British tradition. This is worrying, considering that even
in schools the problem has crept into the syllabi and most instructors
have no clue what this is doing to our identity or even if there is some
awareness, instructors do not care. What is obvious now is that Ghanaians
are now like the metaphoric pendulum moving to and fro at the touch of any
harmless weapon.

      This chaotic situation on the language scene is reflected in
curriculum development at the basic and secondary levels of education. I
dont know if I am the only one who has observed this phenomenon but over
the past years there have been attempts by curriculum designers to
introduce some Western (American or British) subject matters into the
syllabi of students in the educational sector and this hasnt helped. Isnt
it a source of concern that children as early as the crche level are made
to study subject matters that have no bearing on their cultural contexts?
Consider a child who lives in  the Kushiegu-Karaga area, who is forced to
study subject matters about hurricanes, history of other countries,
animals, and concepts that are so foreign to pupils. The process of
education at the tender age at which these pupils find themselves is so
complex and until the pupils are able to have some grounding in their
environment, they cant make any sense of other materials that are so
foreign to them. At the basic level, pupils wherever they find themselves
know as much terminologies of their environments and will take sometime
for them to be exposed to foreign phenomena. How would they make sense of
hurricanes and holocaust when they dont ever happen in Ghana?

      The Literature scene has been invaded by foreign texts and
materials, many of which students have no clue what the texts are talking
about. The worrying development is that for the most part texts from the
western orientation have been favored over the texts and materials that
deal with the Ghanaian or African experiences and whose themes provoke
crucial debates and arguments. What this means is that students know more
about foreign subjects than they know about their local heroes and
writers, and how can they relate to their history with this growing sense
of displacement? As it stands our education is not geared towards
producing graduates who will meet the challenges of the nation, but
graduates who will serve the needs of the West. By the time a student
leaves school he can recite and quote notable areas of Shakespeares or
Arthur Millers texts but display sheer ignorance about the culture and
history of Ghana or Africa, or in other words his/she will hardly be able
to display knowledge of Ghanaian texts.

      I am by no means discounting the importance of materials of the
Shakespearean or western tradition but our dependence on them has not done
our students any good. I will admit that Literatures of the western
tradition or specifically those of the Shakespearean orientation are one
of the best considering the universal nature of their themes but how can
you treat such foreign subjects in schools when students can make no
connections with the concepts discussed in the materials? Pupils and
students can only benefit if they are not rushed into studying the
Literatures of other areas they are yet to encounter. Our educational
authorities can only hasten slowly in introducing these materials to our
pupils and students. At the university level a careful blend of Ghanaian
or African texts and those from the West and not necessarily an
over-dependence on western texts and materials will help.

      We seem to be at a cross-road, only feeding on systems that have not
helped us. We need a curriculum that can identify with the needs and
ideals of our system. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Author: Godwin Yaw Agboka


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