Ghana: Language Policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 21 12:52:40 UTC 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 Language Policy

On a daily basis, well-meaning Ghanaians from all walks of life bemoan the
absence of clear-cut policies on the teaching and learning of Ghanaian
languages. We seem not to appreciate the policy which underlines the
demand that a mother tongue must be used exclusively for instructions in
the first three years of formal basic education. At a seminar organised by
the College of Arts and Social Sciences of the Kwame Nkrumah University of
Science and Technology, a lecturer at the Department of Publishing
Studies, Mrs Aba Brew-Hammond, called for a review of the policy of using
English as the sole language of instruction at the basic level.

As far back as 1930, the International Institute of African Languages and
Cultures advised that, if possible, no European language should be used in
the teaching of pupils in their first years. It noted pertinently that it
is in the first years at school that the chief effort must be made to
prevent the zeal for English from destroying interest in the mother
tongue. If the greater emphasis is put on English from the outset, the
harm cannot be undone in later years. The institute submitted in a
resolution that it was a universally acknowledged principle in modern
education that a child should receive instruction both in and through his
mother tongue and that privilege should not be withheld from the African

The child should learn to love and respect the mental heritage of his own
people and the natural and necessary expression of this heritage is the
language. Neglect of the vernacular involves the danger of crippling and
destroying the pupils productive powers by forcing him to express himself
in a language foreign both to himself and the genius of his race. As a
general rule, therefore, during the first three years of school education
instruction should be carried out exclusively in a native language and we
understand that there is a considerable body of educational experience
which supports us in this opinion. We consider that no European language
should be taught during that time and that it should be followed by a
period during which the pupil begins to learn a European language, while
other instruction is continued in the vernacular.

This is an advice given by authorities on education and language as far
back as 1930. We had the benefit of the doubt even before independence. It
could have guided us to shape our future. However, after 50 years, it is
not too late to review the educational policy in the choice of language of
instruction. It is even more pertinent when kindergarten education has
become compulsory and has been incorporated into the formal basic
educational system. We cannot do away with English, but that does not mean
we cannot and should not expand to cover mother tongues.

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