Nigeria: Teaching in mother tongue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jan 16 14:49:18 UTC 2008

Nigeria: Teaching in mother tongue
Posted by sociolingo on January 15, 2008

Written by Adekunle Aliyu

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The National Policy on Education (NPE) affirmed that Government
recognises the importance of language as means of promoting social
interaction, national cohesion and preserving our cultures. This
policy endorsed the need for every child to learn the language of the
immediate environment.  Furthermore, in the interest of national
unity, it is expedient that every child shall be required to learn
one of the three major Nigerian languages - Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
Ever since, not so much impetus was given to the policy which requires
Nigerian children to learn one of those three languages. It is not
surprising that many children and even adults can not speak any of the
indigeneous languages including their mother tongue.

When children can not speak their native language in the first place,
how then can they learn and study in school with the mother tongue?
The challenge of teaching in mother tongue may remain unattainable
unless Nigeria's education system is decolonised with English language
de-emphasised gradually and systematically. But English is still the
official language of this country – a colonial heritage that may not
perish. In a society of language multiplicity, it would be difficult
to build a consensus for an all-embracing national language. Apart
from the three main languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, there are
over 300 linguistic dialects and mother tongues.

Ethnic loyalty and nationality won't give way for adoption of any of
these languages as the national tongue or lingua franca. Regarded as
the exponent and father of mother tongue initiative, Professor
Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, a former Minister of Education attributed
continued retention of English as our official language to colonial

He stated:

"Teaching can be done in Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Nupe, Itsekiri, I
pioneered it in science at Nsukka. I got the proceedings of a
conference translated into Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. I believe everyone
can learn in their own native language." Revealing an experiment he
made to know the acceptability of mother tongue for teaching, the
renowned educationist said pupils preferred to learn in their own
language instead of English, as they can express themselves better in
their mother tongue. Children should be given early education in
mother tongue, because investigation has shown that it will last long
er in their cognitive domain than any alien tongue.

The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) after assessing the use of the child's native language  in
teaching and found it successful, recommended the approach. Children
will excel more when taught in local language. Fafunwa believes
science and mathematics can be taught in Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or any
other indigenous language. He has published books on science and
mathematics in Yoruba for primary education which have been
into Igbo, Nupe, etc. Fafunwa faulted those who argued that Yoruba or
other native languages have no numerals, nor scientific terms, words
of formula.

"English used Arabic numerals. If English can borrow, we also can
borrow. There are a number of ways to treat a language: borrow,
convert, invent, add." All great, highly developed countries in the
world speak their own languages, including the newly emerging
and industrial powers of South East Asia, even though they were
colonised by Britain. The time has come for Nigeria to shrug off
Colonial mentality by discarding English and develop a national
indigenous language out of the motley of native tongues in the
country.  This may not be easy due to our cultural, ethnic and
linguistic diversity. But the nation can start thinking about it,
especially in using mother tongue to teach pupils in primary
education. The Lagos State Hoiuse of Assembly is setting the pace by
adopting Yoruba as official language in conducting proceedings.
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