The country does not have the capacity to implement the policy

To preserve Nigeria’s indigenous languages, the federal government enacted the National Policy on Education (NPE) in 1977. Section 1 (8) of the policy states that “the Federal Government shall take official interest in and make policy pronouncements on the teaching of the indigenous languages, instead of concerning itself solely with English Language’’. But in a repudiation of that policy as we have pointed out on several occasions, what you find written boldly in most schools is “vernacular speaking is prohibited”. It is against this background that we must situate the recent adoption by the federal government of ‘mother tongue’ as a compulsory medium of instruction in primary schools in the country. 

That people learn and comprehend best in their indigenous language has been confirmed by many research reports. For instance, countries like China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Africa that use mother tongue to teach Science and Technology are higher on the United Nations Human Development Index than Nigeria and others that use foreign languages. So, ordinarily, the federal government is not trying to reinvent the wheel, even when there are unconsidered variables in the new proposition.  

Since embedded in our indigenous languages is our rich culture, history, traditions, and values, enforcing the national policy on education with regard to learning and teaching of mother tongue is important. According to the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, who said the policy has officially taken effect, full implementation will start when the government develops instructional materials and qualified teachers are engaged. He further explained that the ‘mother tongue’ to be used in each school will be the dominant language spoken by the community where the institution is located. Meanwhile, it is important to examine the implementation of a similar policy and the challenges associated with choosing a ‘mother tongue’ in major cities across the country. 

Today, there is a policy which stipulates that every pupil must during primary school education (which lasts six years), study two languages, namely, his/her mother-tongue, if available for study, or any other indigenous language of wider communication in his/her area of domicile alongside English Language. The policy also requires that students in Junior Secondary School (JSS), (which is of three-year duration) must study three languages, namely, mother tongue, if available for study, or an indigenous language of wider communication in his/her area of domicile, alongside one of the three major indigenous languages in the country, namely, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, provided the language chosen is distinct from the child’s mother-tongue. In Senior Secondary School (SSS), which also lasts three years, a Nigerian child, according to the policy, must study two languages: an indigenous language and English Language. 

Unfortunately, many schools are unable to offer these indigenous languages because of lack of teachers, a cumulative effect of several years of indifference. Obviously, the policymakers were aware of this acute shortfall when they used the phrase “if available for study” in the policy. If such an easier policy has been difficult to implement, where then would the federal government find the teachers to implement this new idea? In cosmopolitan cities with Nigerians from different ethnic groups, who will determine what ‘mother tongue’ is? Besides, how can a policy pronouncement replace the constitutionally sanctioned Lingua Franca which, as at today, is English? 

Given the track record and limited capacity of government at all levels, this idea of teaching primary school kids in their local languages is likely to become a fiasco that could make things worse. While we would not want to dismiss the idea, we implore the government to first test the scheme with a pilot programme. 

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