IF the Federal Ministry of Education concurs to the proposed initiative of the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, to introduce indigenous languages in teaching of mathematics and sciences in primary schools, it will see pupils learning in their mother tongues.
You will recall that, Dr. Onu in Enugu last weekend while addressing pupils of Ekulu Primary School in Enugu said: “We are working on plans to teach mathematics and sciences in indigenous languages in primary schools.
” Lending credence to Dr. Onu’s view, the late Nigerian foremost educationist, Professor Babatunde Fafunwa, had said that a child learns best in his or her mother tongue, adding, “of all the continents and peoples of the world, it is only in Africa and perhaps in a few other ex-colonial countries that formal education is offered in a language that is foreign to the child.”
According to him, in Europe, North America, USSR, China and in all other leading countries of the world, the child goes through his primary, secondary and university education in his own mother tongue.
Linguistic problems He lamented that in Africa, south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo, we educate our children practically in a foreign tongue from primary to post-secondary level, while some of the native speakers of English or French have problems in understanding their own language.
“The African child has linguistic problems plus his own, thus, suffering from double jeopardy,” he said. Fafunwa who became professor of education in 1966 maintained that the average African child’s psychological development from age 0 to six in terms of his natural environment is interrupted or disturbed by his formal school experience at the age of five or six.
He explained that the African society of today is in ambivalent position and so is the child from this environment, adding that between the ages of 0 and five, African children are invariably brought up in the traditional African environment, but when they reach the age of six, one third to one tenth of these children enter another educational system almost completely different from the one they were accustomed to.
This phenomenon, according to him has not been given the attention it deserves by African educators and psychologists, stressing that we tend to assume that the African child takes this dramatic change in his stride and we expect him to respond to this new situation as an average English, American or German child would.
“The fact of the matter, however, is that the child’s cognitive equilibrium has been disturbed and this abnormal situation tends to retard the cognitive process,” he said. In his statistics, he noted that of the anticipated outcome of the Western form of education, more than fifty percent of the children who entered primary schools dropped out before the end of the course.
He said: “A number of studies carried out on ‘primary school dropouts’ in Nigeria attributed the drop-out phenomenon which ranges from 40 to 60% to: premature introduction of English as a language of instruction at the primary school; poorly trained teachers, and inadequate teaching and learning facilities.
“There is little or no continuity between the African child’s home experience and his school experience – a situation that does not arise in the Western countries where in most cases, the child school experience a continuation of his home experience and exposure is. In most primary schools in Nigeria, the teacher does a double task with his pupils in primary classes four, five and six. That is to say, the teacher employs Yoruba as a medium whenever the children fail to follow class instructions in English. This is inescapable because the children’s level of proficiency in English is minimal.
“It was found for instance that all subjects except Yoruba were treated in this fashion even up to the last year of primary education.
” He, however, heaped the blame of these deficiencies on the door steps of lack of language effectiveness, poorly prepared teachers, lack of adequate teaching aids, paucity of appropriate text-books or the poor implementation of the national language policy.
The importance of the mother tongue as a medium of education: He maintained that the Nigerian child is being unnecessarily maimed emotionally and intellectually when we teach them at the elementary age in foreign language. He averred that no other nations in the world except most of the former colonies prepare their children for citizenship in languages foreign to them.
Giving reasons for the use of mother tongue in educating children, he explained that the first twelve years are the most formative period of a child’s life, adding that during this period their attitudes and aptitudes are developed. He added: “It is also during this period that the child requires diligent care of his physical needs and trained guidance of his mental, emotional and social development.
He said: “Through the mother-tongue as the medium of education, which after all is the most natural way of learning. This is where the average European or English child has a decided advantage over his African counterpart. Natural environment “ While the former is acquiring new skills during the first six years in his mother-tongue, the latter is busy struggling with a foreign language during the greater part of his primary education.
The English, German, or the Italian children explore their own natural environment and communication in their native tongue, thus acquiring at very early stages self-confidence, initiative, resourcefulness, creative reasoning and adaptability-skills necessary for further growth in later stages of development. “It is our contention that a child, if helped to lay the foundation of his future development in his own mother-tongue, will likely be in a position to build upon it in later years even in another language.
We are, therefore, constrained to ask whether this serious defect in our colonial pattern of education has not robbed the child of inventiveness, originality and creativity since he is forced to think in English instead of Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or any other Nigerian language.”