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The religious missionary and colonial foundations of education in Nigeria largely explain most of the present inadequacies in the nation's schools. Of greater concern here is the neglect of indigenous languages in the curriculum and the current difficulties in implementing the mother-tongue medium of instruction in the schools, despite evidence on its potency for promoting children's learning. This study examines the perceptions of parents and teachers of the wisdom of this policy as well as the constraints to the implementation. Questionnaires were used to collect data from a sample of 1000 teachers and 1500 parents of primary school children. The data analysis showed that parents and teachers were perceptive of the wisdom of the policy, though parents would not subscribe to their children being taught in the mother tongue. It was also found that the push for a language of wider communication and lack of relevant materials are greater constraints to the implementation. Recommendations made include the need for a re-orientation of parents and the public, and genuine commitment of government to facilitate the implementation of innovative curriculum.
The introduction of formal schools into Nigeria by foreign religious missionaries or commercial entrepreneurs sometimes with the active support, but most usually, with mere tolerance from colonial administrators, means that the kind of education imported and imposed on the native was often designed to suit not the interest of the recipients but those of the providers, the foreign educators (Abiri, 1976).
This perhaps is the most serious of the unfortunate consequences of the manner in which formal educational institution was introduced into the country. There is nothing as dangerous and damaging as giving people education that is not relevant to their lives or functional in their understanding and domination of their environment. While Fafunwa (1976) sees this as educating people out of their environment, Rodney (1972) views it as education for underdevelopment.
POOR ATTENTION TO THE TEACHING OF INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES
One of the elements of the education referred to above, which was divorced from the people's realities, was the little or no attention devoted to the teaching of indigenous languages in the schools for a very long time. Where they were taught, they were derogatorily referred to as vernacular, apparently to show that indigenous languages did not have the attributes of modern languages. The local languages were in fact regarded as inferior to that of the colonial rulers, and where any attention was paid to them at all, these languages were expected to be taught only to the extent of enabling the Nigerian pupils to read the Holy Bible in their own tongue (Abiri, 1976).
Consequently, the English Language was the focus of attention and served as the medium of instruction for other aspects of the curriculum. The emphasis on English Language in the school system did not only serve the needs of the colonial administrators, foreign traders, and missionaries, it projected the assumed superiority of the culture of the colonial masters. On the other hand, the lack of attention paid to indigenous languages in the curriculum did not only undermine the socio-cultural context of curriculum, it was a deliberate attempt to dismantle the existing socio-cultural infrastructure and heritage which are fundamental to human existence.
WHY SHOULD WE EMPHASIZE MOTHER TONGUE EDUCATION?
But, why do we need to emphasise the mother tongue in the educational process?
Much has been written about education in the mother-tongue. The mother-tongue is the language that is naturally learnt by members of a speech community and employed by them as the first medium of vocalized communication. It could be seen as the language of a native community or group of people with common ancestory. In the absence of the influence of cultural diffusion, western education, urbanization, cross-cultural marriage, displacement by war or natural disaster, the child is born into and grows in the native language of the parents. Thus, each of the various ethnic communities has its language that is naturally learnt by members in the socialization process.
Experiences in the mother-tongue promote the cognitive abilities of the children. As the child interacts with his parents and immediate relations, he comes into proper understanding and grasping of his mother-tongue. He also learns through the naming of various objects around him and the immediate environment because he has acquired a proficiency in his mother-tongue, built up a vocabulary covering a lot of the objects of sense expression and his daily activities (Adetunberu and Oluwafoise 1992).
In the past three decades, research has focused considerably on education in the mother-tongue. According to SIL International (1999), mother-tongue education involves the use of mother-tongue for formal education. It is used as the medium of instruction in the other aspects of the curriculum. On the rationale for education in mother-tongue, Mohanlal (2001) is of the view that an important goal of education is to impart the universally recognized moral values to the individual and integrate these with the ethnic specific eco-centric values, cultural norms, and worldview.
When this is not done, a gap between the education system and the society results, such as that which characterized colonial education in almost all the colonies in Africa. This gap is often a result of using a language other than the language of the society as the medium of instruction. The curriculum, syllabus, teaching methodology and content of the lessons not suited to the genius of the society contribute to this gap that could lead to learning difficulty and future poor performance/achievement. According to Abiri (1976), native language plays a significant role in the psychosocial development of the individuals.
By implication, the mother-tongue provides a more rewarding learning environment, as school learning and experience become a continuation of home experience, a condition that guarantees cognitive equilibrium.
EDUCATIONAL ANACHRONISM IN AFRICA
The point on the place of mother-tongue in the schooling process is best clarified by Fafunwa (1977) when he wrote about the Educational Anachronism in Africa. According to him, a child learns best in his mother-tongue. Yet, for most of Africa, formal education is offered in a language that is foreign to the child. This is unlike the practice in most other leading countries of the World such as England, France, Italy, Germany, India (to a great extent), China, Japan and so on where the child goes through his primary, secondary and university education in his mother-tongue. Unfortunately, we have continued to emphasise the use of a foreign language (English) as a major medium of instruction in our schools, perhaps as part of our colonial inheritance. It is the informed view of scholars including Fafunwa (1975) and Bamgbose (1977) that foreign language constitutes barrier to effective teaching and learning.
WHY CAN'T JOHNNY READ OR WRITE?
The book "Why Johnny Can't Read or Write" recounts the difficulties, which some English children have in understanding their own language. But the African child faces two dilemmas - Johnny's linguistic problems plus his own.
Early education in the mother-tongue expands the verbal facility and cognitive ream of the child. Early introduction of a foreign language distorts the accumulated vocal and verbal facility, thought process and cognitive equilibrium. Studies have shown that this accounts for a good proportion of primary school dropouts in Nigeria (Fafunwa, 1975) and India (Mohanlal 2001)
THE NIGERIAN MOTHER TONGUE POLICY 1981 AND 1998
It is perhaps in recognition of the potency of mother-tongue in education that the National Policy on Education (FRN, 1981, 1998) prescribed the mother-tongue Medium Policy. This policy is stated as applying to three levels of education:
- At the pre-primary levels, Government will ensure that the medium of instruction will be principally the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community.
- At the primary level, government will see to it that the medium of instruction in the primary school is initially the mother-tongue or the language of the immediate community, and at later stage, English.
- For Adult Education, "The National Commission (for the Development of Adult and non-formal Education) will work out the overall strategy for the inclusion of Nigerian Art, culture and language in Adult education programmes.
This was the first time in the history of education in Nigeria when concerted efforts were made to devote attention to education in the mother-tongue. This in itself became an innovation that gladdened the hearts of educationists and researchers who had been clamoring for the emphasis on the use of local languages as medium of instruction. However, the focus of this paper is limited to the primary level of education.
Though, the mother-tongue medium policy is viewed as a major revolution in the history of education in Nigeria, opinions remain divided on the wisdom of this policy in a highly 'multilingual society as Nigeria' in which a language of wider communication such as English is the official language. Others see it as a wasteful exercise in terms of production of materials and provision of teachers, especially for languages spoken by a very few people. Such criticisms notwithstanding, mother-tongue medium of instruction has remained the option of most multi-lingual African communities and India. According to Bamgbose (1977), all arguments about the feasibility of the Mother-Tongue Medium Policy in Nigeria should now give away to a consideration of practical ways of implementing the policy.
The quest to evolve a meaningful and effective learning environment is a continuous one. This concern becomes more obvious and urgent considering the gap between colonial education and realities in Nigeria, especially with regard to the little or no attention devoted the indigenous languages in the curriculum. Literature abounds on the significance of the mother-tongue in the educational process, emphasis being that a child learns best in his mother-tongue. There is therefore enough support for the mother-tongue medium policy contained in the National Policy on Education in Nigeria. In consideration of possible divergent views on the wisdom of this policy and the need to ask questions about the extent of the implementation of this policy have made this study imperative. The orbit of concern of this paper therefore is the investigation of the challenges of implementing this policy in the context of the perceptions of teachers and parents.
The following questions were raised to guide this study.
- Do parents and teachers differ significantly in their perception of the wisdom of the mother-tongue medium policy?
- Do teachers differ significantly in their perception of the constraints to the to the implementation of the policy?
PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE
While the study sought to provide answers to the foregoing questions, its findings would be of immense significance to the curriculum process. Information will be made available on how teachers and parents feel about the mother-tongue medium policy, more than twenty years of its inception.
Such information helps to show how much awareness and understanding the public has about the policy. These are pre-conditions for their dispositions toward the policy implementation. Where necessary, the government may have to embark on further mass orientation to enlighten the public on the policy. All of this information is part of the ingredients needed by the curriculum workers in the course of curriculum reforms. Both the government and teachers would become more aware of the constraints to the policy implementation. Thus, they would be better informed in evolving appropriate measures to mitigate the situation. The greatest of the advantages go to the school children that would now learn more as a result of the promotion of the mother-tongue medium policy through this study.
This study used a sample of 1000 primary school teachers and 1500 literate parents of primary school children who were randomly drawn from Eastern, Western, Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria. Two sets of questionnaire were used for the collection of data.
The first was made up of 10 items on justification for the mother-tongue medium policy and perceptions on it. Both the parents and teachers responded to this questionnaire.
The second instrument contained 10 items on practical constraints to the implementation of the policy. Only the teachers responded to this.
The two questionnaires were based on four-point scale of strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree. These were weighted 4, 3, 2, and 1 respected to facilitate analysis. In the analysis of data, the mean method was used. The respondents' mean score on each item ranged from 1 - 4, with an exact lower limit of 0.5 and upper limit of 4.5. A mid-value of 2.5 was therefore chosen as hypothetical cult-off point. Any mean of 2.5 and above was taken as high perception. The instruments had a reliability coefficient of 0.61 and 0.59 respectively.
Table 1: Perceptions of parents and Teachers' on the Mother-tongue Medium Policy
Early education in the mother-tongue helps to bridge home and school experiences
Children learn best in their mother-tongue
Mother-tongue education helps to lay solid foundation for children’s psycho-social development
Early education in mother-tongue makes school less traumatic for the child
Early education in the mother-tongue makes it possible for illiterate parents to support their children’s learning at home
Education in the mother-tongue is a way of promoting our cultural heritage
Mother-tongue education is more effective in helping the child to understand his environment
Mother-tongue education is most useful for integrating ethnocentric and eco-centric values and traditional norms into the curriculum
The early use of foreign language as a medium of instruction poses learning difficulties for pupils
Children exposed to early education in the mother-tongue have wider scope of experiences which support learning through a foreign language later in life
Note: Figures in cells are weighted.
The analysis of data in table 1 above presents the perceptions of parents and teachers on the wisdom or desirability of the mother-tongue medium policy for Nigerian primary schools.
Of the ten items, they have common perceptions on six and are divided on the remaining four. The parents and teachers do not feel that mother-tongue education helps in the psychosocial development of the child. The views are perhaps influenced by the fact that there are many other variables, which contribute to the psychosocial development of the child. However, they perceive early education in the mother-tongue as a worthwhile venture because it guarantees security for the child.
Child studies have shown that children's first experiences in school are traumatic largely because they do not see the school experiences as a continuation of home experiences (Iyamu and Omozuwa, 2004).
The early introduction of foreign language contributes to learning difficulties and failure, which in turn could account for dropout as reported by Mohanlal (2001) in India and Abiri (1976) and Fafunwa (1975) in Nigeria. Early education in mother-tongue could help to mitigate these problems.
Both parents and teachers recognize the need for home support for the education of the child in the form of parents being able to supervise and direct their children's home study. Thus, they have alignment of perception on early education in mother-tongue as a way of making it possible for illiterate parents to be of educational assistance to the children at home. Their perceptions were also the same on mother-tongue education being effective in helping the child to understand his environment.
This is in line with views of Mohanlal (2001) who views a good education as that which draws from the learners' ethnocentric and eco-centric values. It is only mother-tongue education that fully meets this requirement. Hence, these subjects were not different in their perception on items 1 and 9 of the instrument. Their perceptions on item 1 on the continuity in home experiences express the earlier views by Urevbu (2001) that early education in the mother-tongue promotes the child's cognitive equilibrium.
On the other hand, the parents and teachers were found to be different in their perceptions with regard to items 2, 6, 9 and 10. In item 2, while parents see early education in the mother-tongue as not capable of bringing about better learning the teachers hold the contrary position. The researcher expected the parents to respond the way they did because they may not have the opportunity of reading research reports on the effect of mother-tongue education on pupils' achievement. The teachers may have, particularly with the local efforts of Fafunwa (1977) in the Six-year (Yoruba Medium) Primary Education Project at the University of Ife.
Parents and teachers used in this study were different in their perception of mother-tongue medium policy as a means of promoting our cultural heritage. While the teachers were perceptive, the parents were not. Parents probably felt that merely teaching a child in the mother-tongue for the first three years of primary school does not necessarily mean he would imbibe the culture fully and retain or internalize all the values.
On whether education in foreign language poses learning difficulties, the parents were more perceptive of the wisdom than the teachers. The views of the parents are supported by Fafunwa (1977) with regard to the inevitable communication barrier posed by learning in a foreign language. Finally, the teachers were of the view that early education in the mother-tongue makes for learning prosperity in the future. The parents did not share this view, probably because they feel that many other variables impinge on the learning of the child.
TABLE 2: Teachers' Perception of the Constraints to the Implementation of the Mother-Tongue Medium Policy
Schools do not have the needed teachers trained in mother-tongue education
There are no instructional materials produced in the indigenous languages e.g. textbooks, workbooks.
Pupils in most classrooms in Nigerian Primary schools come from different linguistic background, hence common mother-tongue is not practicable
Teachers are not enthusiastic to use indigenous languages as medium of instruction
There are no curriculum materials on the various subjects written in indigenous languages
Parents are not enthusiastic about their children being taught in the mother-tongue
The push for a language of wider communication does not encourage the promotion of mother-tongue education
Note: Figures in Cells are weighted.
The analysis of data in table 2 shows the perceptions of teachers on the constraints to the implementation of the mother-tongue medium policy. Of the 10 constraints identified in this study, the teachers perceived 8 as significant while 2 not significant. The significant constraints are related to the dearth of instructional materials; trained mother-tongue education teachers; linguistic heterogeneity of Nigerian primary Schools; non-existent curriculum programmes in other school subjects written in local languages; parental indisposition to their children being taught in the mother-tongue, and the push for a language of wider communication.
Popularization of mother-tongue medium of instruction is both demanding and expensive. It entails a lot of resources to produce teaching and learning materials and train teachers. At present, no concrete efforts have been made by government to face the challenges of implementation the mother-tongue medium policy. According to Urevbu (2001), the requirements for the implementation include (a) linguistic analysis of the phonology and grammar of the language; (b) devising a practical orthography, and (c) preparing and testing of primers and readers as well as supplementary reading materials. At present, these have not been provided.
One of the attitudinal dimensions of the constraints that have been identified is related to the feelings of parents with regard to education in the mother-tongue. Most parents in Nigeria would feel uncomfortable when their children are learning in the mother-tongue. To them, teaching in mother-tongue should be the function of the home and not the school. There is the erroneous belief that education in the mother-tongue is inferior to learning in English. Similarly, the teachers are not enthusiastic to teach in the mother-tongue for fear of losing their pride among colleagues. In the school setting, there is the tendency to stratify school knowledge into high esteemed and low esteemed. For instance the Mathematics and Physics teachers tend to exude some air of superiority over other teachers. The mother-tongue education teacher may have little or no esteem in this imagination. Though, the teachers perceived these as not significant, they should not be taken for granted.
The problem posed by the linguistic heterogeneity as revealed in this study further re-echoes the earlier writings of Bamgbose (1977) who said that mother-tongue medium policy could only be applied successfully in most rural areas that are linguistically homogeneous. The complex and cosmopolitan nature of urban areas is likely militating against this policy.
From the findings in this study, the following conclusions may be drawn. Parents and teachers are perceptive of the wisdom of the mother-tongue medium policy and are likely to be supportive of the implementation so long as it helps to balance the child's cognitive equilibrium, promote ethno-centric and eco-centric values and parents' greater involvement in children's education. Parents would want to support the policy in their views that it makes the child to learn better. The teachers would want to support the policy to promote cultural heritage and expand the horizon of children's experiences.
On the constrants to the policy in Nigerian schools, it is doubtful if mother-tongue medium policy can be transformed from its present paper state to practice because of the overwhelming obstacles.
Based on the findings and conclusion in this study, the following recommendations have been made.
- A national progeamme of mass orientation is needed to inform and update parents and the public about the wisdom of the mother-tongue medium policy. Parents need to know what the schools are doing, as principal stakeholders.
- The government should come up genuinely to face the challenges of implementing the mother-tongue medium policy by providing the required resources for the production of relevant curriculum materials, instructional materials and facilities, orthography and trained teachers in the desired numbers.
- Government and Non-Governmental Agencies need to encourage and develop written literature in indigenous languages by organizing writers' workshops and seminars and providing grants to local authors.
- Further studies are needed to address the consequences of linguistic heterogeneity of urban schools for the policy to pave the way forward.
Abiri, J.O. (1976). Preparation of the secondary school mother-tongue teachers. West African Journal of Education, 20(1) P. 7.
Adetunberu, J.O. and Oluwafoise, E.A. (1992). Implications of the teaching of Social Studies in the mother-tongue in the lower grades of Nigerian schools for the teacher.Ekiadolor Journal of Education, 2 (1) P. 192.
Bamgbose, A. (ed) (1977). Introduction to Language in Education in Nigeria, (Vol. 1). Lagos: National Language Centre.
Fafunwa, B. (1977) Keynote address in Bamgbose, A (ed) Introduction to Language in Education in Nigeria (Vol. 1) Lagos: National Language Centre.
Fafunwa, B. (1976). History of Education in Nigeria. London: George Allen and Unwin
Fafunwa, B. (1975). Education in the mother-tongue: A Nigerian experiment. West African Journal of Education, 19(2) P. 213.
Federal Republic of Nigeria (1998). National Policy on Education. Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information.
Federal republic of Nigeria (1981). National Policy on Education. Abuja: Federal Ministry of Information.
Iyamu, E.O.S and Omozuwa, E.O. (2004) Child and Adolescent studies for Effective Teaching. Benin City: Peterson.
Mohanlal, S. (2001). Mother-tongue education and psycho-societal involvement in tribal communities: A case study of Paniyi tribe. Language in India, http://www.languageinindia.com, 1 (3).
Rodney Walter (1972). How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle Louverture Publications.
SIL International (1999) Lingua Link Library, Version 4.0 (CD-rom).
Urevbu, A.O. (2001) Curriculum Studies. Lagos: Juland.
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Dr. Ede O. S.Iyamu is a Senior Lecturer in Curriculum Studies and Instruction in the University of Benin.
Dr. S. E.Aduwa Ogiegbaen is a Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology in the University of Benin