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Dialogue for peace, through language and education

Posted by By Olu Obafemi on 2006/07/13 | Views: 2553 |

Dialogue for peace, through language and education

The Nigerian Presidency and UNESCO held the First African Regional Conference on peace through dialogue....

The Nigerian Presidency and UNESCO held the First African Regional Conference on peace through dialogue among nations and the peoples of the world-between civilizations, culture and peoples. This was held, mainly at the Nicon Noga, now re-christened, under new ownership, as Transcorp Hilton Hotel.

It was a very rewarding experience in which the question of cultural and inter-cultural ignorance, based on inadequate or in fact outright misunderstanding, among peoples across the world and across generations were raised and debated. At the centre of the discourse was the place of scientific and technological advancement in Africa through education. My paper, from which I offer the following excerpts, was to locate the role of language as a tool of education through which science and technology could be effectively transmitted.

It is an accepted fact in educational circles in Africa and the rest of the so-called developing world is that one crucial factor that has impeded rapid socio-economic and technological development, including knowledge and skill dissemination, is the imposition of the foreign languages as the medium of communication. Education is carried on, largely through colonial languages of French, English, Portuguese and Arabic.

The presence and dominance of European languages has severely hampered the development of the numerous African languages and dialects. Thus, the African languages are under-developed-in competence, vocabulary, structures and so on, in terms of functionality and political stature. In the specific case of Nigeria, English is the language of administration, trade, commerce, education, politics and international exchange and inter-action. Ruminating over the absurdity of this situation, the front-line educationist, Professor Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa recently wondered how in a situation in which only about 30million of the estimated 130million population of Nigeria spoke or communicate somehow in English, the remaining 100million ‘carry on their daily lives.

Given the prevailing situation in other developed nations where normal, daily routines, ‘including research and development’ are carried out in their own indigenous languages-it is absurd that foreign languages continue to subtend as language of official transaction in Africa...

Education is the corner stone of nation building. Technology is the invention through thought. Thinking is done through language, which is also the process of imparting knowledge. Thought and language are inextricably linked. It is through language that we impart information, express feelings (deep or light) and emotions. It is impossible to conceive of a rational being (a being that thinks) or society, without implying the existence of language. Understanding of the human mind is possible only through language.

The Nigerian foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe, once stated, quite aptly that no one can understand a people whose language he/she does not speak. Language is the ability to communicate, be it individual _expression, common heritage and communal expression. Hobbes stated that man’s life, in the state of nature, without a common language, was Characterized by war and strife, and sheer survival was his sole aim of life and living. He said that ‘the life of man without language was nasty, solitary, brutish and short’.

Any discussion of the use of language for the transmission of knowledge and experience in Africa is often viewed with many mixed feelings. This is simply because of the scenario of complex multilingualism in Africa and the implications of this for social, economic, political, educational and cultural progress in the continent. Multilingualism, and its attendant multiculturalism, has been a major cause of division and disunity in African States, and as Bamgbose submits, "It is not language that divides but the attitude of the speakers and the sentiments and symbolism attached to the language."

Obviously therefore, the linguistic factor as an impediment to progress in Africa, has become the proverbial tortoise on whose head every folktale must begin and end.
Language is, at once, the repository of culture, its mode of _expression and a means of its transmission from one generation to the other. Ndoleriire submits that "Language can be considered as cultural practice, and that language is both an instrument and a product of culture."

To enable us discuss language as an educational tool, it is necessary to locate, in context, the scenario of language in education in Africa. Education in the African states is carried out largely through ex-colonial languages of French, English, Portuguese and Arabic. The presence of these dominant languages has largely hampered the development of the numerous African languages and dialects. The African languages are therefore underdeveloped in terms of function and status.

The conclusion in informed circles is that the undue emphasis and value placed on the ex-colonial languages have placed some of the following implications on socio-economic development in Africa:
(a) The indigenous languages have not been taken seriously as subjects of study. This means, the cognitive, affective, and social development of Africans, which must necessarily occur through a language that is well known, cannot take place.

(b) Proficiency in the ex-colonial languages is so highly sought after that parents and educational authorities insist on exposing the pupils to them at the very first opportunity. This overlooks the fact that educational development cannot take place in language one does not know.

(c) Proficiency in the ex-colonial languages remains inadequate. This is because, one, the cognitive skills needed for effective learning have not been developed; and, two, the input services (parents, teachers and other environmental factors) are incompetent in the language and are inconsistent in providing input to the learners

The pupils in the primary schools in most African states lack proficiency in the dominant ex-colonial language (which is also the language of instruction); they are thus prevented from effective learning. In some instances, teachers teach in the indigenous languages and then expect the pupils to answer examination questions in English.

They thus end up with very poor and dismal performance.
Now, let us consider the constraints that lecture education faces in Nigeria. The context of language learning and language use in Africa has inadvertently posed as constraints in language education. This is because these contextual variables have been disregarded in the consideration of the factors necessary for development and progress in Africa. These factors are historical, sociolinguistic, socio-cultural, economic, pedagogic and political.

The historical constraints are well known. African countries have continued to be prisoners of the past by not being able to largely rise above the colonial linguistic legacy. African countries continue to live under the illusion that the colonial languages are rallying points for the many ethnic nationals. The sociolinguistic constraints have to do with language status, size of speakers and the state of language development. If not until recently when organized bodies like the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) started taking a continental view of language problems in Africa, sociolinguistic study of Africa had not known the kind of networking that would speed up the process of language development in Africa. Deliberate language planning activities with in-built implementation mechanism will remove the sociolinguistic constraints.

The socio-cultural constraints involve the problem a child faces when his language is ignored in the educational process. A child must have opportunity to learn his language and/or learn in it. A bilingual education programme is needed to ameliorate the problem here.

The economic constraint has to do with the multiplicity of languages and the huge financial cost of developing them. Bamgbose (1994:08) submits that:
It is better to run a country at great cost with most of its citizens participating that at less cost with only a fraction of the citizens participating. The huge cost of developing the numerous languages is a necessary investment for the national unity and development. With correct vision and political will, greater investment in indigenous language development is achievable and the result for our technological development is immense.

The pedagogic constraint involves the conditions and facilities for teaching. In a situation where successive government in African states go after immediate gains in their policy formulation and implementation, spending money on education, in terms of facilities, infrastructures and teacher training cannot be given the needed and expedient priority.

The political constraints refer to reluctance to change existing policies and/or the changing of policies arbitrarily. This also has to do with policy declaration without implementation. This situation is partly due to a lack of political will, or a cavalier disposition on the part of the political class.

We shall now discuss issues relating to development, especially in science and technology before tying all the loose ends in this discussion.

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