English no more the medium of instruction in Ghanaian schools? Crap!!

Mon, 19 Oct 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, October 16, 2015

Folks, I continue to wonder why public officials in positions of trust continue to create credibility problems for themselves, the appointing authorities, and the country, generally. No need to enumerate the various instances; but there is need to focus on the latest one, coming from Dr. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, Minister of Education:

"The Minister of Education has stated that Ghana would very soon change the use of English as a medium of instruction in school. Prof. Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang largely blamed the inability of the educated working class to develop the nation to the language used in teaching them in schools.

"The minister who was part of the “Shared Prosperity Forum” Friday indicated that she was determined to push through the language policy at the highest level so that school children can be thought in their mother tongue". (See: http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/October-16th/ghana-to-change-english-as-medium-of-instruction.php).


Just one word to encapsulate my revulsion: CRAP!! I hope what the Minister said isn't coming from the government. If it does, woebetide it. Another opportunity being created to worsen its credibility problems!! Now, let me explain my stance. Dr. Opoku-Agyemang has made a name as a Professor of English (She and her husband taught me courses in English at the University of Cape Coast). She is nothing without English!!

Her proposition is without foundation. The British colonial authorities established formal education in the country with English as the medium of instruction and a subject of study. Since then, English has consolidated itself and virtually "killed" Ghanaian languages in the curriculum.

The Great Osagyefo's establishment of the Ajumako School of Ghanaian Languages was a bold attempt to give room to Ghanaian languages (at least, those recognized as strong and used on Radio Ghana). Teachers of those languages were produced by that school to staff the various institutions in the country.

Come Jerry John Rawlings' reforms in the system of education and the Ajumako School of Ghanaian languages was abolished and turned into something that is not worth talking about. So, no opportunity for promoting the training of teachers of Ghanaian languages. I am not sure that those languages are even taught in the schools. So, what is the Minister talking about? Her proposition is a mere figment of imagination. It is not based on anything concrete. Talking about a "language policy" even worsens the case because there is nothing like that to rely on.

Let me raise just one example from Nigeria to prove that implementing a language policy in the education sector means a lot more than the Minister will have us believe. This is an extract from a project on language/culture/education/identity in West African schools that I am working on:

"As Akere (1995) explains, for instance, the language provisions of Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (NPE)—which was formulated in 1977 and revised in 1981—spelled out the language content of the school curriculum at the primary and secondary levels. Accordingly, the NPE stipulated that the mother tongue should be used as the language of instruction in pre-primary education and that every primary school child should be taught in his/her mother tongue of the language of his/her immediate community for the first three years and thereafter in English.

"Thus, English should be taught as a subject in the curriculum at the primary school level. At the secondary school level, every Junior Secondary School (JSS) pupil should learn one major Nigerian language (that is, Hausa, Igbo, or Yoruba) in addition to his/her own mother tongue. At the Senior Secondary School (SSS) level, only one major Nigerian language (supposedly not the pupil’s mother tongue) should be studied. English was to be studied as a subject and used as a medium of instruction at all levels of secondary education. The truth, though, is that English is taught at all levels, meaning that it still dominates the curriculum content." Why is it so? Your guess is as good as mine.

There is no doubt that mother-tongue influence is imperative in education; but when there are no resources to support the use of mother-tongues in schools, there is no need to go for them, especially when English is already established as the medium of instruction and provides opportunities for enlightenment.

In this computer age when our local languages aren't even featured in the orthographical repertoire (writing system), where will the teachers ever get materials with which to instruct the kids? How much do the teachers themselves know about those languages and how proficient are they in them to be able to use them for instruction?

We know how some politicians have been doing all they can toward imposing Twi on Ghana as its national official language. This is a touchy issue to be wary of.

English is Ghana's national official language. For whatever it is, the language is privileged all over the world and serves purposes that other languages cannot, at least, when it comes to cross-cultural communication.

Those of us who have studied English to the highest level possible know that the language is growing faster than any other in the world; and it will continue to do so for as long as its affordances attract users all over the world. Wherever English goes, it kills local languages ( a crime called by the linguist Philipson as "linguicide"). But it kills the local languages only to lend itself to nativization, which is why we have different varieties of it all over the world.

Those of us using "Ghanaian English" know why our version is different from the "Nigerian English" or the West African Pidgin English or the Liberian/Sierra Leonean Creole (Kru English). But we largely understand each other and do business as such.

English in Ghana is predominantly favoured and will continue to be so. It doesn't really prevent us from doing what will help us develop our country. So, why consider it as a threat to be discarded in the schools?

Dr. Opoku-Agyemang may have other reasons for mooting this idea, but I want to tell her that the country doesn't have the resources to support her idea. For now, it is a mere whiff of irritation that she has blown. Will it make any sense removing English as the medium of instruction and retaining it as a subject of study? And which particular local language anywhere in Ghana can be used as a medium of instruction? Where are the resources for such local languages?

Take the metropolitan and municipal areas (Accra, Kumasi, Tema, etc.) for instance. Which "local" language will be used to teach the kids in schools? And who will teach in those local languages when the teachers may not necessarily be conversant with them? Are they even trained in those languages?

When the Great Osagyefo established the University of Cape Coast as a teacher-producing institution, he ensured that Ghanaian languages were heavily invested in. What has happened ever since the UCC lost its traction as a teacher-training institution is deplorable. Yet, English and French are privileged in its curriculum and as it is in the other universities. So, if we don't have qualified teachers for Ghanaian languages, will it make any sense to dislodge English as such?

Our Ghanaian languages are worth sustaining but not being used as a medium of instruction, especially when there are no resources. So, why even contemplate replacing English with them? And who says that using these local languages will prepare kids for nation-building?

Multicultural and multilingual as Ghanaians are, the need will definitely arise for them to do more than what the Minister has against English. Nation-building calls for a drastic change in habits of mind and attitudes. If Ghanaians can do what others elsewhere do to place country first, we should make progress. Changing the medium of instruction won't solve the problems that worry us.

Folks, I wish that the government and its functionaries will be circumspect in making public utterances that carry more weight than we can bear.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.