Misplaced priority: Changing English as official language to what?

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Mon, 30 Jan 2017 Source: Asubonteng, Bernard

By Bernard Asubonteng

Unquestionably, there are multitudinous and pressing socioeconomic, cultural, political, and other high-priority issues staring Ghana right in the eye, but changing English as the nation’s official language is not one of them. This is not the first time this official language dilemma has crop up; and, it will not be the last, either.

Since the country’s independence from Britain, a throng of Ghanaians either based on genuine national sensibilities or merely jingoistic callings (the latter most likely the driving force) keep visiting the need to replace English as an official language in Ghana. The first and the most complicated question is: Which of the pack of the equally important homegrown Ghanaian dialects will replace English language in the event of the indigenous language proponents having their way?

A cursory look at Ghana’s cultural pathologies reveals a society with uniquely different tribes backed by uncountable local dialects. Predominant among the native languages are the Akan’s. Within the majority Akan group, variety of dialects exist; and, each of them asserts its own presence—historical, cultural pride, and ethnic significance. Given that many Ghanaians are tribally sensitive, assuming majority of us, for the sake of national hubris, agree to adopt one of the seas of languages in this country, which one will it be—Ga, Ewe, Fanti, or Kwahu?

More so, will the Brongs, Ewes, Dagombas, Nzemas, Kokombas, or Nanumbas buy the idea that the Frafra language becomes Ghana’s lingua franca? Then again, will the Asante or the Akyem people sit by and let one of the minority-speaking dialects be adopted as Ghana’s official language in the absence of English?

Better yet, how do we use multiple local languages (say 2 or 3) and persuade ourselves into believing that we have an official language? How did we get here in the first place? And where exactly are we going with this official language garbage?

Aside from its irrelevancy, impracticality, and potentially “humongous” financial cost such a massive long-term national exercise will bring to bear on the already overheated Ghana’s economy, an attempt to replace English as an official language is unrealistically complicated proposition that may usher in socio-cultural instability.

Whether it was a suggestion, policy proposal, hypothetical question, or a pure display of parliamentary rhetoric, during the vetting process involving Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh Education Minister-appointee, the age-old debate of English as Ghana’s official medium of communication reportedly came up (see: myjoyonline news, 1/24/2017).

Among other sensible and pragmatic responses, the Education Minister-nominee stated to the effect that Ghana must count itself “lucky” to have English language as its formal channel of communication. The MP from Manhyia South was more than right in that the English-speaking Ghana stands at the vantage position in this era of globalization propelled mostly by English-dominated information-superhighway of the worldwide web.

Dr. Opoku Prempeh’s realistic sentiments presented before the Parliamentary Appointments Committee reflected the strong views shared by many of us with dispassionate understanding of the real problems hindering the nation’s progress, including the educational sector. The country’s crumbled education system, from K-12 up to the college level over the years, is deeply rooted in substandard policies and misplaced priorities, such as pointlessly targeting the use of English as the means of instruction.

English is almost universal language in our interconnected world, and the benefits for modern Ghana as English-speaking society hardly need emphasis. This does not mean all the legions of interesting languages spoken in the country must not be developed alongside English. Nonetheless, at least, for the sake of uneasy peace and social cohesion in the midst of zillions of tribal dialects in Ghana, let English hangs in there, regardless its colonial pedigree.

Changing English language as official mode of instruction to any other local language clearly amounts to opening Pandora’s Box of self-inflicted tribal agitations. The move is not only insignificant but it ranks far at the bottom of the hierarchy of the real Ghana’s problems crying for the needed attention and practical solutions.

Like all the copious problems confronting the nation, the leaders’ inability to prioritize the fundamental issues facing the education sector is the main stumbling block. Ghana can even adopt official language sent ‘directly from heaven’ as its medium of instruction and it still may not help the current state of the near collapsed education system.

There has to be commitment to put together an acceptable metrics of educational infrastructures nationwide, including making teaching service attractively good-paying with well-trained professionals, else Ghana’s education will still wallow in the miserable pale shadow of its former self.

That is why it is comical but depressing at the same time, to hear some Ghanaian policymakers who take pride in advertising their college degrees in front of their names everywhere they go, claiming they’re well-versed in issues of national importance, and yet offer clueless actions-points whenever they open their mouths.

Regarding the deteriorated state of the country’s education, some pseudo-education experts point to Tanzania, China, or South Korea to buttress their contention that adopting native language(s) will result in Ghana becoming the land flowing with milk and honey in terms of education, culture, politics, and the like. That may be true. However, the problem with the preceding argument is that it is misleading on so many levels.

Here is one of them: Tanzania, for example, is quite fortunate that their so-called adopted official native language of Swahili/Kiswahili is commonly spoken throughout the East African nation. So it was a no-brainer probably for them to take that course of action. Ghana does not have that single linguistic advantage all Ghanaians maybe willing to adopt like the Swahili.

At any rate, is Tanzania better off than Ghana because it has local dialect as its “official language?” Absolutely no! They still even use English side-by-side Kiswahili—what is the point in switching, then?

In the case of China or South Korea, none of them develops so fast because of the emphasis on their native tongues, but mostly through hard work, relatively far less corruption in their public services, smart long-term policy planning and implementation, and proper prioritization of their societal needs.

Therefore, the assumption that “Ghanaians have been unable to put their acquired knowledge to good use because of the medium of language” often articulated by the former Education Minister, Dr. Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang, is one of the dumbest arguments. By this logic, does it mean the ex-Vice Chancellor of the Cape Coast University Ms. Naana Opoku Agyeman has not made “good use” of her professional life because she was mainly trained in English as her medium of instruction? The writer is United States-based social critic; he can be reached:

Writer's e-mail: b.asubonteng@gmail.com

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard