Provocative conscience - A case for French language education

Nana Akufo Addo African Print 22 President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Fri, 12 May 2017 Source: Frederick K. Kofi Tse

In Togo last week, President Akufo-Addo disclosed that the study of French language will be compulsory in all Senior High Schools from next academic year, which is September. This has ignited a debate among Ghanaians, especially politicians and stakeholders in the education sector. And as some think deliberations on the idea is long overdue, others argued that it is a wrong move. Of course, a change in the educational structure may have dynamic effects on the economy, thus, I appreciate the various debates on this policy that has been raised by the President. Truth be told, the call for French language education has been made by several others including Hannah Tetteh who urged politicians last year to learn to speak both French and Portuguese.

As a language lover, I find it an important policy by President Nana Akufo-Addo to give a chance to all Ghanaian children to have a taste of one of the most influential languages on earth. Ghanaians like many other nationals go for holidays in France and brag about French brands such as Luis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, and Hermes and also enjoy French fries. Others also travel for business in Togo and Burkina but French language which will make trade easy for such business men and women has been denied many because of the education structure.

Adjusting the curriculum to make room for a bilingual population is good. Here is a country surrounded by three francophone countries?Togo, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast? and in an ECOWAS Community which has eight French-speaking countries as majority members. What is more, Africa is the continent with the largest French speaking population in the world and thirty-one countries in Africa have French as a first or second language.

It is true that Ghana’s structure of education calls for a review, and foreign languages are the least of our woes. However, if government wants to solve our problems starting from the least, we ought to be looking at the positives and suggesting ways of making government’s position more favourable to the interest of students and the economy at large. Apart from English language, French is one language which has a global reach. The French in their efforts to remain relevant after World War II set up ‘Organization International de la Francophonie’ simply called La Francophonie. It is a body representing countries in which significant portion of their population speak French. La Francophonie is made up of 56 countries, almost a third of the world’s nations and this include rich countries such as Canada, Switzerland and Belgium.

Today’s western and even Chinese millennials are either bilingual or multilingual. They are either switching codes from English to Mandarin to French or from French to English and to Spanish. So equipping our children with French language opens up their capacity to work and compete with their equals around the world.

As a language with a global reach, it will enhance our appreciation of art, history, literature and this absorbs cultural shocks when we travel to any of Ghana’s three neighbouring countries. And as the world’s institutions are calling for deepening globalization, French is an essential tool for trade, business and diplomacy. Even in the recent election in France, French language was projected by President of the European Union (EU), Juncker, who stated that English was losing its relevance in the European Union, in a bid to appeal to France to remain in the EU. Though this statement was mischievous, it still carries some weight as he himself switched to French immediately after he ended that statement. President Akufo Addo himself knows how useful the French language has been for him as a lawyer and as a former foreign minister that is why he is so passionate about making it compulsory. I also know many development agencies that prefer bilingual employees to those who speak only one official language.

Nevertheless, government has to reconsider making any language compulsory; otherwise, it should not be examinable for all students. There are many who do not like French and as such do not perform well in the language. You can open their heads like coconut, force a Dictionnaire Français into it, add one terabyte of artificial memory and they will still fail to utter ‘je parle Français’. Forcing such students to write an examination on the subject will be disastrous.

The attitude of French teachers will also either be an incentive or disincentive to students to learn French. Those of us who attended syto started the French course in Junior High School and it was hell. Our French teachers seemed to have had a different training from non-French teachers and so had a different attitude on the job: they beat us as if they were not happy we were learning a foreign language. One time, I was chased by Mr. Nutsukpoe, my French teacher, in the class until I jumped through the window. Imagine that! Since then I never stepped my foot into the class until I finished school.

En fait, j’avais fini.

Columnist: Frederick K. Kofi Tse