UBE Curricula and Nigerian languages

By Chinyere Ohiri-Aniche

I READ with consternation the article by Rotimi Oyekanmi
titled "New UBE Curricula Unveiled In Lagos" which was published in
The Guardian on Thursday, May 1, 2008. In it, the author mentioned
that among the compulsory subjects to be offered by pupils in primary
classes 1 to 3 are English Studies and one major Nigerian language
(Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba). In primaries 4 to 6 and Junior Secondary
School 1-3, the same situation obtains, except for the addition of
French as a compulsory subject. Thus, throughout the 9 years of the
Universal Basic Education, all the close to four hundred small
Nigerian languages are completely excluded from the country's
official curricula.

Those of us working in the area of Nigerian languages know that
this marginalisation of the non-major languages is fraught with grave
consequences. First, it will exacerbate the feelings of resentment
already harboured by speakers of these languages that the country
favours only the big three languages - Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. This
surely works against the unity and security of the country. Secondly,
it amounts to an unfortunate policy reversal at a time when the
Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council has been
striving to produce orthography and curricula for some small
languages, all in a bid to encourage their being taught in the school
system. Thirdly, and most important, the non-teaching of the small
languages in schools will hasten their extinction. Already,
researches carried out all over the country show that virtually all
of the country's four hundred languages are endangered, with some
very near extinction. In a related research
carried out last year, this writer found that, on the average, 15
per cent of Nigerian children aged six years to 11 years and 25 per
cent of them aged five years and below cannot speak their parents'
indigenous language. If this loss of indigenous language competence
among children is allowed to continue, then Nigerian languages would
have died out in the next 50 or so years. In a world where linguists
are warning that up to 90 per cent of the world's existing 6000 to
6,500 languages would not survive into the next century, it is a
shame that Nigeria is now taking a very retrogressive step towards
her languages. If we are serious about our ideal of unity in
diversity and about preventing the extinction of our indigenous
languages, then the new UBE curricula as they affect languages have
to be immediately revised.

The first step is to reinstate the "Language of the environment" as
a core subject in primary and junior secondary schools. This means
that the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba children will study their own
languages while children of other language backgrounds - Urhobo,
Nupe, Tiv, Ijaw, Ibibio, Fulfude, Kanuri, etc - will also have the
opportunity to study their own languages. It has been pointed out
that this has been the prescription of the National Policy on
Education (NPE) since 1977 but it has not been implemented in most
states of the Federation. Rather than throw out the baby with the
bath water, however, the challenge before us should be to examine why
the Nigerian languages provisions of the NPE have not been
implemented and then resolve to make amends. Far from the misgivings
held in some quarters that this is a tall order, it can be stated
here that adequate expertise and technical competence exist to teach
every Nigerian child his or her language in
the school. What has been lacking is the political will to do so.
With regard to the study of French, and of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as
Second Nigerian languages, this is desirable but far from priority in
the face of the more horrific danger of the death of the mother-
tongues. The suggestion here is that French and Second Nigerian
languages should be removed from the list of primary school subjects,
while they should be transferred to the elective list in the Junior
Secondary School.

This rejoinder concludes by calling on the Federal Government and
the Universal Basic Education Commission to immediately reinstate the
language of the environment in the UBE curricular to accommodate all
languages spoken in the country. Further, the governors, legislators
and indigenes of the states where the small languages are spoken
should now take active interest in seeing that their languages are
taught in schools. Finally, the entire government and people of
Nigeria are hereby alerted that all the country's indigenous
languages are facing extinction. Shall we let them die?


Dr. Ohiri-Aniche is of the Faculty of Education, University of
Lagos.

via GUARDIAN

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