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Language Education In Africa


Language in education embraces the wider questions of
(a) the languages taught and learnt in the educational system, and
(b) the languages used for educating at various levels and sectors of a national system.

This paper deals with two sides of the question. Its aim is to discuss the prevailing patterns in Africa and to draw appropriate lessons for Nigeria. There is no doubt that Nigeria itself has built up some experience In language education, the lessons from which can be of some use to other African countries. This experience is also highlighted in the paper.

The choice of languages for education in Africa has been based on a number of factors, mainly:
- the historical experience of colonialism;
- political evolution after the attainment of independence;
- the socio-linguistic contours of each country; and
- the strength of linguistic and educational lobbies in various countries.

The Colonial Experience
Most African countries (referring specifically to Africa South of the Sahara) were colonised from about the middle of the 19th century to the 1960s. The only notable exception to this general trend is Ethiopia, but the fact that the country was occupied in the 1930s by the Italians also meant that it cannot completely escape from the colonial stamp.
That each colonial power imposed its own language on the African countries it colonised is a well known fact. It is also well known that imperial educational and colonial policies often determined (a) the level of entrenchment of the colonial language, and (b) the extent to which indigenous languages were tolerated and consciously promoted in the educational system.
In broad outline, the colonial legacy in matters relating to languages in education in Africa can be summarized as follows:

- countries colonised by the French taught the French language at all levels, and from the first day in school:
- countries colonised by the Spanish and the Portuguese had a practice very similar to that of the French:
- countries colonised by the British taught English at all levels, but always made sure that the first years of formal education were conducted in the first language of learners or in the language of their immediate environment:
- countries colonised by the Germans, while seriously promoting the German language, also gave prominence to indigenous languages in the early years of schooling.

In addition to the above general trends, British colonies taught Latin in secondary schools, while the teaching of French was limited to a few commercial schools. The British in West Africa, in particular, encouraged the teaching of selected African languages (e.g. Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, Ga, Ewe, etc.) up to the-end of secondary education, Christian missionaries provided the early primers in indigenous languages, but these were gradually replaced by works by African authors, who were very prominent in the area of supplementary reading materials. Some of these reading materials (e.g. the works of Odunjo and Fagunwa in Yoruba and the works of Tafawa Balewa and Abubakar Imman in Hausa, the works of Thomas Mofolo in Zulu, etc.) formed the basis for the teaching of literature in African languages.
A very prominent feature of the teaching of indigenous languages in colonial schools was the constant use of English as reference point. Thus, the grammatical categories of English (which themselves were derived from Latin) were applied to African languages. Translation, particularly translation into English, was also widespread. In fact, the metalanguage used was English, with the result that mother tongue learning was an extension of the learning of English.
While there is no empirical evidence to support it, the assertion is often made that French assimilationist colonial policy ensured a high degree of mastery of French in the French colonies. The British, on the other hand, were said not to be too keen on perpetuating "English-English" in Africa and so neither on a British-type accent in speech.
What the British did recognize early was the notion of `English as a second language'. Based on experiences acquired during the second world war (when English was taught as an `emergency' language to speakers of other languages, and when the Americans and the British had to learn other languages quickly), the British were able to develop methodologies for analysing the peculiar situations of persons for whom English is a second language and subsequently based teaching methods, materials and syllabuses on such situations.
One other important factor was the selectivity of the educational systems. While both the British and the other colonial systems were highly selective, the British were less so than the others. Mastery of French was a key element in the selection process and this ensured that all those who succeeded in scaling through the rigorous screening procedures also succeeded in mastering French to a very high level.
The French were also said to be more intolerant of "strange" accents and deviations in usage. Schools in the French colonies therefore made strenuous efforts to teach "French-French", in terms of both accent,and usage in general.
To these factors must be added the fact that the British were quick to adapt teaching-learning materials to African conditions. The Oxford English course, for example, was progressively adapted (from an all-african book with its emphasis on the Kazi family), to sub-regional and country-specific books emphasizing local realities. The French, on the other hand, took some time to develop a "Mamadou et Bineta" and were slower still in adapting these-to local realities after the break-up of the "Afrique occidentale francaise" and the "Afrique equatoriale francaise".

Post-independence Developments
At independence, educational reform was high on the agenda of many African countries. There was a concern for increased access to formal education and also a crying need to adapt formal education to national realities. In most cases,the concern for "domesticating" the educational system inherited from colonialism found expression in the desire to promote indigenous languages. Efforts in this direction seemed to have followed a clearly discernible trend, viz:
- sensitization: a period during which effort was made to get Africans to accept that the mother tongue should be developed for educational purposes:
- development: practical work involving (mainly in the francophone countries) the development of orthographies and school manuals, and the reform of orthographies and the encouragement of creative and pedagogic writing in the mother tongue (mainly in the anglophone countries);
- bold efforts: a period of bold policy initiatives in such countries as Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Madagascar and Sekou-Toure's Guinea, with innovative decisions involving the choice of national languages and their full development for use in basic education and literacy. This period also witnessed initiatives aimed at pushing forward the gains of the colonial period, as exemplified in the Ife Six Year Primary Project in Nigeria;
- stalling: a period during which Africans appear to be afraid of the use of their own languages in education.

Developments during the last period are in fact disturbing. Questions are now being raised on the psycho-pedagogical appropriateness of education in the mother tongue. Some have even doubted if teaching and learning in the mother tongue would not damage the course of national unity and whether starting one's education in the mother tongue would not jeopardize later learning in English/French and learning at higher levels of education. In most cases, these points are raised by persons who themselves had the early parts of their education in the mother tongue.
While some language educators (e.g. Fafunwa 1989) assert strongly that these are non issues, others (e.g. Sanou 1989) assert equally strongly that these are issues to be taken seriously. One reason they should be taken seriously is that a number of programmes of mother tongue education (even those publicised as highly successful) did not go beyond the experimental phase. Some other strongly publicised ones (e.g. the six national languages developed for education in Sekou Toure's Guinea) were discontinued as soon as there was a change in regime. Even highly acclaimed success stories, like the use of Kiswahili in Tanzania, are being threatened by persons who claim that a return to English as language of instruction in Primary education would lead to improvement in standards.
While there is hardly any empirical evidence to justify the insistence on English
or French, the fears expressed on the use of the mother tongues as language of
education have to be taken seriously, for pragmatic reasons. African countries and every effort should be made to ensure that the promotion of the mother tongue (a pedagogical desiderata) is not simply for the less privileged in African societies.

National Socio-Linguistic Contours
It is well known that the general rule in Africa is for countries to be multilingual. The less multi-lingual a country is the easier it has been to develop a national language policy. The implementation of such policies has also been made easier by strong political will or by strong government action.
Tanzania is one example of a multilingual society that has a linguistic super
stratum: a language which is related to most of the others and which has also spread widely among (and has become widely accepted by) non-native speakers. It was therefore relatively easy for Nyerere's "Education for Self-Reliance" to promote Kiswahili as (a) the national language, (b) the language of instruction in primary education, and (c) a language to be seriously promoted at all levels.
The few monolingual countries of Africa (Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Madagascar, etc,) have also found it relatively easy to promote their single national languages in education. The extent to which each country has been able to do this (especially when it comes to use the national language for secondary, scientific, technical and higher education) has depended on the level of political will and the extent of political push. Thus, Somalia uses the Somali language for education at all levels (adding English and Italian in tertiary institutions) while the countries of Southern Africa have not carried the mother tongue beyond the primary level.
Strong political push, by charismatic leaders, has led to the adoption and
development of regional or zonal languages in a number of multilingual countries. Thus, Zambia uses six zonal languages in education, Zaire four, and Togo two, Sekou Toure's Guinea, as we have already seen, promoted six zonal languages.
The same strong political push was used in Ethiopia to promote American. Perhaps the greatest problem with the strong political push approach is that the populace tends to see such moves as cases of language imposition. There will always be linguistic, social or political minorities whose languages are not promoted. This largely explains why there have been reversals to the "status quo ante" soon after the person exerting the strong political push leaves the scene, as illustrated In countries like Guinea and Ethiopia. In the former case, French became more strongly emphasized on the death of Sekou Toure while, in the latter case, speakers of other languages sought to drop American on the overthrow of the socialist-oriented regime that ruled up till 1990.

Influence of Professional Linguists
The first generation of applied linguists in Africa were missionaries and anthropologists who helped to reduce most African languages into writing and who wrote the first religious and secular books. This phenomenon was common to all parts of the region - anglophone, francophone, lusophone, Missionaries everywhere recognised the need to get hold of the heart and win the soul for Jesus Christ through indigenous languages
In most cases, the early indigenous African writers in African languages made their work as close to religion as possible. This was true of both christianity-influenced and Islam-influenced writers. At a later stage, such work was modelled after Western classical authors and were sometimes direct translations at Homer. La Fontaine and Shakespeare. With the attainment of independence came the need to adapt every educational endeavour to African conditions. In the area of language education. Africans attempted to develop or modify orthographies and to develop manual for formal education and literacy. Departments of African languages flourished in anglophone countries while specialisations in "African linguistics" were started in francophone countries.
The early independence days also coincided with the beginning of the wide spread use of indigenous languages in radio broadcasting. This helped to enlarge the "intellectual horizon" of African languages, as they attempt to invent expressions for the new experience (political, economic, technical, etc) that came with independence. The period also witnessed the creation of numerous African language interest groups (e.g the "Egbe Ijinle Yoruba" and the "Society for Igbo Language and Culture" in Nigeria). These were to become professional pressure groups whose work has help to influence the cause of langauge education in Nigeria.
A very remarkable development in the francophone zone was the establishment of institutes and centres of applied linguistics, notably in Yaounde, Abidjan and Dakar. These institutes worked in three broad areas:
(a) description of indigenous languages
(b) development of materials for French as second langauge, and
(c) the development of materials for English as a foreign language.
Up till the 1970s, these institutions .pioneered langauge education development
and exerted some influence on the school system (Obanya, 1971).

English and French as Foreign Languages
Serious development in the promotion of these languages was also a product of the post-independence period. Anglophones and francophones felt the need to communicate and each promoted the other's official language, especially at the secondary level.
The francophone countries, especially in West Africa, considering their proximity to English-speaking countries and the stronger pull of English at the international level, made it a compulsory language at the secondary level, while there are still complaints on the appropriateness of syllabuses, teaching - learning methods and materials, the policy has succeeded in producing a relatively large number of persons who are able to use English or to learn it relatively fast and easily whenever the need arises for intensive training in that language.
In the anglophone countries, the first concerted effort to promote the learning and teaching of French was made at the tertiary level, with the famous "Madame Thibault method". The method succeeded in raising the level of awareness in learners of the immense possibilities of the French language, but this interest was not sustained. At the secondary level, more up-to-date syllabuses have been developed and more suitable materials prepared in some cases, but there has also been a severe shortage of competent teachers and motivation has been low in learners. The result is that the number of speakers of French in anglophone countries have remained relatively low.
French has made a particularly slow progress in Eastern and Southern Africa. The major reason for this is the relative "far-off-ness" of French, since there are no neighbouring francophone countries, like is the case in West Africa.

The Persistent Pattern
In summary, all the factors so far discussed have contributed to creating the present picture of language in education in Africa. The existing pattern tends to show the following characteristics:
i. the mother tongue as language of education in the early years of primary education (as well as in literacy programmes), but taught as a subject afterwards and at all levels of education (MOST OF THE ANGLOPHONE COUNTRIES):
ii. the mother tongue as the language of the basic cycle of education (Tanzania, Madagascar, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia):
iii. the mother tongue as a subject (but not a language of instruction) (MOST FRANCOPHONE AND LUSOPHONE COUNTRIES):
iv. the colonial language English, French, Spanish, Portuguese) as language of instruction at the post-basic level (VIRTUALLY ALL AFRICAN COUNTRIES).
The above pattern does have a few modifications. In Somalia, Italian is used, partially, in tertiary education. Italian is also taught at the post-basic level in Ethiopia. Terman and Spanish are widely taught at the secondary level in francophone countries. Cameroun has a bilingual (English-French) system. Arabic is taught in different forms at different levels in the countries that have been heavily influenced by Islam.

One good way of addressing this issue is to see what Nigeria has been able to do well and what she has either not done at all or has not done well. The former will provide lessons from Nigeria while the latter will provide lessons for the country.
Nigeria has done well in consolidating the gains of the colonial period and in improving upon what was inherited from colonialism, with particular reference to language education. The departments of linguistics' in Nigerian Universities have trained hundreds of persons who are today active in linguistic research and language teaching. To a large extent, indigenous languages have.been the greatest beneficiaries of these efforts. More Nigerian languages are today (1992) taught in schools and also used as languages of instruction in the first three years of formal schooling. The "new" languages include relatively small ones (like the languages of the Niger Delta) as well as those spoken by relatively large populations (like Fulfulde and Kanuri).
A step forward from this is the development of curriculum materials in indigenous languages, particularly in the area of textbooks. The efforts of State Ministries of Education (as in the Rivers State Readers Project) and of the NERDC (Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council), the Gaskiya Corporation (for the Hausa language) have been quite laudable in this regard.
Today's school textbooks on indigenous languages have drawn from the results of linguistic and pedagogic research and are a great improvement on the English language-based books of the past. Creative writing in major Nigerian languages has also come a long way. The transcription of folklore still continues but this has been enriched by a growing corpus of short stories, novels, poetry and drama in the modern sense particularly in the three major languages.
There is of course still more to be done, especially in the area of non-text materials. The language resources outside the school system (traditional poetry and drama and cinematographic resources) still have to be fully tapped to enrich classroom processes in mother tongue education.
Nigeria has also developed university-level programmes in selected indigenous languages Such programmes have tended to cover the wide spectrum of linguistics, culture and literature/orature. What is more, appropriate metalanguages are being progressively developed and have enabled teaching and learning to be completely carried out in specific Nigerian languages.
Associations of scholars and teachers in specific languages (Nigerian languages. English, French and Arabic) have been relatively active in Nigeria. As strong lobby groups, these associations have succeeded in influencing language curricula. For example, the Nigerian Association of French Teachers (NAFT) was largely instrumental in modernising the secondary school examination syllabus in the 1970s, by pressing for and developing a large audio-oral form of examination which in its turn has had desirable wash back effects on classroom practices. Similar pressures were exerted by Nigerian teachers of English in the 1960s and by teachers of indigenous languages and Arabic in the 1980s.
Two important points are worth emphasizing in this particular regard. First, the professional pressure of these groups has been a continuous affair, thus bringing into the fore the continuous nature of curriculum development itself. Second,the pressure has influenced not simply examination practices, but also classroom methods and materials, again bringing into focus the multipronged nature of natural curriculum development work.
Finally, a very important achievement of Nigeria is the inclusion in the National policy on Education of a section on Language. The most important provision here are
(i) the description of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba as the major languages of the nation.
(ii) the stress on initial formal education in the mother tongue.
(iii) the teaching of a second Nigerian language (other than the mother tongue) at the secondary level.
The provisions related to indigenous languages have been reiterated in various forms in Nigeria's cultural policy document, which stresses the following:
- "the State shall promote the mother tongue as the basis of cultural education, and shall ensure the development of Nigerian languages as vehicles for expressing modern ideas and thought processes" (Section 5.1.5):
- "the State shall provide special encouragement to the writing of books in Nigerian languages" (Section 5.5.6)
- "the State shall encourage-the production of newspapers in Nigerian languages, children's magazines and comics for promoting Nigerian culture and values" (Section 8.4.4).
Nigeria's 6-3-3-4 system of education has attempted to implement the national policy provisions on Nigerian languages and has particularly stressed the learning of these as second languages. There have been some innovations here, like the example of the Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, using students to teach fellow students. It is true a lot remain to be done to improve on it but it has been a useful eye-opener to many students. What is needed is pursuing innovative approaches (like the Abeokuta initiative) more steadfastly.
With all these achievements, Nigeria still has to do a lot more. She too has had the problem of abandoning projects mid-stream. The rationale, the procedures and the gains of the Ife-six Year Project, for example, have been well documented, but there has not been the necessary jump from rational justification to real, concrete action. Here,some 'curriculum marketing" would be necessary. Even then, the nature of the Nigerian socio-linguistic environment will raise its own problems. The political push that made the development of materials for Kiswahili as the educational medium in Tanzania, for example, does not exist in Nigeria.
Nigeria has also not been able to generalize the teaching and learning of French as a foreign language, in the way the francophone countries have succeeded in generalising the teaching and learning of English. One way in which this has been done is making English compulsory at the secondary level. For Nigeria to take the same step, it would be necessary at least to have teachers of French in sufficient numbers. Moreover, the conditions are not similar. English has a much stronger "pull" than French in the international scene and this increases the motivation in the francophone to learn English.

This paper has attempted to paint a general picture of language in and of education in sub- Saharan Africa. With the emphasis on the major factors responsible for things being what they are. It appears, from the analysis that Nigeria has a lot in common with other African countries: the experience of colonialism, the influence of missionaries on formal education in general and in language education in particular and the desire for educational reforms since independence.
In the area of language education, many African countries can benefit from the experiences of Nigeria Particularly in the area of education in indigenous languages. Other countries can also learn from Nigeria's experience in mobilising language teachers' associations for language curriculum development, including teacher involvement in language textbook writing.
At the same time, Nigeria has to learn that political push can achieve a lot in matters of educational reform. Nigeria has also to learn how best to generalize the teaching of French to enable a large number of her citizens to communicate with francophone world.
Finally, the point has to be made that Nigeria is different from other Africa countries in a number of ways: her physical size and population, the level (multilingualism. etc. This means that, while it is desirable for Nigerian language educators to be fully aware of other African experiences; complete replicability or transfer is not possible. Implementing Nigeria's language education policies therefore requires taking into consideration the "Nigerian factor" or those features that make the country what it is.


FAFUNWA, A. B. African Thoughts on the Prospects of Education for All. "Using National Languages in Education: A challenge to African Educator p.97

SANOU, Ferhand African Thoughts on the Prospects of Education for All "who is Afraid of National Languages as Instructional Media and Why?" pp. 75.

OBANYA, P. (1992) Language Issues in Basic Education and Literacy Conference paper UNESCO Institute of Education, Hamburg.

OBANYA, P.(1971) "Recent Trends in Language Teaching in Francophone West Africa" West African Journal of Education (June 1971).

Federal Republic of Nigeria (1988) Cultural Policy for Nigeria. Federal Government Printer, Lagos, 1988.

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