Lagos and the promotion of our indigenous language

Akinwunmi Ambode

Ayo Afuwape sheds some light on the recent approval of the compulsory learning and usage of Yoruba in schools given by the Lagos State government.

The World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) studies on basic education all indicated that children learn better and faster – eagerly – when instructed in their mother tongue.

Other studies further confirm that countries that rank highest in the world in mathematics and science tests, as reported by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), are usually those that pay more attention to teaching schoolchildren in indigenous languages.

Really, learning starts at home not in school with use of indigenous language. By using the learners’ native language, it is a bit easier to connect in the learning process. The interactive learner-centered approach which is well recognized by most educationists, flourishes in an environment where learners are adequately skillful in the language of instruction. It allows learners to make suggestions, ask questions, answer questions and create and communicate new knowledge with enthusiasm.

About two decades ago the need to strengthen and promote indigenous languages caught the attention of the international scene when the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, proclaimed February 21st as the International Mother Language Day. The Day is set aside to celebrate all the languages spoken all over the world with the aim of promoting the right of people to use indigenous languages otherwise known as mother-tongue, as means of encouraging integration in all aspects of public life, particularly in education.

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About the same time also in Harare, Zimbabwe, African leaders, having observed the declining interest in indigenous languages across the continent, met and restated their commitment to seriously take positive steps towards raising the status and usage of indigenous languages.

Corroborating the position of the UNESCO and Harare declaration, the Lagos State Government in February this year signed the Yoruba Language Preservation and Preservation Law making it compulsory for all primary and secondary schools – private or public – in the state to include teaching of Yoruba Language as a core subject at all levels. The law states that candidates seeking admission into all tertiary institutions in the State must henceforth possess credit in Yoruba Language.

This new legislation by the Lagos State Government is in line with the dictate of the national policy on education and a contrast to the current practice among private school owners who offer international curricular and teach languages of other countries like Germany, France, Turkey and the rest as substitute to the various Nigerian indigenous languages.

In this same direction the Lagos State House of Assembly in demonstration of its support to the promotion and preservation of the Yoruba language, now holds its legislative sessions in Yoruba language every Thursday.

This decision by the State Government, stems out of the belief that the promotion of the Yoruba language should be exemplified by the legislative arm of the State and that the development would not have any adverse effect on the academic performances of school children but would instead strengthens cooperation among people and contribute to the attainment of quality education for all.

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In addition to this, education scholars have also argued that children can learn over seven languages at their formative years and any child who does not understand any concept in his/her mother tongue may find it challenging to understand it in any other languages.

Perhaps, the most important aspect of promoting the Yoruba language is that the promotion of the language consciously or unconsciously translates to the promotion of the culture of the speakers, their customs and the dignity of respect which the speakers are known for.

In other word, when children are taught the language they will also be exposed to the societal customs and the way of life of the speakers and this goes a long way in instilling morals thereby engendering a cultured society and disciplined individuals who have respect for elders.

As rightly posited by a former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. Our indigenous languages play a complementary role in our ability to understand and interpret scenarios even in other languages. Linguists believe that promoting indigenous languages will facilitate the fulfillment of national development as it is the case with most developed countries of the world.

Lagos State, being a cosmopolitan society, a home to everyone including expatriates is naturally prone to the western life style and if stringent efforts are not made, the culture of its indigenous dwellers would go into extinction in no distant future.

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In complementing this bold step taken by the State Government, more responsibilities lies on parents to ensure the promotion of the Yoruba language is sustained by ensuring that they communicate and relate with their children mainly in their mother tongues.

On a broader perspective and for a universal result in the educational sector, there is need for the formulation of a comprehensive national language policy that takes into account the use of indigenous languages in education.

It is high time we realized that when a language is lost, the people who experience the loss continue to live in the shadow of other peoples’ identity and culture. More attention should be on the preservation of the Yoruba language for the upcoming generation in order not to sell out the Yorùbá culture totally or use it as a surrogate to a foreign culture.

Also, parents need to go back to the tradition of storytelling to teach morals and cultural values; they should speak Yorùbá language to their children and encourage the children to do the same thereby enhancing their knowledge and confidence in the language.

Members of the public should desist from seeing these foreign languages as a status conferrer at the detriment of our valuable indigenous languages and also know that preserving these languages from extinction is the responsibility of all Nigerians.

Mr Ayo Afuwape writes from the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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