When I first heard the call for a policy change which aims at teaching young children in Ghana in their local languages, I was shocked and wondered why on earth the learned Prof. would make such a recommendation. In an age where having a good command of the English language or any other international language could help advance one’s career significantly, why would anyone suggest children should be taught in their mother tongue?
Then, I reminded myself that I cannot be more knowledgeable than the Prof. on matters relating to education. The minister must know something I do not know. Let me keep quiet, go and read more before making an informed comment on this matter.
My quick research taught me that there was indeed some evidence supporting the benefits of teaching children in their first languages or their mother tongue. So, yes, I did come across evidence supporting the recommendations of the Minister of Education and wish to acknowledge that what the minister said is backed by evidence.
But is evidence alone enough to justify the promotion of a policy?
There are many questions I wish to ask the Minister of Education. I believe the implementation of this policy should be viewed within a broader context of many other inter-related issues. We can only decide on the feasibility and applicability of this policy in our context after we have analysed issues more broadly. In this regard, I have a few questions for the minister.
Teaching: There is a significant difference between speaking a language and being able to teach in that language. Would our nation be training all our teachers in our different local languages to make sure they are well equipped to teach in the local languages?
Which languages will be used: There are about 80 languages or so spoken in Ghana. The dominant languages in different regions/cities/towns include Dagbani, Frafra, Akuapim, Twi, Fante, Nzema, Ga, Ewe, etc. Which languages would be used? Would our nation conduct a mapping exercise in order to determine the dominant language in each area?
Teaching material: For teaching to be effective, there must be supporting educational materials. Do we have the education material in different languages? Are we planning to develop education material in Dagbani, Frafra, Akuapim, Twi, Fante, Nzema, Ga, Ewe, etc?
Learning applications: There are many Ghanaians with access to smart phones today. Most of us are online and can thus access the increasing number of learning applications for our children. Do you think a child who does not speak English would be able to make use of these applications if he/she has access to them? Are we not excluding our young from many emerging opportunities?
Language flexibility/versatility: Do our languages have words for all the science terms? What about terms in other subjects? What is the Twi word for amoeba and what do we call twitter in Ewe for example?
Transfer of teachers: How would this proposed policy impact on the transfer of teachers? This would mean we would have to transfer only teachers who speak a particular language to particular regions/cities/locations, right? This also means we will not transfer teachers who speak the dominant language in their locations right?
Heterogenous populations in cities/towns: In some cities/towns in Ghana, even though there may be a dominant language, there are also many people who are not from those cities or towns and as such, speak other languages. Which language would be selected in such areas? For example, which language would be used in Accra?
Effect on spoken English: We often complain about the poor spoken and written English by graduates who started learning English at a very early age. We complain about the poor quality of application letters written by graduates from our tertiary institutions. If we have a problem with graduates who started learning English very early, are we not likely to have more problems with graduates who start learning English even later? Are we not likely to make a bad situation worse?
Potential to widen inequality: We currently complain about the wide gap between our public and private schools, especially the international schools. Is there not a threat that this policy would widen this gap further?
Effect on transfers: So, I work in Accra and I am posted to Tamale, where Dagbani is spoken. My children will have to study in Dagbani but that is not their mother tongue or first language. Would I be happy to take up the job in Tamale?
Problems with the JHS/SHS programme: We still have not recovered from the poor implementation of the JSS/SS system and would it not be better to focus and concentrate on improving the system rather than attempting a new experiment?
Cost of implementing these changes: The implementation of any policy has financial implications. Can the minister tell us how much it would cost our nation to implement this policy? Before we actively promote a policy, we must have an idea of the cost implications as this would allow us to do a good cost-benefit analysis. Madam minister, please tell us how much this policy would cost to implement?
I believe in our Ghanaian languages. I speak two-and-a-quarter Ghanaian languages and believe we must all endeavour to teach our children to speak Ghanaian languages but this is very different from using Ghanaian languages as a medium of communication in our schools.
Instead of spending our limited resources on this policy, let’s think of other ways in which we can revolutionise our education system.
• For instance, would it be possible for the lessons in a school such as PRESEC (for example) to be beamed electronically to other less privileged schools so that they can have access to the same quality of education, PRESECANS have?
• We all have access to the internet so how can we make some of the applications (learning aids) available to our children to put them at par with kids in other countries?
• How can we review our teaching methods in order to make them more interactive and less of “chew pour pass and forget”?
• How can we embrace French in a manner which would make our graduates accessible to the approximately 40 countries and territories where French is spoken in Africa and beyond?
• How can we close the gap between real life problems in our country and our academic studies? For instance, should the Civil Engineering Department of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) be made directly responsible for maintaining some of the roads in the Kumasi Metropolis?
I have many more questions on my mind and sincerely think there are many other educational priorities we should be thinking of now.
Let’s not confuse ourselves and our children. Let’s not add to our current problems/challenges. Some of the countries in which this policy is being implemented have one or very few dominant languages. I read that the minister mentioned Korea. In Korea, they speak the Korean language. In Ghana, we speak Dagbani, Frafra, Akuapim, Twi, Fante, Nzema, Ga, Ewe, etc? Our context is thus more complex.
As we learn from the experiences of other countries, let’s recommend policies which are likely to be feasible and applicable within our own context.
If, however, the minister insists on implementing this policy, my humble plea to her is to select a few sites/locations and run an initial pilot programme. This would give us enough time to thoroughly access this approach, as well as learn useful lessons before rolling it out at the national level.