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Before switching to indigenous language

Obviously, in addition to the obvious lack of political will by successive federal and state governments to check the persistent deterioration in the quality of education in Nigeria, there are other challenges peculiar to various geopolitical zones and states. 

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In the northwest and northeast geopolitical zones, for instance, the English language as the main language of academic instruction is regarded by many as one of the challenges hampering the development of education. It’s increasingly, albeit largely tacitly, portrayed as one of the impediments to education penetration in the regions. 

Over the years, there have been demands across the regions for switching to an indigenous language as the main language of academic instruction. Every now and then, calls to this effect by an increasing number of people including some influential individuals and groups rise.  

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Though most of the arguments given in this regard are basically right, they aren’t necessarily instantly applicable on the regions. Some of these arguments include the fact that none of the developed countries in the world today adopts a foreign language as its main language of academic instruction. Countries like Japan, Germany, and South Korea etc. are commonly cited as examples. Also, some of the most successful developing countries like China, Malaysia and Thailand etc. are equally cited as examples to prove that a country can get on the path to appropriate development only when it adopts its indigenous language as the main language of academic instruction. 

Besides, the need for every nation to preserve and promote its language is equally one of the reasons cited by the advocates of switching to indigenous languages for academic instruction. On this point in particular, they appeal to people’s emotions so much that many people believe that keeping the English language as the main language of academic instruction implies a collective inferiority complex and is also tantamount to willful acceptance of the British neo-cultural imperialism. 

Many people with this tendency go to the extreme by regarding anyone with a passion for learning and/or mastering the English language as a person with an inferiority complex who disdains his culture and language. In other words, many people effectively consider a passion for learning the English language and respect for native language, mutually exclusive. In fact, there is some sort of tacit assumption in the society that a passion for learning the English language implies unnecessary compromise in one’s commitment to moral values. Besides, there is also a widespread myth that English as a language is too hard to learn, which many people capitalize on in their demand for switching to an indigenous language.  

It’s a pity this trend, on the one hand, makes many otherwise ambitious students feel blackmailed, which affects their commitment to pursuing quality education and indeed undermines their potential to attain enviable academic and professional excellence in their various fields of interest. On the other hand, it gives those with ridiculously limited intellectual ambitions the pretext to cover up their lack of enthusiasm to pursue quality knowledge. 

This also explains the persistent trend whereby academic institutions particularly in those regions continue to graduate generations of supposedly educated individuals who turn out grossly deficient intellectually and yet they proceed to become teachers and lecturers thereby sustaining the cycle of intellectual mediocrity in the society, which of course perpetuates underdevelopment in the regions and the country at large. 

Now, I suppose by now some readers might have already suspected me of being a person with an inferiority complex, or might have, at least, concluded that I am being too critical of the idea of switching to an indigenous language as the main language of academic instruction in the northwest and northeast. 

I would ignore these and other similar unfounded assumptions, and instead focus on addressing the issue. After all, no matter what, some people would still criticize you just for the sake of it. 

Well, against the backdrop of the underlying peculiar challenges in the northwest, northeast geopolitical zones or any state thereof, any attempt to drop the English language as the main language of academic instruction in favour of any indigenous language immediately or even in the foreseeable future would certainly turn out counterproductive. The unnecessary dilemma that would definitely result from this attempt would further undermine the already poor state of education in the region.  

It’s simply unrealistic to compare any indigenous language in the two regions including the Hausa language, the lingua franca of the regions, with the language of academic instruction in, say, Germany or China. Unlike the case of the Hausa language and the intellectual circumstances in the northwest and the northeast geopolitical zones, the contents of the entire body of knowledge in all academic disciplines that their respective native speakers need are already available in their languages.

Therefore, for the advocates of switching to an indigenous language, e.g. Hausa, as the main language in academic instruction to succeed, they should first and foremost begin by advocating for the introduction of a huge, systematic and nonstop program to translate the body of knowledge into Hausa, then they can rightly demand for switching to it. Though there have some commendable individual and collective translation initiatives, adequate government and private sector investments remain necessary in order to achieve this. 

It’s also necessary to embark on a sustained cultural reorientation campaign with a view to improving public attitude towards knowledge.  Because with the current trend of public attitude towards knowledge, even if all contents of the body of knowledge are translated into, say, Hausa, I doubt if there will be any appreciable amount of change to celebrate.

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