Ambush for English anguish

Worried by the poor performance of candidates in the twin subjects of English Language and Mathematics in the recent West African Examinations Council (WAEC) examinations conducted in May/June this year, two conferences held simultaneously last week at two fast-growing Nigerian universities.

While the University of Ilorin hosted the 51st Annual Conference of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria (MAN), themed “Mathematics Education for Sustainable Development” between August 31 and September 5, Bayero University, Kano, hosted the 30th Annual Conference of the Nigeria English Studies Association (NESA), themed “English Studies and the Future of Higher Education in Nigeria”, between September 1 and 4.

Though the latter conference in Kano appears on the surface to thematise or focus on higher education, one major discourse that dominated the event was the need to lay a good ambush for the anguish that many students undergo whenever their results in the subject of English Language is released. This need partly informed the workshop organised for the English teachers and the holistic approach adopted at the workshop to address the rot that has characterised the critical subject.

It was interesting to note that scholars, who included the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, himself a foremost Professor of English; Prof. Munzali Jibril, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission; former President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Prof. Ben Elugbe; and the President of NESA, Prof. Wale Adegbite, among other luminous lights of English Studies in Nigeria, came to the conclusion that implementing the policy that strengthens the indigenous languages is partly the way out of the anguish of candidates.

The observation is that more and more Nigerian parents and schools introduce English only to their children and pupils at the expense of the Nigerian languages. Many nursery and primary schools, both private and public, undermine the policy of teaching pupils in the language of their immediate environment in the early years of primary education all in a bid to learn English better.

However, the unexpected result is the case as Nigerians witness double jeopardy. Students continue to fail English at an alarming rate while their competence in their native languages is also nose-diving as they have been alienated from their own languages by the system.

It is against the backdrop of the foregoing analysis that the Association presented at the conference “A Dictionary of Nigerian English”, which Prof. Ulrike Gut of the University of Munster, Germany, lauds as “the most comprehensive dictionary of Nigerian English to date, comprising roughly 2,000 words that are peculiar to Nigerian English and that distinguish Nigerian English from other varieties of English.” The dictionary serves to document peculiar Nigerian English usage.

Then, it was resolved that Nigerians cannot perform well in English ultimately if adequate attention is not given to our indigenous languages. This informed the recommendations of the Conference, as presented in the communiqué issued last Wednesday that:

  1. Students, teachers, parents, Governments and other stakeholders pay serious attention to education as the bedrock of development and cooperate more through increased seriousness with studies, effective teaching, positive moral support and better funding and policy implementation to address the misfortunes of English language education specifically and education generally in Nigeria;
  2. As languages are the pedigrees of nations, the Federal Government should as a matter of national interest set the machinery in motion for the formulation of a national language policy;
  3. The three major languages constitutionally recognized should be declared national languages and efforts should be made to develop other major Nigerian languages in order to preserve national heritage and prevent them from dying;
  4. Schools that do not implement the policy of teaching the native languages of the immediate environment in the early stage of primary education should be sanctioned;
  5. The Federal Government should emulate the colonial government by developing the orthographies of selected Nigerian languages and promote the developed ones in all areas of national life;
  6. As English remains the official language and lingua franca of Nigeria, all levels of Government should promote proficiency in it through the sponsorship of English students and teachers as well as giving them international exposure in order to enhance their communicative proficiency and thereby learn and teach better;
  7. Teachers should discourage students from textese and the use of non-standard forms in the social media so that the backlash on students’ performance can be eliminated or at least reduced;
  8. Scholars and experts in English should produce audio, visual and print materials that will assist students and learners in overcoming the challenges posed by the English language while Governments and other stakeholders should invest in such ventures;
  9. The Federal, State and Local Governments should promote reading by creating reading clubs and competitions so that reading will occupy a central position in Nigeria’s social scene;
  10. Scholars of Nigerian English should continue to develop the literature of the variety such that in future it will attain the “standard” of other regional varieties like “American English”, “Australian English”, “Canadian English”, “South African English”, etc.
  11. Though the existence of Nigerian English is undeniable, the standard variety should always be adopted for teaching, research and learning purposes.