BusinessDay

The state of English language teaching in Nigeria

The teaching and learning of English language since the colonial era until about the mid-1980s were greatly characterised by understanding and competence, both at the levels of academic performance and communication.

This was perhaps due to the importance attached to the language as one for official transactions and a tool for functioning beyond one’s immediate environment. It also proved instrumental in getting a good job at the time.

Additionally, English was mastered by its users in the mass media, government administration and even in social interactions.

This was the time when even primary school leavers could communicate clearly in the language, and secondary school graduates could perform well with their writing skill.

Sadly, the last twenty years have witnessed a turnaround in the quality of English language teaching and learning, and the situation has worsened so much that the failure rate of the English language in secondary school examinations has become disturbing.

The awful performances in recent years are reflective of many human and non-human factors which will be discussed in this piece.

For starters, the government began the whole problem through its poor funding of education at all levels.

The indifference of the government towards faculties of education, colleges of education and other teacher training institutes in the country has reduced the quality of teaching and learning in the country.

Teaching has become anybody’s job due to the brain drain and the disrepute the job has been subjected to through inappropriate funding.

For many, teaching is now their last resort. That said, the poor funding of education has resulted in the preponderance of private institutions.

On the one hand, qualified teachers now run to good private schools where they are better paid. On the other hand, there are also many private schools with teachers who should still be students.

Faculties of education in many higher institutions have also become alternative admission centres for people who are unable to get their preferred courses.

Undoubtedly, the government has a huge role to play if the quality of education at large, and the quality of English language teaching, must be restored.

Further, the shortage of manpower is another problem linked to the government. There are insufficient teachers teaching English in schools.

Notably, different aspects of the language such as oral English, composition and grammar ought to be taught by different teachers. On the contrary, all of these aspects are taken by just one person, in many schools.

The environment is another serious factor affecting the teaching and learning of English in Nigeria. There is an irony which is worth reporting in this piece.

Students spoke and wrote the English language better when they were allowed to simultaneously speak their indigenous languages and the English language.

Nigeria suddenly reached a period where our indigenous languages became stigmatised as vernaculars.

We encourage students to speak a language whose culture they do not dwell in, while they dwell in a culture whose languages we forbid them to speak.

In consequence, we have students who are neither here nor there. They can neither speak their mother tongues nor the English language effectively.

Notable writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Niyi Osundare, J.P. Clarke and many more wrote amazing literature because they were first grounded in their languages or mother tongues which gave them vivid worldviews that they could account for in English.

Indigenous languages aid learning. It should also be mentioned that young people have the ability to understand several languages concurrently.

It is, therefore, a wrong impression to think that the use of their mother tongues would impede their ability to use the English language proficiently.

Thus, it should be ensured that the appropriate languages are used accurately in different contexts.

The mother tongues should be spoken at home, and the English language can be used at schools and other formal settings.

The schools also contribute to the falling standard of education generally and English language teaching in particular.

The government does not pay public school teachers well, and there is the unsavoury situation of some private school teachers being owed salaries for months. Such circumstances discourage teachers considerably.

Again, among many private school owners, the focus is now much more on the need to help students pass their examinations than the importance of grooming them for active intellectual growth.

This becomes a deficit by the time these students get admitted to higher institutions and cannot function maximally.

The foregoing school-related issue is closely linked to that of the parents who are only interested in the upward mobility of the students without concern for the commensurate increase in intellectual development.

Sincerely speaking, what are you teaching children who know you have helped them forge their ages?

When parents forge the ages of 13-year-old or 14-year-old children to ensure they fulfil the conditions required of 16-year-old children, one wonders what such parents are in haste to achieve when the children eventually graduate at 19 with no native intelligence and proper life exposure.

Also, parents cannot afford to leave the totality of their wards’ development to their teachers and assume their only task is to provide needs.

They must be concerned about their offspring’s academic progress, not just promotion. As such, parents should pay attention to the interests of their children and let that guide their paths.

It has to be reemphasised that compulsory education ends after junior secondary school. This is why the last class therein is now called Basic 9.

Schooling should not be made to look like a mandatory duty. A child that wants to become an actor can be registered in an academy at an early age in life, and the one that loves to weave hair can serve his/her apprenticeship in a sophisticated salon.

The ones who wish to continue with formal education will do so enjoyably and will not consider schooling a scam, if it is what they want for themselves.

In effect, learning, including language learning, will be easier.

Read also: Teaching the English language in the 21st Century world

The desire of a child is, therefore, a crucial determinant of how well they will learn anything, including language.

Given this, attention should be paid to children’s passions to guide them through career paths.

Students can also be faulted for the decline of their academic competence generally and English language proficiency, specifically.

Akeredolu-Ale (2007) argues that it is the learners’ attitudes and motivation that contributed most decisively to the language acquisition performance of learners.

Nigeria has been rated by the World Culture Score Index as one of the countries in the world with the lowest reading culture, while available statistics from National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education shows that 38 per cent of Nigerians are non-literate, as four in ten primary school children cannot read for comprehension.

Even in higher institutions, reading, for many students, has become a mere academic sacrifice, not anything done for personal fulfillment.

It is important for students, too, to understand that beyond the need to pass tests and examinations, reading widens their vocabulary, improves their sense of coherence, sharpens their intellects and broadens their worldviews.

This piece has discussed the broad challenges affecting the teaching and learning of the English language in Nigeria. The situation can be better if relevant stakeholders play their roles accordingly.

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