UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
LANGUAGE, EDUCATION AND POLITICS: An Interplay on the Study of Ghanaian Languages.
by Adams B. Bodomo, Department of Linguistics, University of Trondheim, Norway.
Abstract In this paper, linguistic, educational and political bricks in the Ghanaian society are put together to build a case for emphasising the study of Ghana's indigenous languages in the educational system of the country. The problems and prospects of the case are examined. It is demonstrated that the superordinate problem hindering an emphasis of these languages in schools is the lack of adequate policies and the poor implementation of the sketchy ones available. Future gains for the study of Ghanaian languages include the fact that the educational system will produce Ghanaians who are well appreciative and empathic of their cultural set-up.
1. Introduction The teaching of indigenous Ghanaian languages is a topic of considerable interest in our governmental, academic and other intellectual circles. The discussions held at various conferences, seminars and meetings, though sporadic, have enabled people concerned with the study of these languages in our educational institutions not only to take stock of the problems that have hampered the teaching of these languages but also to propose some solutions to these problems.
In this paper ones does not intend to present a comprehensive picture ofthe language teaching situation in Ghana, nor does one pretend to give a catalogue of all the problems of language teaching in Ghana. The main argument in this paper would be that most, if not all, the problems that have usually been identified by various people can be put in the framework of a more superordinate problem - the lack of serious, well-intentioned and consistent language policies and their implementation in the past. Finally, it will then be suggested that a better future for the study of Ghanaian languages in our educational institutions can be ensured only if we take the necessary steps to put in place more systematic and dynamic language policies.
2. Problems But first of all, let us take a quick look at some of the problems commonly found in the literature on teaching African languages. Awoyini (1982; p.58) classifies the problems of teaching African languages in the following perspectives:
i. The lack of secondary school teachers of African languages, especially well-trained graduates. ii. Little enthusiasm in the study of African languages by students and especially their parents because of the status and emphasis on English in most anglophone African countries. iii. inadequate supply of textbooks. iv. inadequate teaching resources. v. inadequate evaluation and testing techniques, and finally for him, vi. Tthe most significant reason why the teaching of African languages is so inadequate is because of the defects in the curriculum.
In Ghana various people have also identified the problems on similar lines. One of the most popular reasons used to discourage the teaching of Ghanaian languages in our schools is that there is no adequate supply of textbooks and other forms of literature in these languages, therefore making it difficult to train the child to use such languages as a medium of expression to meet new situations in our fast changing world. This, in particular, was the view of the Colonial Administration as is manifest in the 1956 Minority Report on the use of English:
It is pointless to teach any of the vernacular languages as a subject in schools; for such insignificant and uncultivated local dialects can never become so flexible as to assimilate readily new words, and to expand their vocabularies to meet new situations.... their absence of literature discredits them and the use of any of them as a medium of expression.
This is undoubtedly an exaggerated view of the problem; for one realises that this point was frequently and intentionally overemphasised so as to favour the teaching of English in place of the Ghanaian languages.
Dr. Dowuona, (then commissioner for Education giving an openning address at a conference on the study of Ghanaian languages held at Legon in 1968) also outlined among others,
i. the competition between our Ghanaian languages and English in our educational system and; ii. the controversies over orthography and lack of agreement on what the standard form of each language should be as some of the problems hindering the study of Ghanaian languages. One other problem that confronts the teaching of these languages is the discontinuous manner in which certain languages are taught and examined from the lower to the higher rungs of the educational ladder. With the exception of Akan and Ewe in which students can take the ordinary and advanced level examinations of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), a diploma examination at the school of Ghana languages, Ajumako, a bachelors degree examinationa at Cape Coast University and a Post-graduate degree examination at Legon, no other language in Ghana has such a continuous system of examinations. Ga, for instance, is examined at the ordinary level of WAEC but not at the advanced level and yet there are diploma and post-graduate degree courses in it. AS for languages like Dangbe, Dagaare, Dagbane, Gonja, Kasem and Nzema, there is a gap up to the diploma level and thereafter except for single papers, long essays and theses projects that can be written on them there are no other examinations. For other languages still, there is no examination of any sort on them. This situation does not augur well for a smooth teaching programme for these languages. It is a fact that in Ghana pupils and students do not read materials written in Ghanaian languages (and even in English) for the sake of pleasure but in order to pass examinations. This is one of the reasons why students do not show enthusiasm in learning these languages in the first and second cycle schools.
2.1 Lack of Systematic Language Policies. All these and other problems not mentioned above can be traced to the absence of well-defined and systematic language planning policies and their implementation, both in the pre- and post- independence eras.
In the pre-independence era eventhough groups of missionaries did a lot to write down and teach some of our languages like Akan, Ewe and Ga, from the Minority Report quoted above, it is not surprising that the Colonial Government itself had no serious policy for the teaching of Ghanain languages.
What is surprising is the attitude of our own politicians towards our own languages immediately after independence. They had no definite and clear-cut policy statement as regards the teaching of these languages. On the contrary, these politicians began to put more emphasis on the English language to the neglect of the Ghanaian languages. Dowuona echoes these facts in the following words:
There was a new emphasis on English. Although the study of Ghanaian languages as a subject was retained, this new emphasis led to a gradual neglect of Ghanaian languages. The allocation of periods for these languages was progressively reduced in the upper rungs of the school ladder.
The reasons for this kind of neglect are not far-fetched. In a sense the politicians saw these languages as barriers to national integration since every TtribalU or ethnic group would strive to promote their language, thereby fuelling up tribalism. English, on the other hand, is a neutral language. This thinking is brought to light from a resolution taken in Parliament under the First Republic concerning the debate for a national language.
The English language now serves to bind together all the tribes and cultures which constitute Ghana as a nation and to impose a Ghanaian language in place of it might provoke resentment of otherlanguages as happened in India and Cylon.
The problem of policy implementation further complicates the situation. Even in later years when it looked as if Ghanaian languages were to be encouraged - as this is evidenced by the setting up of structures such as the Bureau of Ghana Languages, the School of Ghana Languages and various departments and units dealing with these languages at the Universities and in the Ministry of Education- the implementation of these laid down policies were half-hearted. Even directors and education officers who were supposed to implement these policies did this only by word of mouth, but sent their own children to international schools where no Ghanaian languages were taught. In fact, up to date, some people still speak only English to their children at home and many parents measure their childrenUs rate of progress at school, not by the amount of Akan, Dagaare, Ewe or Kasem they can speak and write, but by their level of proficiency in spoken and written English.
The lack of a well-defined policy and a half-hearted implementation of even the sketchy ones where they exist is undoubtedly then, the major problem confronting the teaching of Ghanaian languages in schools and all the other problems can always be traced to it. Ansre (1969) sees the problem in the right perspective with the following obsevation:
Tone of the root causes, if not the only one, is the lack of a clearly- stated policy on the study of Ghanaian languages in the educational system.... There is no policy statement on what should be the ultimate aim in their study, no suggestions on the content of the course and no provision for obtaining adequately trained staff and carefully prepared teaching material. As a result of this absence of policy there is lack of coordination between what is done at the various levels of the educational system.
The point about lack of coordination is pertinent. That is why there are gaps in the examining of some of the languages throughout the educational system since there is hardly any liaison between the WAEC and the educational institutions. That is why there is the absence of suitable textbook since there is no provision for an annual workshop for textbook writers in the various languages. And that why the Bureau Ghana Languages claims that it does not receive suitable literature for publication from the Public (Otoo 1969) for it does not liaise with the higher institutions like the Universities and the School of Ghana Languages where, presumably, there exist a good number of long essays and dissertations that could be adapted and published.....
The forgoing analysis is an unfortunate picture if we begin to consider how important the teaching of Ghanaian languages is to our children and to the nation as a whole.
3. Importance In sociolinguistic terms, language is hardly separable from culture. The former is even the vehicle through which the latter is transmitted and manifested. To deny a child literacy in his or her mother-tongue by not including it in the educational system will only be a means of helping the child to look down on his or her own culture. This point is sufficiently illustrated by Armstrong (1963):
If we despise the language of a people then by that very token we despis that people. If we are ashamed of our own language then we must certainly lack that minimum of self-respect which is necessary for the healthy functioning of society.
In order that a child may appreciate and love his or her own background and culture, s/he must be encouraged to learn his or her language more enthusiastically. This can only be done effectively with its inclusion in the educational programme. When we come to look at the practical use of language issues such as level of proficiency and the typological functioning of particular languages in society have to be considered. The fact is that the Ghanaian child enters the classroom sufficiently equipped with native speakers competence in at least one Ghanaian language. With such a good degree of proficiency, the Ga,Ewe or Nzema child will quickly pick up language skills like reading and writing only if they were exposed to him in his L1. Beside this point is the fact that a good L1 teaching programme could enhance the teaching and learning of any L2 that is exposed to the child.For example, if a Gonja speaking-child achieves competency and some intellectual skills like essay writing in his L1 this can lead to about thesame level of competency in essaywriting when he is later exposed to English, French or Russian. It is therefore not true to say that the addition of Ghanaian languages in the curriculum is one of the causes of the low level of English in our schools.
One of the reasons why we should take a new look at the teaching of Ghanaian languages in our schools is to be found in the way these languages are put to use by the school leavers. Most of our first and second-cycle school graduates use mainly their L1 and probably one other Ghanaian language in their day to day activities. English is hardly used partly because of their low level of proficiency in it. Boadi (1971) confirms that as far as the majority of school leavers is concerned if there is any agreement about the level of attainment which they reach in English, it is that this is low and inadequate for most ordinary purposes. If this then is the plight of the Ghanaian school leaver in the use of English, instead of directing almost all energies at the teaching of English, emphasis should equally be placed on the good, old Ghanaian languages which will be of immediate and practical use to them when they leave school.
Finally, if we realise that the fact that our educational policies and programmes should reflect our national goals and aspirations we will also realise the extent to which a serious approach to the teaching of Ghanaian languages is of prime importance. This is because in order that government policies such as increased productivity, decentralisation, rural development and industralisation may succeed the broad masses of the population of Ghana need to be involved. This can only be possible with the Ghanaian languages rather than with English. As parliament in 1971 indicated:
The continued use of English condemns the overwhelming majority of the people of Ghana to second-rate citizenship by disqualifying them from discussions of serious national issues.U
Apart from the mass functional literacy campaigns under the non-formal unit of the Ministry of Education and under some non-governmental organisations, it will be a step in the right direction if the bulk of our school leavers are equipped with a good working knowledge of their written mother-tongues through an emphasis on Ghanaian language education in the formal educational system.
If these then are some of the many advantages to be derived from the conscientious study of Ghanaian languages, what is being done or what should be done to pave the way for a brighter future?
4. Suggestions For A Better Future The answers to the many problems confronting the teaching of Ghanaian languages in schools lie in the formulation of more coherent languages policies. Two types of language planning policies may be distinguished: intra-language planning and inter-language planning policies.
Intra-language planning deals with the relationship betweeen dialects of a single language and this mostly concerns how to achieve a standard written form of a language. For effective educational material to develop and in order to avoid having to publish the same material in the various dialects of a single language, measures should be taken so that in the next five or ten years all Ghanaian languages, especially the government promoted ones, have standard written forms. Now that the Akan language for instance has a unified orthography it is possible to set up more effective, comprehensive and uniform teaching programmes in all the schools where Akan is taught. The other language groups should also have language committees set up to take charge of standardisation and / or revision of already existing standard forms from time to time.
Inter-language planning grapples with what functions to assign to particular languages within a multilingual set up and is definitely a crucial issue in a multilingual country like Ghana where we need to decide on issues like what languages to publish in, which of them to use in the mass media and which to teach at various stages in the educational ladder.... We need a definite policy statement on this. Again there are prospects for a better future now that there seems to be a clear insistence on the teaching of Ghanaian languages in the Junior Secondary School (J.S.S.) system. We, however, need such policy statements beyond the J.S.S. structure if we must advance any further.
But a policy statement on paper is not enough in itself. It is the implementation which matters very much. And with implementation the all- important aspect of coordination comes to mind. Efforts should be made by the authorities concerned to bring together the various bodies dealing with the development and teaching of Ghanaian languages, at least, once a year. Annual workshops for the production of primers, textbooks and other forms of literature should be instituted for bodies such as the Bureau of Ghana languages,the WAEC, the Universities, Schools and Colleges. The Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and (Bible) Translation (GILL(B)T) could collaborate in this area because of their experience in producing a lot of primers for adult literacy in Northern Ghanaian languages. A biennial conference involving all these bodies and other experts could be established to assess and review all the policies and the extent of their implementation each time they meet.
Another suggestion which, in our opinion, is worthwhile is that literacy in certain Ghanaian languages must immediately be included in the requirements for certain professions in Ghana. People advertising to employ certain professionals such as journalists,public relations officers, broadcasters, nurses, doctors, receptionists, revenue collectors etc. must be made aware of the functional importance of certain Ghanaian languages in certain localities. This is a fact we cannot continue to ignore.
For a start, since we cannot include all the Ghanaian languages in qualifying examinations for these professions, the nine government- sponsored languages - Akan, Dagaare, Dagbane, Dangbe, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem and Nzema - (which happen to be quite well-distributed in all the ten regions of Ghana) should be taught in the training programmes for such professions and the student required to pass in one of these languages. We do not see how, for instance, journalists, public relations officers and broadcasters can function well, without being literate in at least one Ghanaian language, in modern day Ghanaian society where local FM stations and newspapers are springing up in all regions and where very soon the Ghanaian languages will be used in political institutions like the District Level Assemblies.
The Ghanaian Universities on their part have an important role to play. As Neville (1963) suggests:
They can ensure that facilities are made available for research into African languages and for the study of these languages at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.U
That is why plans to establish a department of Ghanaian languages and literatures at Legon and the upgrading of the School of Ghana Languages to a degree awarding institution at the University College of Winneba is a step in the right direction.
5. Conclusion In conclusion the Ghanaian languages constitute an important set of the human resources of Ghana and all available means must be used to tap them. In fact, English, though admittedly an international language of communication can hardly replace Ghanaian languages, for they constitute the bedrock of our cultural manifestations. In the words of Chinebuah (1976):
If the Ghanaian and, for that matter, the African is to have roots in the way of life into which he is born and in which his earliest emotional and social experience have their setting,he must be taught an appreciation of the culture of his people and his native tongue in which that culture finds its fullest expressions. Otherwise our educational system will only succeed in producing men and women who are linguistically and therefore culturally displaced persons.
This linguistic and cultural derailment can be prevented only if we take a serious look at the teaching of Ghanaian languages to our children by putting in place well-defined, coherent and continuous language policies in our educational system.
7. References Ansre, G. (1969) The Need for a Specific and Comprehensive Policy on the Teaching of Ghanaian Languages in Proceedings of the Conference on the Study of Ghanaian Languages. ed. Birnie and Ansre IAS Legon 1969.
Amrstrong, R. G. (1963) TVernacular Languages and Cultures in Language in Africa. ed. Spencer J. 1963.
Awoniyi, T.A. (1982) The Teaching of African Languages. Hodder and Stoughton, London.
Boadi, L. A. Education and the Role of English in Ghana in The English Language in West Africa ed. Spencer 1971.
Bodomo, A. B. (1988) The Teaching of Ghanaian Languages in Schools: Problems and Prospects seminar paper, Linguistic Circle of Accra.
Bodomo, A. B. (1988) What Language to Use in Schools? in Peoples Daily Graphic, June 1. 1988 ed. Sam Clegg, Accra.
Bodomo, A. B. (1990) En Sammenlignende Analyse av Sprkplanleggingen i Ghana og Norge in NOA nr. 12, ed. Golden et al, Univ. of Oslo.
Chinebuah, I.K. (1976) The National Language issue in Africa Unpublished ms
Dowuona, M. (1969) Openning Address in Proceedings of the Conference on the Study of Ghanaian Languages ed. Binnie and Ansre, IAS, Legon 1969.
Neville, D. (1963) Language and Education in AfricaU in Language in Africa. Spencer J. 1963.
[Fellows netters, if I had the opportunity to influence parts or the
whole of the Education Ministry, these are some of the issues I would
try to pursue. I therefore invite Dr. Kwabia or anybody who has the
chance to lobby for educational reforms in the near future to consider
these issues closely. Thank you for your quality attention.]
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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