By Wuraola Ajanlekoko
February 22, 2016.
Prof. Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa’s agelong argument that primary school children are better off when taught in their indigenous languages, has been revalidated in a new document released yesterday, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to commemorate the International Mother Tongue Day (February 21).
Specifically, the paper mentions Fafunwa’s work in its robust arguments to underscore the importance of mother tongue in facilitating effective learning at the elementary level.
It states: “the Six Year Primary Project in Ife (Osun State of ) Nigeria used Yoruba as the medium of instruction for the six years of primary education. Evaluations of the project found that students who switched to English after six years of mother tongue instruction, performed better in English and in other subjects, compared with those who did so after only three years.”
Fafunwa, Nigeria’s Minister of Education between 1990 and 1992, died on October 11, 2010 at 87.
The new paper affirms that in order for children to acquire skills in literacy and numeracy, schools need to teach the curriculum in a language that children understand.
The document, which estimates that 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand, also submits that being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact children’s learning.
The paper further notes that international and learning assessments have confirmed that when home and school languages differ, there is an adverse impact on test scores.
“In many western African school systems,” the paper says, “French continues to be the main language of instruction, so the vast majority of children are taught from the early grades in a language with which they have limited familiarity. This seriously hampers their chances of learning.”
Recent evidence, the paper reveals, claims that at least six years of mother tongue instruction – increasing to eight years in less well-resources conditions – is needed to sustain improved learning in later grades for minority speakers and reduce learning gaps.
It also argues that speaking a language that is not spoken in the classroom frequently holds back a child’s learning, especially for those living in poverty.
It adds: “Education policies should recognize the importance of mother tongue learning.