According to the World Bank, Nigeria is experiencing a learning poverty in which 70 per cent of 10-year-olds cannot understand a simple sentence or perform basic numeracy tasks. Thus, this percentage of children in the country is not achieving basic foundational skills.
The concern to address the challenge of having over 10 million out-of-school children in Nigeria has been gaining momentum with effort being put in by individuals, stakeholders and government, but a more challenging issue is the learning outcome of those who attend school.
The World Bank Report has shown that Nigeria is facing a staggering learning crisis, with learning outcomes in the country being one of the worst globally.
As learning outcomes in the country’s basic education, especially in public schools, continue to worry parents, groups and stakeholders, many have suggested that a lot needs to be done to scale-up foundational literacy and numeracy in the country.
Even though Nigeria does not lack the right policies to address the learning crises, challenges of poor infrastructure, inadequate funding, inadequate and under-prepared workforce, high classroom learner ratio, 1:55 in primary schools, and insecurity, among others, in the education sector have continued to downplay the efficacy of the policies.
While the policies are there to be adopted toward addressing the learning crisis, the proposition on the use of mother tongue to teach at the basic level is at its lowest ebb in the country’s basic education level.
Mother tongue is the language that a child gets to hear after birth and helps give a definite shape to its feelings and thoughts.
According to a research tagged “Indigenous Education: Language, Culture and Identity’, published in Researchgate.net, learning in the mother tongue is also crucial for improving other critical thinking skills, second language learning and literacy skills.
Based on years of research, the inclusion of native language and culture in the school curriculum is an important factor in children’s academic achievement, retention rate and school attendance, the research also showed.
Though the debate on indigenous language use at the basic level has been a national issue for decades, language experts have restated the importance of the indigenous languages to the cultural and educational development of any society.
Various studies have been carried out in this regard and findings showed mother language as very effective in learning outcomes. However, the practise of using the mother tongue in schools in Nigeria is frowned at or rather, it is the use of national languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba and English.
Yet, Nigeria is a multilingual country with about 400 languages and has an education policy that allows for trilingual education in the mother tongue (MT), a national language and English.
The education policy provides for a multilingual policy involving the learning of a child’s L1 (first language) or language of the immediate community (LIC), one of the three major or national languages (i.e. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) and English, but this policy has not been effectively implemented.
However, experts feel that aside from the three national languages; other languages should be used at the basic education level.
Oluwabunmi Anani, a teacher with Concordia College, Yola, said it is believed that the implementation of the indigenous language instruction mechanism (recognized and supported by the Nigerian educational policy) would address the learning crisis at the basic level of education in the country.
Anani said: “Using the mother tongue at the basic level makes learning easier and familiar to the pupils. It is like bringing the familiar into the unfamiliar – thereby leading pupils, gradually, to trust and consequently embrace the unfamiliar.”
While noting that children who come from poor homes, or homes that practise a conservative culture, may find learning imposing and threatening, she said to assuage their fears, suspicions, and distrust, the teacher has to engage the indigenous language, if learning must be achieved.
“Learners with a short attention span and slow learning pace need the warmth, simplicity and familiarity that the indigenous language offers for inclusive learning to take place.
“Creativity at the lower level is enhanced in writing as the child first learns to think, visualize and imagine ideas in his mother tongue. Gradually, she or he learns to ‘see things’ in the English language; builds up her or his word stock before proceeding to articulate in the English language.”
Speaking on the benefits, Anani said it “lubricates the learning process, thereby gradually inducting the learner into the world of English language and it effortlessly lays the foundation for cumulative knowledge in the English language.”
She, however, advised that teachers need to apply the principle of balance when teaching in the mother tongue and extremes should be avoided.
“The English language should not altogether be effaced from the child’s learning experience since we must remember that the use of the mother tongue is only a means to an end, and not the end in itself,” she added.
Aside from the use of indigenous languages, applying the play method (fun-based method of learning), using outdoor learning, practicals and experiments, storytelling from both teachers and students and visual literacy in classrooms can be deployed to improve learning outcomes.
An educationist, Olasunkanmi Opeifa, said learning is achieved when the learner can construct knowledge or create a concept out of what is learnt. So, any means that will make the learning take place should simply be employed.
“The language of the immediate community is not limited to the three major languages we have in Nigeria. The vehicle of communication is language. Once a child can decipher the lesson in his or her local language, I think the learning outcome will not be a far cry,” he said.
According to Opeifa, the use of mother tongue has a high possibility of increasing learning outcomes, especially in local communities where the ‘local’ languages are used for day-to-day communication.
“While I may suggest that English be used in the elite community being the Language of Immediate Community (LIC), local languages should be used in any other community based on popularity. What we want to achieve is learning, which is the creation of the objectives,” he said.
He said using the mother tongue is only beneficial if it’s the same as the learner’s first language, called L1, and “there is a psycholinguistic connection between your root, language and comprehension. You have enough vocabulary to use and grasp if the concept is taught in the language you are rooted in.”
Opeifa maintained that improvement of learning outcomes is also hinged on modern learning facilities, need-based and 21st-based curricula, and proper training and welfare for teachers.