Language Education: A Tool For Achieving National Integration And Mdgs

ABSTRACT This paper explained the basic words as well as their inter-connectedness. It also examined the need for Nigeria’s participation in the MDGs Programs. The paper further highlighted the roles of language in education, with particular reference to English Language and its functions globally and in Nigeria in particular. It proffered various strategies for using Language Education to foster National Integration. It further showed that the attainment of Language Education could be the key to the success of the other Millenium Development Goals(MDGs). On the negative side, the paper outlined some engrained factors that have hampered the realization of Language Education in the country in spite of the laudable measures put in place by the stakeholders. Finally, the paper enjoined all hands to be on deck to ensure the continuity, sustainability, and workability of the Language Education Program(s) both nationally and internationally.

Introduction

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the eight (8) International Development Frameworks mapped out by the United Nations at the World Summit held on September 14-16, 2005, at the UN Headquarters in New York (http://www.unfpa.org/icpd/UNFPA). These goals were drafted following the Millennium Declaration (MD) of the UN’s Millennium Summit held on September 6-8, 2000. (Global Summit and its Follow-UP, 2006). The MDGs were inaugurated primarily to assist the world’s poorest countries (mostly in Africa and Asia) in achieving better standards of living. To actualize those goals, The UNs agreed to provide adequate funds as well as cancel the huge debts owed by those economically impoverished nations so that such funds could be redirected towards attending to the special needs of those countries in the areas of education, poverty, and health, as stipulated in the UN Chatter. At the time of the launching of the said MDGs, 189 nations, including Nigeria, and about 23 international organizations pledged their support and full participation in the achievement of the eight goals by the year 2015. Currently, four nations have joined this huge project, thereby bringing the total number of member nations to 193 (United Nations Millennium Declaration, 2006).

The following are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as drafted and agreed upon by the delegates, as well as some major International Organizations that champion them MDG 1 To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (WTO)

MDG 2 To achieve universal primary education (UNESCO)

MDG 3 To promote gender equality and empowerment of women (WHO)

MDG 4 To reduce child mortality (WHO)

MDG 5 To improve maternal health (WHO)

MDG 6 To combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases (WHO)

MDG 7 To ensure environmental sustainability (WHO, UNEP, PEP)

MDG 8 To develop a global partnership for development (WTO)

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is an agency established to coordinate global and national efforts in achieving the aforementioned MDGs (Global Policy Forum, 2006). One way by which these international goals are achievable at both national and international levels is through Language Education.

The need for Language Education as a catalyst for the attainment of MDGs and for the actualization of true National Integration cannot be over-stressed; hence, its inclusion as the 2nd (MDG2) in the list of the eight MDGs. At the global level, the UN’s 1966 International Convention on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes the rights of everyone to an education (ICESCR, Article 13. p 1), and undoubtedly, language plays a vital role in the actualization of that global dream.

Nigeria, as one of the signatories to the Millennium Declaration (UNMD), in recognition of and in response to the global need for Language Education, is committed to achieving it by the year 2015. In view of this, Language Education is an integral part of the Nigerian Curriculum. More important, it is enshrined in her National Policy on Education (NPE).

Conceptualization

For a better understanding of this paper, it is pertinent that some key issues be explained.

Language:   Language is defined as a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions, and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (Sapir, in Olugbodi 2006). Webster’s Universal Dictionary & Thesaurus (2010) also defines language as human speech, any means of communicating; speech of a particular nation, etc.; the particular style of verbal expression characteristic of a person, group, etc. The foregoing re-iterates that a Language is an indispensable tool in human interaction; it is a vehicle for acquiring education in all ramifications. Indeed, nothing worthwhile is achievable in a human endeavor without communication, of which language is a chief facilitator.

Education:  Education is defined as an experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. It is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits of a group of people, which are transferred from one generation to the next through story-telling, discussion, teaching, training, or research. It is the transmission of information from one human being to the other. (Dewey, 1994.) Therefore, education is the bedrock of any progressively inclined individual(s) or nation(s)

Language Education: Language Education is, therefore, the teaching and learning of a language. In Nigeria, for instance, this may include the teaching and learning of indigenous languages-. L1 (consisting of the MT and the LIE), and the foreign language (s) ---L2 (consisting of English, French, etc.).

Nigeria as a nation recognizes the importance of language education, be it national or foreign language (s), as evidenced in its inclusion in its National Policy on Education (NPE). As an excerpt, the NPE states:

“Government appreciates the importance of language as a means of promoting social interaction and national cohesion and preserving cultures. Thus, every child shall learn the language of the immediate environment. For smooth interaction with our neighbors, it is desirable for every Nigerian to speak French. Accordingly, French shall be the second official Language in Nigeria, and it shall be compulsory in school” (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2005. p.4).

NationalDevelopment:  This refers to the ability of a nation to improve the lives of its citizens. This includes the provision of social welfare such as amenities, quality education, etc. The touchstone for development could either be material, such as increased GDP, which is evident in the better standards of living of the citizenry, or social such as high literacy rate and availability of health care facilities. (National Development Council, 2010).

National Integration:  This is the awareness of a common identity amongst citizens seemingly separated by so many factors. Applicable, this entails that while we as Nigerians recognize and take pride in our differing languages, religions, ethnicities, geographical locations, political affiliations, etc., we also acknowledge that we are one indivisible entity; that we are one nation, one people, and that the strength and beauty of our unity are in our diversity. Granted, the aforementioned differences could pose threats to our national unity; however, focus on those factors that tend to integrate or unite us. These uniting forces include, among others, our common origin, our constitution, our currency, the national anthem, sports, and most importantly, the English Language, which has, as a necessity, become the de facto (a non-indigenous language that serves as a language of unity in a multi-lingual society) national language in the country.

Therefore, for the purpose of this paper, Language Education will primarily refer to the English language.

English as a foreign language plays an important communicative role in Nigeria, given her linguistic multiplicity. In addition to its role as a de facto national language, the English language also serves as the first official language spoken in the country (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2005). Hence, English occupies a dual linguistic position in Nigeria and so is very much invaluable in the attainment of National Integration and in the actualization of the MDGs.

The Need for Nigeria’s Participation in the MDGs 2 Program

That Nigeria is the Giant of Africa is undeniable, given her abundant human and material resources with which she is blessed. In spite of these, however, she has long grappled with developmental setbacks. These are especially evident in the overwhelming rate of illiteracy with its attendant problems. Indeed, the reverse of the maxim “education is the bedrock of any nation” has taken a great toll on the Nigerian nation. In his speech entitled: “Literacy for 21st Century”, the former Minister of States for Education, Mr. Nyeson Wike, bemoaned the alarming rate of illiteracy in the country (Idoko., 2013). The minister stated that the highest estimated number of out-of-school children- (10.5mil) was recorded in Nigeria in spite of the efforts by the government to contain the upsurge. In 2008, World Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Factbook estimated that 775 million illiterate adults were concentrated in ten (10) countries of South Asia, West Asia, and Sub-Sahara Africa, with Nigeria being on the list. In spite of the measures to curb illiteracy, the minister noted with dismay that only 51.1% total population of Nigerians were literate. Therefore, with the above facts, it is no wonder that Nigeria is keenly interested in any program(s) geared towards the reduction of such a high rate of illiteracy, given that such a course would expedite national development and serve as an antidote to national challenges of insecurity, poverty, poor health replete in the country.

The Roles of Language in Education

Language has long been described as a natural gift to humankind (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). It is an indispensable tool in the educational process. Olugbodi (2006) further affirms that without language, no effective learning takes place. In view of this, therefore, below are some of the benefits accruing from language education.

- Language enables both the teacher and the learners to express their feelings, thoughts, desires, and queries to the world around them

- Words, gestures, and tone as aspects of language portray the goings-on in the minds of both the teachers and the learners...

- Language enables teachers and learners to forge lasting bonds with each other, thus establishing a distinction between humankind and animals.

- Language enables learners to adapt to their new learning environments as well as to new knowledge, thus enabling them to co-exist with one another

- Language is important in learning all the school subjects such as mathematics, science, technology, etc. (Olugbodi, 2006).

- Without language, general human interactions would be impossible.

(de Valoes, 2014).

Functions of the English Language in Nigeria

Though the Nigerian National Policy on Education (NPE) recognizes the need for the inculcation of indigenous languages, especially in the early years of primary education, apparently, to facilitate teaching and learning, English Language remains the key to the outside world and one of the core subjects in the school curricula (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2005). It is important to note that English as a foreign language does not only have its relevance in Nigeria; it is globally elevated. Recognizing English as the most widely spoken foreign language, the book English as a Global Language states: “About a quarter of the world’s population is already fluent or competent in English. It is used to communicate internationally for commercial, political, scientific, and technological purposes” (Crystal, 2009).

In particular, English serves the following linguistic purposes in Nigeria:

1. For effective communication/interaction;

2. For Pedagogical purposes

3. For administration

4. For Commerce/Economics

5. For Governance

6. For Judiciary/Legislative purposes

7. For theology

8. For Bilateral/Multilateral relations

9. For Tourism

10. For Media

11. For Science and Technology: and most important

12. For unity 

Fostering National Integration via Language Education

That the world does not allow exit except in language cannot be overstressed. Language education, therefore, fosters National Integration. However, for this to be achieved in Nigeria, the following strategies would have to be adopted and possibly implemented.

- Insistence on the use of the English Language in the selected levels of our educational systems as provided in the NPE.

- Ensuring that the leaders and others in authority (i.e., politicians, teachers, religious leaders, etc.) use appropriate Language (English) that evokes feelings of patriotism and national unity rather than derogatory and divisive speech that tend to tear the nation apart.

- Re-evaluating the pedagogical roles of oral tradition in the Nigerian curricula. Resuscitating that long-forgotten orature such as music/songs, folklores, folktales, etc., that once promoted good moral characters and unity of purpose. In so doing, nationalism and civic responsibility are promoted, especially among the new generation of Nigerians who are disconnected from the old norms that bound the nation as an indivisible entity

- Ensuring that majority of the citizenry is educated and allowed to communicate in this language of unity, especially in public places.

- Making language-learning tools, such as Audio/Video recordings, Language books, available, accessible, and user-friendly.

-- Funding and encouraging the teaching and learning of the language by the government and other relevant stakeholders.

Language Education: a Viable Tool for the Attainment of the other MDGs

Language Education is indisputably an offshoot of the MDG 2. Hence, the success of one evidently leads to the success of others. Moreover, the overall attainment of the other MDGs is hugely dependent on the actualization of Language Education goals. Below are some ways in which the success of Language Education unlocks the door to the success of the other MDGs:

- When one is educated and helped to understand the language of economics, one can utilize the available means and resources to alleviate, if not eradicate, extreme poverty and hunger, thus enjoying a much better standard of living.

- Proper education and understanding of gender issues using appropriate social languages curtail anti-social behaviors among the sexes and, more important, eliminate any unnecessary binaries that engender feelings of inequity and oppression. This fosters mutual understanding in society.

- An expectant or nursing mother who is literate in the language of science is more aware of the dos and don’ts of medication that, when religiously adhered to, improve health, thereby forestalling any threats to maternal health.

- When people are educated, they tend to act more promptly in the event of any sickness/epidemic or even pandemic. They tend to be more appreciative of the gift and meaning of life and so are more careful and prepared to do all they can to safeguard it. Moreover, they readily follow the instructions from the medical personnel or the prescriptions on the label to avoid wrong intakes of drugs, which could be deadly. In so doing, the rate of avoidable deaths is drastically reduced.

- A literate person tends to be more appreciative of and caring to the environment than a less educated person. Even animals are safer in the hands of a literate fellow.

-Global partnership is hardly attainable without communication in the common international language (s). Prospective international investors need conviction on the benefits accruing from delving into a business partnership with another nation. Such business dealings are usually contracted using the common language. However, where there is a disparity in language, huge amounts are ‘wasted’ on translators/interpreters, which evidently reduces any potential earnings/ profits from such business dealings.

It is evident from the above that language education robs positively on the other MDGs.

Challenges of Language Education (English) in Nigeria

In spite of the aforementioned prospects, the implementation of the Language Education program in Nigeria still experiences several hitches. The major setbacks include, among others:

- Lack of qualified and competent teachers of the English language

-Unavailability of adequate teaching/learning materials.

- Insufficient funds for the teaching and learning of the language.

- The Late English Method (LEM) enshrined in the NPE is another factor that has hampered the teaching and learning of the Language in Nigeria.

-  Unavailability of competent and committed supervisory bodies to oversee and checkmate the language teaching and learning programs at all levels of education in the country.

- Workshops and conferences to equip and update teachers of English on language dynamics are rarely organized.

- Students’ lack of interest in the English language, as evidenced in their low reading culture, is another major constraint of language education in Nigeria. This manifests in the low grades they obtain in various national and international examinations.

It is equally saddening to note that the linguistic disinterestedness among the students is not on the English language alone. The three major languages (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) equally experience low student enrollments, especially in tertiary institutions where these languages are taught as L1 and L2, thus, buttressing the overall decline in the study of these languages.  

Conclusion

That there is provision for Language Education in the Nigerian NPE is plausible. Her participation in the MDGs program is equally commendable given the laudable prospects thereof, which, if harnessed, could liberate the nation from her present high level of illiteracy. English language education has practically become the language of integration in the country. This elevation is due majorly to our multi-lingual setting and our link with the outside world. Most interestingly, language education could serve as a panacea for the realization of the other MDGs.

However, documentation alone is barely adequate if this noble goal is to come to fruition.

Therefore, in order to permanently secure a place in this technologically driven world and join the rest of the world in the attainment of “Education for All,” Nigeria must pay more than lip service to the issues of Language Education. Above all, all hands must be on deck to ensure that this noble goal is fully realized.

References

Crystal, D. (2003): English as a Global Language. Cambridge University Press.

  ISBN 9780521823470. 

De Valoes, L. (2014): Importance of Language. Why Learning a Second Language is Important:

.. Why study Foreign Language, Washington State University.

 Dewey, J., (1944): Democracy and Education. The Free Press. Pp.1-4. ISBN 0-684-836.31-9.

 Federal Republic of Nigeria (2005): National Policy on Education, 5th Edition, Lagos. NERDC

…Press.

 Gardener, D.C & Lambert, C.W, (1972): Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning

  Rowley. Mass: Newbury House.

 http://www.unfpa.org/icpd/UNFPA. Retrieved 2006.

 Idoko, C. (2013): Nigeria Still Home to 35 Million Adult Illiterates, Hot News (September 11

  2013) Abuja.

The Millennium Summit and its Follow-Up: Global Policy Forum, (2006).

 Olugbodi, S.A. (2006): Language Teaching and Learning Made Easy. In Language. Zaria. 

  MICSONS Press.

Webster’s Universal Dictionary & Thesaurus (2003). Geddes & Grosset.

 ^ World CIA Factbook (2008)

National Development Council, (2010).

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