Promote multilingual education in schools
Every year, International Mother Language Day is observed throughout the world on February 21. It is a day instituted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, multilingualism and to highlight greater awareness of the importance of mother language education.
The institution of the day was also to bring to the fore strategies nations can adopt to save their various indigenous languages and tap their immense benefits to the fullest.
In Ghana, the celebration of the International Mother Language Day has not been given the due attention it deserves apparently due to lack of government commitment coupled with poor attitude of Ghanaians towards their own mother languages. Even though Article 39 clause 3 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana enjoins the State to “foster the development of Ghanaian languages and pride in Ghanaian culture”, one wonders if the State is really performing her responsibility as far as this constitutional requirement is concerned. There is little or no commitment on the part of government to come out with comprehensive policies and programmes to promote our indigenous languages.
In many countries around the world, it is a common phenomenon to use more than one language in daily life, yet many other countries adopt monolingual systems of education and see multilingualism as a challenge. Providing education in only one language which is not necessarily shared by all learners has the tendency to impact negatively on learning performance, and the development of socio-emotional and foundational literacy skills. Recognizing these challenges, the International Decade of Indigenous Languages was launched in 2022. Indeed, transforming education through multilingual education based on mother tongue is a necessity in our fast-evolving global contexts.
To address these challenges, UNESCO has been advocating for the mainstreaming of multilingual education based on mother-tongue. It facilitates access to and inclusion in education for population groups that speak non-dominant languages, languages of minority groups and indigenous languages. Multilingual education enhances the quality of education by underlining the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity, the relevance of learning to learners’ lives, and mutual understanding. Multilingual education increases dialogue and interaction among learners as well as between learners and teachers. It facilitates participation and action towards sustainable development by giving access to new knowledge and new cultural expressions.
The potential of multilingual education is enormous. However, implementation rarely takes place due to misconceptions surrounding multilingualism. Transforming education entails changing the perception of multilingualism, so that it is seen as an asset for learning in formal, informal and non-formal education contexts.
According to a study conducted by SIL International in 2017, Ghana has about 73 indigenous languages. Out of this number, Bureau of Ghana Languages, a government department mandated to write and publish books exclusively in Ghanaian languages has been operating in eleven Ghanaian languages so far studied in our educational institutions, namely, Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi, Dagaare, Dagbani, Dangme, Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem, Mfantse and Nzema. This notwithstanding, the current language policy only mandates the study of Ghanaian languages to a limited extent, as pro-English language policies such as“Speak English Only” or “Do Not Speak Vernacular”are still being implemented in some of our schools. This situation paints a very gloomy picture on the future of our indigenous languages, and more efforts need to be put in place to whip up interest in the learners studying Ghanaian languages and also to bring on board the educational curricula other indigenous languages that have been not reduced into writing.
This year’s International Mother Language Day explores the theme:“Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education” and exposes the potential of multilingualism to transform education from a lifelong learning perspective and in different contexts. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, there is the need to embrace multilingual education in our schools, ensuring that every child of school-going age is given the opportunity to learn in his or her language. It is not out of place if the current language policy which mandates the use of Ghanaian languages to a limited extent is reviewed to give learners the opportunity to learn in their indigenous languages.
As we celebrate this year’s International Mother Language Day, let us take the necessary steps to promote multilingual education in our schools with emphasis on indigenous languages for national development. This clarion call goes to the government, policymakers and other stakeholders to live up to the challenge. Bureau of Ghana Languages should be adequately resourced to deliver on its mandate by producing reading materials in the indigenous languages for use by schools.
The writer is an Editor at the Bureau of Ghana Languages
BY JOSEPH KOFI AVUNYRA