Ghana, like many African countries, has not been spared of this challenge of choice. In fact, it has become a major matter of concern to many of us.
Findings say children who are taught in their mother tongues tend to grasp educational concepts and principles faster and easier than they do when taught in other languages.
It has also been established that the use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction in early grades of education sets the tone for effective acquisition of any other language.
Language policy on education in Ghana, by way of history, has undergone several metamorphoses. A cursory look at things has shown that our nation did pursue a Dual Language Policy before 1925.
The Wesleyan Missionaries, who settled along the western coast of then Gold Coast, used English Language as a medium of instruction in schools while Ga, Ewe and Twi were used along the eastern coast and inland parts of the country by the Bremen and Basel Missionaries.
These local languages were developed and effectively used by the Missionaries. Ofosu-Appiah (1976) identifies that, “as far back as 1872 Arithmetic was taught wholly in Twi and Ewe and the Twi and Ewe Grammars and Dictionaries were among the best in the world of scholarship…”
The use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction was strengthened by the passage of the 1925 Education Ordinance, which made Ghanaian languages a medium of instruction compulsory from primary one to three and as a subject of study at primary four while English Language was used from primary four onwards.
This arrangement existed until our political independence when English Language became the medium of instruction even from primary one. The Local Language Policy was revisited, switched off again and back. Pupils from kindergarten one to primary three now are instructed in local languages.
It is interesting to note that out of over sixty identifiable Ghanaian languages, fifteen have been developed and eleven out of the fifteen are studied at the various levels of our educational system, including universities. At the non-formal level, all the fifteen languages are being studied.
The Dzobo Committee Report (1974) on “The New Structure and Content of Education in Ghana” suggested the use of Ghanaian languages as a medium of instruction in the first three years of child education.
The Report prescribed that, “The child should learn his own language in the primary school and in addition one other Ghanaian language. English should gradually become a medium of instruction as from primary class four”. It moved on to make compulsory the study of a Ghanaian language in addition to other subjects in secondary schools.
Teacher training colleges made their students to learn their native languages and one other Ghanaian language. Interestingly enough, this policy, which lasted since 1988, still exists though there have been a series of reforms.
As we speak, the Ghana Education Service (GES) implements a policy which gives prominence to the study and use of Ghanaian languages in all our basic schools. A visit to kindergarten and lower primary (grade 1 to 3) classes would tell you that the study and use of Ghanaian languages is not being joked with at all.
Just ask any basic school teacher to hear stuff on Twi, Ga, Fante, Ewe, Dagbani, Gonja, Dagaare, among others as provided for by the National Literacy Accelerated Programme (NALAP).
NALAP is a USAID-sponsored programme which GES helps to implement in public pre-tertiary schools, especially. It is progressing fairly well despite some challenges. It is a bilingual approach to the study and use of Ghanaian language and English at the kindergarten to primary three levels.
It is helping to improve the ability of pupils to start reading and writing in their local languages. The focus of the NALAP concept is to imbibe in the child the love for his or her local language and the ability to communicate in it effectively as a step towards the acquisition of a second language (in our case the English Language).
The study and use of Ghanaian language does not terminate at the early grades of primary school. It continues with English Language as a subject till the end of basic education and beyond where it is run as an elective course of study at the secondary and tertiary institutions.
Several factors contribute to low achievement of pupils. Scientific evidence suggests that there is some correlation between the ability of the child to use the native language and his or her command in the use of any other language.
GES, in its Complementary Basic Education (CBE) programme, also believes that the use of local language in preparing instructional materials makes teaching and learning effective and stimulating. It must be appreciated that schooling is not just about learning to read and write English.
It cannot be said to be true that English Language is the only panacea for avoiding unemployment and under-development.
Fluency and control over one’s own language can set the foundation for eradicating poverty and ignorance. It is a contentious assertion but it can be true. Our culture, customs and tradition are best explained and appreciated when told in the native language. We forge better association and socialization with others when we communicate well with them in an indigenous language.
The child easily grasps lessons in numeracy, arithmetic and basic life skills when taught in his or her own language. Can we afford to throw away the rich proverbs, riddles and puzzles carried by our Ghanaian languages? Certainly not!
Teaching the child how to speak and write in Ewe, Ga, Twi, Dagbani, Dagaare or whatever cannot be said to be education by default. As the trader parent strives to teach the ward how to speak good Fante at Abora Obohen, the lawyer or banker father must do same for his daughter in that plush school at Dansoman in Accra. After all, they are all Ghanaians and will even be writing Ghanaian Language during their basic education examination soon.
GES, through the CBE programme, would continue to support out-of-school children and those in ‘hard to reach’ locations to also access education. The study and use of the Ghanaian language shall continue to reign supreme in the attainment of this task.
Let us regard any support for language policy as a step towards our own socio-economic, cultural and political good. We do not think our pre-occupation now is to fight proponents of local language policy but to contribute to the debate on which of one of our local languages should become the national language of instruction in schools and for better national cohesion and integration. We shall be back!
The writers are educationists and Public Relations Officers at the Headquarters of the Ghana Education Service.
By Issah Baffoe & Anthony Kwaku Amoah