Friday, October 05, 2012

Planned introduction of Chinese Language to schools in Nigeria stirs debate

What seemed like a good decision by the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, to introduce Chinese Language otherwise known as Mandarin, in schools is now stirring controversy among educationists in the country. While some described the decision as a welcome product of proactive thinking,
others including some members of the state House of Assembly said it was a misplaced policy. In fact, the lawmakers have summoned the commissioner to appear before the House on Tuesday next week. The invitation, according to them, is to afford Oladunjoye the opportunity to explain the rationale for the planned introduction of Mandarin when most pupils in the state schools could hardly speak their indigenuous languages.
Also, some educationists have wondered why the commissioner chose to introduce Chinese language over other foreign languages.
However, those in support of the move argued that learning Chinese Language by Nigerians would never be a wasteful exercise as China has become the fatest growing economy in the world. One may not be wrong to therefore say that Oladunjoye’s decision was predicated on this fact more so when it had been predicted that the Asian country would overtake the United States of America as the world’s largest economy by 2027.
According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, Mandarin is offered by one in seven state schools but by more than a third of private schools in UK. The aim is to give pupils the chance to learn the language spoken in the world’s fastest-growing economy.
A pupil based in the UK was quoted as saying, “It’s an up and coming language and I think it’s a good idea to be able to work with people in China and to speak their language. Its appeals to me on a business level. If you want to be successful, you have got to be able to adapt to the places that are up and coming. Learning Mandarin is a good start.”
The Chairman, Fafunwa Education Foundation, Mr. Kayode Alao, also shared this view. According to him, the commissioner’s planned introduction of the Chinese Language in the state schools is on track. He says the language will increase the market value of children when they go abroad.
He said, “The Chinese have the most vibrant economy. Moreover, they have loaned money to Africa. These loans have been of great support to Africa.
“The decision to introduce Mandarin in schools is a good development. The more languages children learn; the better for them. Any nation that wants to move forward globally must think out of the box. The nation must break loose from the norms it has been operating. The nation must be able to try new things.
“Those who are objecting the commissioner’s decision don’t have a global mind. Probably they think the language would affect our culture, but it can’t. It’s high time we started broadening our reasoning. Schools in Europe for example have more than 70 languages on offer. This goes to show that those who want to thrive ahead must think global and urbane in their thought. China is now the most-leading economy and it would be for our good if we learn their language.”
The Deputy Provost, Tai Solarin College of Education, Omu-Ijebu, Prof. Cornelius Onanuga, said that learning the Chinese language is not a bad idea but that it should not be at the detriment of our indigenous languages.
“There is nothing patently wrong about learning the language or languages of others. It will definitely be of advantage to the learners in different respects: commerce, politics, religion and so on. But there is everything wrong with any linguistic community that promotes some other foreign languages at the detriment of its own mother tongue. This is exactly the situation in most states in Nigeria including Lagos, where there is utter neglect of, or at best lip service being paid to the promotion of Yoruba Language as the language of the immediate environment and indeed other Nigerian languages. What will benefit the society more, for now, is the vigorous promotion of the indigenous languages in Nigeria.
“In fact as at now, the interest of pupils in learning their mother tongue is nothing to write about. The pupils, from researches I have conducted in the recent past, are not encouraged by the parents, the proprietors (of especially the private schools), the teachers, the government and the society at large. What we see all over the place is “English speaking”; “American syllabus”; “French speaking” and even “Arabic speaking” advertisements of schools, used as baits to lure undiscerning parents. This is rather unfortunate. When the speakers of a language look down on their own language and run after languages belonging to others, then there is cause for alarm.
“Culture and language are like Siamese twins. They go together. Proper understanding of a particular language cannot be achieved without understanding the cultural background of the native speakers. We should therefore expect that as much as the Chinese language invades the Nigerian territory, the Chinese culture is bound to be imbibed as well. The culture of a people represent almost everything about them – their history, ways of life, belief system, literature, art, customs, music, attitudes, social organisation, traditions and so on. In effect, we are talking about what makes any particular community a total and unique group. When it is not observed or jettisoned, the people frown and/or react to show their objection. It should however be noted that culture can sometimes be dynamic. All the same, some salient, core aspects of culture remain immutable. A group of people that loses its cultural heritage loses its identity and essence. It is not the best to envisage for Nigeria,” he said.
However, Dr. Rotimi Taiwo of the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, said, “I do not think introducing Mandarin into the school curriculum will have any adverse effect on the children’s linguistic abilities. It will neither affect their learning of English nor their mother tongue. Children are created with the innate ability to acquire several languages. My only concern is with the practical and instrumental value of Mandarin for our children. The use of the language is limited to Asia. This is unlike a number of European languages like French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, which are spoken in other parts of the world. Nigeria, no doubt, needs a foreign language, since English is no longer foreign to us. It is the second language of most educated Nigerians, and even the first language of some. If we are seriously thinking of a foreign language, then French is the most qualified language, because we are surrounded by French speaking countries.
He continued, “The Chinese writing is so different from English. It is made up of an unlimited set of logo graphs that represent entire words or phrases. This is quite different from the English writing system, which is based on a limited set of alphabets that are used to represent sounds. It will be a completely new orientation for the Nigerian children learners. But that is not to say that the children will find it a difficult experience.”
On the issue of possible brain drain, he said that if even this occurs at all, the migration would be to China and not Europe because Chinese is not spoken in Europe.
“I am aware there are already many Nigerian economic migrants in China who teach English in Chinese schools. These Nigerians are not necessarily Chinese speakers. Rather, their working knowledge of English has helped them to find relevance in China. I know Asian languages have limited domains of use and Asians are seeking opportunities to expand the domains of their language influence. If this policy is adopted, then the Chinese would have succeeded in achieving one of their long term goals. I hope however, that the commissioner’s statement is not just a mere political statement.”
Reacting to the issue, a parent, Mr. Elijah Okupevi, “The Chinese are like locusts that leave anywhere they ever visited devastated. The aftermath of British colonization of Africa left Africa the weaker party of the two continents with the West pillaging our resources at will. The imposition of Chinese language/culture will leave us the behest of China's  economic poison. The Lagos State Government should find out why the Chinese are hated all over the world. Let our government officials not sell us again into economic slavery in the name of acculturation. The West you know is better that the Chinese you do not know.”
Another parent, Mr.ToBechi Daniel, also said, “Variety is always a plus, but this is nonsensical! How does one justify the introduction of a not-so common foreign language when the English language (being taught) is deplorable?”
However, an educationist, Ms.Bukoye Arowolo, said as good as the idea of learning foreign languages is, it is not supposed to be the starting point.
“Otherwise we shall continue to produce future leaders who are incapable of thinking. The starting point should be the acquisition of the mother-tongue to enable the child think instead of confusing his cognitive faculty with languages at an age he/she is just getting used to his/her first language. We are yet to solve the problem created by the wrong and untimely exposure of our children to some kind of English language. Why must we continue to complicate matters for our future for cheap political points?” she added.
But would the state government approve this policy, the Special Adviser to the State Governor on Education, Mr. Fatai Olusoga, said as far as the state government is concerned, the planned introduction of the language into its school curriculum has not become a state policy.
“The commissioner I think is only tinkering with the idea and as far as the government is concerned, it is not yet a policy. However, stakeholders are there to look at the relevance or otherwise of the idea. For me, it’s advantageous for anybody to be a polyglot,” he said.

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