Is Yoruba Language and Culture on trial

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Yoruba language and culture has been mandated to be used in all Lagos State schools from now on! What an interesting week it has been. Some of us have been angry, shocked, scared and every emotion above and below has been expressed. And rightly so, not too many of us are smiling.

Why?

To tell you the truth, this can only be a great measure, a well needed one for the country as a whole. You may ask why I take this view. I will answer briefly. We need to embrace what is ours and pass it down to the next generations.

History and Geography was removed from our curriculum in the Early Years many years ago, we are still reaping the consequences of this ill informed decision today. Now there is a possibility for a redress, a slight one I may add, with this directive to start singing the National anthem and say the pledge in Yoruba.

The negative feedback that this directive has had is not because schools do not want to speak or teach in the Yoruba language, but it lies in the fact that as Stakeholders in the Education sector this directive was not well articulated to all and sundry to start with. There is a lot that is wrong, the associations that the government may be talking to may not actually be representing a majority of the schools, they may also not be thinking through the governments proposals, neither are they disseminating the information in a timely manner.

A change has been made, passed into law, and the stakeholders have not had a say! This is what a lot of us find alarming and unacceptable! It is important to carry people along, otherwise what was meant for the good, soon looks very, very bad indeed!

If a lot of stakeholders had been aware of this plan of implementing Yoruba into the language and culture of the school settings in the state, I am sure that a lot of the Educators would have embraced it if it was a directive that was birthed under a collaborative effort. They would have given up their time and effort to help plan a policy that would work and be readily implementable in our schools.

Instead we are now faced with a situation where, core subject lessons are to be taught in Yoruba, school uniforms worn on Wednesday must be changed to Yoruba attire and even the teachers need to start wearing traditional attire to work everyday! Well this is why schools, teachers and parents may be kicking up a fuss.

To implement these, money is required. It may not be a lot to some, but to most it is.

Let’s leave the money issue aside. I find it very difficult to understand why such draconian measures that gives us no time for discussion and planning in the equation are being forced on the schools.

It is so important for us to note, that to tackle the problems that we have in the educational system and get it right now, for generations to come, we must plan. You cannot change a big aspect of the Curriculum and Educational system without planning!

It seems to me that yet again we are faced with a situation where we are commanded to do something, figure it out and implement. There will be no means of assessing the compliance of each school since no proper guidelines have been given. Yet there are hefty fines in place for schools who do not comply! So may I ask, is this another measure to tax the private school system? Is this another initiative to help our State increase it’s revenue?

Question: Do we want to encourage and preserve our culture or do we want to raise money for the state?

So my take on this as a whole is that, even though I have no problem with Yoruba or any other language, be it mother tongue or not, being taught or used as the means of communication in our schools, I do think that we require more planning time for this to work.

For me personally we had actually started working on infusing Yoruba and Ibo language into our school setting. We do this once a week during circle time. The children learn songs, and different words (names of things: show them the objects and speak in sentences is the best practice) in the language chosen for the week. They have now gotten to the point where they have done presentations in front of their parents:

a. Singing songs

b. Doing an oriki recitation about ‘Mother’ while singing ‘Iya ni wura

These are children who do not speak Yoruba at home.

We have succeeded better with Yoruba though than Ibo, mainly because a lot of adults have unfortunately only learnt English Language and not their mother tongue!

Our children have also worked on counting/numbers and are now learning the alphabet. Thank God the Yoruba language is tonal, but we all know that the signs at the top are important. By the time our children get to reading and writing Yoruba we are going to need a Yoruba Teacher. But as you can see we had a plan and took it step by step.

It is important to take the following into account. Always start from the beginning, one step at a time. When a new language is introduced in our school, we start from the beginning and put all the children together. Children soak in language so start them young (the practice of starting when they are 7 or 8 years old will not help, which is the present time in the curriculum when new languages are to be introduced), but do it naturally.

How do children learn their first language? They listen to people around them use the language daily and they pick it up. So please introduce new languages with the same principle in mind.

So please:

  • Don’t come into the classroom or assembly translating every sentence or word! This is what we would do normally right? But we have done without this method and the children have still picked up the language beautifully.
  • Don’t start with the alphabet either. Wait until they can understand the language start speaking it and can recognise the sounds in the words of the language before you introduce the language symbols (letters).
  • Neither should we start using Book 1, 2, 3 etc of the language in our classrooms if this is the first time the children are experiencing the language.

This is why planning the introduction of the Yoruba language is so important for the success of this directive.

We introduced French to the school with this kind of plan in place just about 2 years ago and now our Primary school children are starting to read and write in French, but it was one step at a time.

If the directive is to be implemented there are a few important factors that must be stated and a few that need reconsidering.

  1. What would be acceptable for the Wednesday uniform: Ankara in long skirt and blouse, iro and buba, shirt and shorts, shirt or long trousers, would ankara top and jeans/black(etc) bottom be acceptable?
  2. Can the teachers wear iro and buba on Wednesday and other native attire on the other week days?
  3. Please can we seriously rethink teaching all subjects in Yoruba on Wednesday? At least until we have trained our teachers to handle this. If the government insists, are they prepared to employ Yoruba teachers for the state and deploy them to the schools both public and private to do the subjects and the language justice?
  4. Insisting that students who are going into tertiary institutions in the state should have a credit in Yoruba Language regardless of their course of study! As much as I don’t see why, even if this is to be carried out it needs a couple of years before this can really become law. Yoruba must become a language that is compulsory in all Lagos State secondary schools, only then, surely, can this become a law that has been thought through. Planning is key.
  5. What are the assessment metrics in place to help us evaluate what is working and what needs tweaking?

We cannot continue to throw oil into the burning fire! Lets plan. There are still a lot of more pressing issues to deal with and this simply feels like we are whitewashing the important issues plaguing our Education sector.

I love my culture, I love my country, I do believe that we have a duty to seriously preserve what we have and not throw it away. A lot of our youth have chosen their culture over and above others even more than we realise, our duty is to bring them into the riches of it even more.

To do this we need to delve into our History and into our Geography. It is not just about wearing the clothes, but it can be about speaking the language. It is not just about speaking the language alone, it is about knowing our past, knowing those who came before us, understanding their contributions and helping us to see what more, what else we can do to add value to our nation, and see the next generations do the same.

They must know their country, it’s resources, it’s rich minerals and assets, waterways, animals, birds, the trees, plants and herbs. So much to explore and open up for our children. It is not about what we wear on Wednesday, although that is fine.

So all in all, planning is key. The government must plan and the schools must plan. The parents too must plan. Let us stop telling our children to only speak in English in the house. There is nothing wrong with them knowing how to speak their language- mother tongue.

Asking us to speak in Yoruba on Wednesday is not the end of the world, the directive just needs a bit more tweaking really before it can be a fair and implementable law for all. So let us not put Yoruba language and culture on trail just yet, instead let’s plan.

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