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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Columnist: Caleb Otabil

'Decriminalization' of vernacular in STEM education in Ghana: A step towards perfecting quality of education

Poimen Ghana today, ahead of the occasion of the International Youth Day celebrations on 12th August 2019, with the global theme “Transforming education”, is calling upon the Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service and all stakeholders in the educational sector to adopt a culture of instructing pupils and students in native language as part of steps to improve the quality of Education. This is in line with its vision of achieving youth development through capacity building.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has been realized as imperative in the global science-based economy for prosperity and development. A proper STEM education is one that would begin at the Basic level, where pupils are impressionable and can be holistically enabled towards achieving socioemotional, cognitive and cultural development, and extend progressively to the tertiary level. Most of the concepts, philosophies and technical knowledge in STEM education is either in English or has been Anglicized. This presents a challenge because STEM education has to be delayed until pupils are well versed in intermediate level English speaking proficiency which is achieved by upper primary on the average, delaying the early and efficient introduction of pupils to STEM and meaning students in Ghana never reach the full realization of their true potentials.

For countries with single dominant languages like Germany, China, Singapore, Russia, Japan, etc. this challenge is overcome by STEM educational syllabi been translated to their native languages. Scientists, mathematicians and other professionals may not be too well versed in English speaking, yet are among the leaders in innovations and breakthroughs in Science and Technology. Examples abound of China’s Engineering workforce, leading its domination of Africa’s infrastructural landscape, Singapore’s exceptional technology, Germany’s outstanding medical sector and the like.

On the occasion of the International Youth Day, themed “Transforming Education”, it is imperative that we look at ways of innovating and shaping Africa’s educational system to stimulate a new paradigm where Ghana and many other countries in Africa would move from overdependence on natural resource extraction to emergence and eventual domination of the global science-based economy. It is an apology of massive proportions, that in many schools across Ghana, speaking the native tongue is considered abnormal and punitive measures are put in place to discourage it.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Benue state in Nigeria, Mother tongue reading and the development of teaching and learning materials in local languages are been pioneered. This plan is drawing inspiration from places like India, Iran and Pakistan where Hindi, Farsi and Urdu languages respectively are used in the educational sector up to the University level.

These are all countries with immense technological developments including the development of nuclear technology. India’s example is very intriguing because with emphasis on their native Hindu, Telugu, Tamil and Punjabi languages, they have developed a massive entertainment industry which was first globally in terms of annual film output as of 2013 and reaching overall revenues of $2.1 billion in 2015 and projected to reach $3.7bn in 2020 according to a report by industry lobby PHD Chamber and bed and breakfast accommodations aggregator BnBNation.

The USAID Patnership for Education: Learning in Ghana developed a comprehensive, 5years long literacy program in each of 11 languages in Ghana. The project used an innovative method of language integration and technology to aid in quality control while over 100 individuals (local and international educators, linguists and literacy and experts) developed teacher guides featuring two 30-minute lessons each day, pupil textbooks, pupil take home books and supplementary learning materials.

It is easier for students to know what a mushroom is, if they’re learning it via terms they are already used to. Without grounding STEM education in practicality, the abstract ideas, knowledge and principles would always be difficult for pupils to grasp and it would be difficult to reintroduce later in life. The Environment is the source of scientific knowledge and indeed science doesn’t create any knowledge, it just discovers. Therefore, most names of plants, animals, phenomena and principles are already known by pupils from their homes. This is especially true of rural areas where nature is well preserved. Mother language instruction would make it easier to blend teaching of STEM into pupils and hence prepare them for a future.

By this communique, Poimen Ghana would like to call upon Government, stakeholders in the educational sector and every Ghanaian to give full support and recognition to the need to change the culture in the educational sector to be one that teaching pupils at the basic level in languages they are comfortable with. Specifically, we would like the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service to institute a language policy that allows the use of indigenous language as instructional language in STEM education, side by side with the English at all levels of education.

Also, allow the teaching of every basic subject in Local Languages from Nursery to Primary 3 and then Phase in English and other international languages from primary 4. Other interventions that could improve the quality of education in Ghana towards a total development could be placing more emphasis on developing our native languages, better collaboration with private stakeholders in education, for example churches or missionary schools and placing more emphasis on rural education.

With this, Poimen Ghana, which is a youth focused and youth development-oriented organization, believes that; we can transform our educational system in Ghana, improve its quality and achieve Youth Development through capacity building in Ghana. Poimen Ghana wishes the Youth in Ghana and indeed across the Globe a Happy International Youth Day.