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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Columnist: Ebenezer Mawuli Agbanyo

Prioritize proficiency in speaking and usage of English over passing as a requirement for higher education

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English is not our language, it is a foreign language, so stop stressing yourself and stressing me. This statement captures what you would hear from the average Ghanaian, unable to express him/herself in the English language. I stand to disagree; I believe the opposite is true, English is our language, I know you disagree but let me explain further.

Languages have always been a way for people to identify with each other. The geo-political space known as Ghana today is rich with history. Key among them is the conquest and establishment of Kingdoms.

Throughout history and also in pre-colonial Ghana, the conquered state was mostly forced to speak and use the language of the conquerors and this is one of the contributing factors to the loss of certain languages although some very resilient groups of people can still preserve their language and cultural significance. The Asante Kingdom was the dominant kingdom before contest by Britain and was also the most widely spoken language.

The point is having a common language for communication has always been paramount whiles also showing the dominance of the conquerors, therefore most states tried to have their language spread for trade and dominance. The dominant tribes usually controlled the language being spoken most. By the year 1901 when Ghana became a British colony there was about 80 different languages and dialects spoken in Ghana and this was a hindrance for effective cohesion on a national scale.

Therefore, our leaders took the language of the people of Britain as our official language and lingua franca. Whiles I do not and will never love the period of colonialism, we must acknowledge the position English language now has since we took it as our official language. We must embrace it in other to foster growth on the international market and among ourselves. There have been calls for English to be changed as the official language of the country, but this call is fraught with challenges and a discussion for another day.

Nevertheless, I believe the current levels of intolerance are not favourable for such a discussion or decision, apart from extremely dividing the country further. I think as a country we need to bury this issue once and for all and treat with all seriousness the official language of Ghana.

Therefore, I believe that we must as a matter of urgency prioritize proficiency in speaking, writing and usage of English language over passing as a requirement for higher education. The focus is on passing English language as a requirement for higher education instead of proficiency in speaking and using the language. However, competence in spoken and written English is required far above just passing English in school. This is a sad reality of our educational system, not only for English language but all other subjects. The English language is the most widely spoken and written language in the world, with a huge number of 67 countries with English language as the official language.

We have heard the term official language so many times, but do we really understand what it means and the significance and importance that needs to be attached to such a language. Wikipedia defines an official language as one that is given special legal status in a particular country, state or jurisdiction. The official language refers to the language used in government to run its operations and conduct its business.

Meaning you cannot undertake official duty without using the English language. In as much we speak and cherish our local dialects, making English our official language has given us the needed platform to interact with each other and the world. We might not love the origins of this language, it might not hold any inner values and principles we cherish but it’s a language that provides not only a platform for Ghanaians but gives us an advantage on the world stage since English is not only an international language but also the most widely spoken language in the world.

The English language normally puts us on one platform in terms of communication. English is the language of the British people, but through the conquest and dominance of the British Empire, many societies have become shaped by the English language and with many adopting it as their official language. I do not support the horrific times of colonization nor the hypocritical times of neo–colonization that we live in, however I must concede that having a common language as the English language can be considered as a good thing.

I believe that most of us will have concern for our local languages and how we may lose our culture, yes you are not alone, and I also have this same concern.

According to the GES curriculum, English language is the second language and thus is only introduced from basic 1 onwards. The expectation is children should have mustered their mother tongue, which is their first language. According to research ability to master one's mother tongue gives children the ability to learn other languages. I believe we can also preserve our traditions and cultures through consistent programs and activities every term focused on establishing our core values and leading students to cherish their own. However, I believe we need not be overly concerned about the promotion of English language in our national life and see it as a threat to our local languages, I believe we can maintain our languages whiles gaining the value we can get from the English Language.

Our leniency towards the matter of proficiency in English because of our love for our local languages has led to generating students and Ghanaians who cannot articulate themselves properly in the English language. This should not be the reason for us want to have multilingual languages as official for conducting business or pursue a local language as our lingua franca.

The Ministry of Education has rolled out a new curriculum, and we have had an equally good curriculum previously, at least based on their season. These I believe are good, but without a certain essential element, it might not make any different impact than the previous curriculum.

As human beings there are a variety of things we do so many times from the earliest stage in our lives, they can be referred to as habits, others are tangible whiles others are not. They are mostly gained through a period, but many times when people lack the reason (why) they do what they do, it can create a lot of problems. There are people who grow without ever knowing the reasons for various actions and commitments. This might be because they were never told or never sought to find out.

The number of people who seek are normally few, meaning that providing the information helps many people. Now if the habit is one that can be stopped without a visible or unacceptable consequence and repercussions which can be relative from person to person, the habit might either be done haphazardly, without consistency, forgotten or stopped altogether.

In the same vein once students do not know or forgot why they are studying the English language and why it is a requirement for instruction throughout all other class work, inefficiency sets in. Therefore, the existing disciplinary measures are only seen as burdensome weights rather than being part of the structures which endear students to the language. The easiest way to get someone to do something is to show him/her WHY.

Simon Sinek introduces a better way to get people to buy into something and I would like to use his model to help us achieve our goal of proficiency in speaking and usage of English over passing as a requirement for higher education. Simon Sinek refers to his model as the golden circle which advocates for us to always start with WHY. There are three rings on the golden circle starting from the outer ring with WHAT, HOW and lastly with WHY. According to him whiles many companies reach people with their ‘WHAT’ followed by how and then with why which is mostly non-existent.

The WHAT represents the products or services an organization sells, the HOW defines the work of the company. The How explains why the products/ services of the organization are better or stand out from the rest. The WHY is primarily about what an organization believes in rather than the profit? Therefore, most successful organizations communicate from the inside out rather than outside in. That is from why to what instead of from what to why. He also compares the three circles of the Golden Circle to the human brain. The WHAT is compared to the neocortex where we find rational thought and language.

The HOW and WHY circles are attached to the limbic brains. The limbic brains are responsible for all human behaviour and decision-making whiles lacking a capacity for language. Therefore, we must always first target the core part, that is why, which is the seat of decision making.

Now this model is normally used to access businesses, but I believe we can use this same model to help deliver greater value in our educational system. We must treat English language as a product that must be marketed effectively to ensure a lot of students buy into it. Without this mindset and approach, we might never help our students get real value out of the study of English language.

Now for this assessment, the WHY is where we must explain clearly and honestly to students the need for and importance of English language as exceeding just a requirement for higher education. The How is where we must teach them, the ways, process and tools required to having the best from English Language and the What will be the introduction and teaching of English language as a subject. I believe that as students are consistently led to discover why they must learn the English language, we would reap better results.

Students will also easily and freely develop love for the subject.

Besides this, I want to suggest that instead of teachers trying to get all students to reach proficiency at the same time, we can work with at least a first 20 percent off the class and get them to perfection. Now this is not a call to neglect struggling students, but a call on the teacher to spend extra time sharpening the already good ones to become examples to their other colleague students. I think as 20 percent of students consistently excel in usage and speaking, this would encourage the other student to follow. When a student from a school where the native language is predominantly spoken to where English is spoken, over a period the student will pick up the English-speaking culture of the environment.

This proposal must however go hand in hand with the existing guidelines from the Ministry of Education. With this mindset and approaches we would reap new and better results from the teaching of English language in our schools.