Teaching in mother tongue improves learning at basic education level – Experts

Teaching in mother tongue improves learning at basic education level – Experts

The learning poverty among children in basic schools in Nigeria has persisted despite the touted investment in the education sector by the political class.

There are no indications of an improvement in the World Bank study that found 70% of Nigerian children in basic school unable to read, write or solve elementary numeracy tasks.

Yet a situation where 69% of primary school teachers in the country are said to be unqualified to impart basic foundational skills to children continues to aggravate the situation.

Poor funding of the education sector leads the list of factors responsible for low learning outcomes and poor numeracy skills in children, however, a new school of thought believes, money is only half of the problem.

Experts are now taking a look at the impact of language barriers in teaching and learning at the basic education level, a challenge they say has often been ignored, especially at the primary school level.

Research indicates that many enrolled children lose interest, become absent-minded, appear lost and generally avoid school when tutored in languages other than a familiar tongue.

Children who manage to sit through classes are often said to have a very faint grasp of subjects taught or mix up knowledge because of poor understanding.

“Studies and evidence across the world have shown that when you teach children in their mother tongue, especially at age 1 to 3, they learn better and faster”, says Saadhna Soobrayan, the Chief of Education at UNICEF Nigeria.

Soobrayan who spoke at a seminar on foundational literacy in Abuja cited examples of many developed countries in the world where children are taught in their mother tongue, noting that the use of the mother tongue in teaching at the early stage of life, assists children acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills.

”The mother tongue approach can be adopted in teaching in Nigeria, particularly at the basic education level to ease the language barrier impeding learning for children, using the mother tongue in teaching can improve the speed of learning for the pupils”

When asked at what point it then becomes beneficial to the child to learn in English, which unarguably is the second language of many Nigerians, Soobrayan advised, ”You can switch to a second language slightly later in life when the child would have developed significantly.

“In addition, teachers should be trained to teach in local languages. There should also be books and other tutorial materials produced in local languages. These would also go a long way in solving the literacy problems in Nigeria, ”she said.

Although the use of the mother tongue for teaching in basic schools could solve the learning difficulty, such a venture would still require huge funding.

Education experts worry that 1.2% of the country’s GDP allocated to education is not deployed to areas where it is most required.

“Presently 28% of Nigeria’s education budget is spent on higher education when children in primary school cannot read write and count”, Soobrayan again submits.

“The volume of expenditure needs to increase, Nigeria needs to improve the efficiency of expenditure in primary education, and the education budget has to be made right.

In defence of the government and its activities on education, Dr Folake Davies revealed that policies and frameworks were being formulated at the federal level to domesticate programs that will aid foundational literacy and numeracy.

Davies who is a Director of Basic Education at the Federal Ministry of Education, claimed, ”The government has begun to develop policy frameworks that would serve as a blueprint for teachers and support base for foundational literacy and numeracy practice across the country.

”Steps are on to domesticate some of the laudable programs from other climes that have helped to solve such problems.

But Grace Malgwi, a curriculum consultant at the USAID, insists such laudable efforts must not end at the policy formulation stage.

She has tasked governments to increase investment in education, channel funds to the Basic sector and take measures that would bring more children back to school and improve their numeracy and literacy levels.


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