By Anote Ajeluorou
Parents, who daily lament how Westernised and un-African young folks have become in their hurry to shun everything African, should first count their teeth with their tongues and blame themselves instead for young people’s preference for alien cultural values. Also, those designing the nation’s educational curriculum since independence will have to take a share the blame why the nation’s youth are not grounded in their roots and do not feel any qualms about it.
These were the submissions of literary critic, writer and gender expert, Prof. Molara Ogundipe, at the just-concluded Garden City Literary Festival held in Port Harcourt. It was day two of the festival and a panel of writers was responding to various questions on writing and Africa’s eroding values, especially among young people. Ogundipe said young people’s choice of lifestyles, particularly their inability to speak their various Nigerian mother tongues in preference of a poor version of spoken English language, choice of religion and dress styles were products of parents’ inability to ensure a continuum in African ways of life even at homes so the young ones could continue to emulate.
Recalling how it was while growing up, she said even as children of early missionaries and parents that were educated, they were taught only in the mother tongue, which was Yoruba language, until they were in Standard Two, and eight or 10 years old. By which time, she said, they would already have been firmly grounded both in the speaking of Yoruba and being grounded in the local lores that established them firmly in the ways of the community.
Ogundipe’s submission was a reminder of late Prof. Babs Fafunwa’s experimental model of exposing children only to their mother tongues at the early and primary stage of education so they could learn with it, especially as it enabled them to grasp concepts a lot easily than a foreign or second language.
For Ogundipe also, a child need not be exposed to a second language that he or she would learn to master later at the expense of his/her mother tongue, which should come first. Even as the children of the clergy that had assimilated foreign or western education and religion, she said her parents were not in a hurry to disinherit them culturally even at that early period when it was fashionable or even required that parents distanced themselves from anything that smacked of heathen practice.
Indeed, language being the major carrier of culture, she argued that parents’ inability to bring up children in their mother tongues in recent decades was akin to disinheriting from their cultures and their wholesome values, seeing that the basis for children to be culturally grounded would have been taken away from them at their formative years.
Furthermore, she submitted that the erosion of mother tongue became worsened in the grammar schools that children graduated onto as it helped to erode whatever confidence children had in the mother tongues they had earlier acquired. At the grammar schools or Kings or Queens’ Colleges or even Unity Schools, Ogundipe stated that mother tongues were derogatorily branded ‘vernacular’ or languages of bush people, and the British-inspired teachers sought to make ‘little Etonians’ out of Nigerian children as these schools were modelled after the British public school system.
Nevertheless, not even after the colonialists had long left Nigerian shores did this warped practice change as Nigeria’s various local languages or mother tongues were still considered vernacular for which students were punished if they spoke them in school. Ogundipe, therefore, insisted that the time to exhibit a strong will had come for a redesigning of the nation’s school curriculum in such a way that children could once again be exposed to their different mother tongues in the early stages of their development.
It is only by so doing, she argued, that the threat of extinction facing many of local languages would be reversed. More than this, young ones would also rediscover a renewed interest and passion for their culture and its values through a proficient use of their mother tongues.
She also said she was interested in the inter-generational handing over of values between the old and the young, saying there was a need for various generations to start talking to each other so as to foster understanding of what their problems and anxieties were and how to find a common ground.
The gender scholar, therefore, stressed a conscious determination to re-evaluate the country’s education curriculum, and charged educational managers to re-align the curriculum along with the nation’s cultural ethos with a view to redressing the inherent imbalance towards Western lifestyles to which the nation’s youths have become hopelessly addicted.
The gender expert also took a swipe at the two dominant foreign religions - Christianity and Islam -, saying that their adherents should desist from demonising and branding every African cultural practice or tradition demonic. She affirmed that there are some traditional practices that have wholesome values that must still be protected or maintained, noting that such was the training that her parents transmitted to them even as church planters during the colonial era.