Before French becomes compulsory in Nigerian schools

French may likely become Nigeria’s second official language if the Federal Government’s plan to make its teaching compulsory at all levels of education in the country is faithfully implemented.  The Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwuka, who hinted at the plan while receiving French Ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gaver, in his Abuja office, explained that Nigerian students, from those in primary to tertiary institutions, will henceforth study French as a compulsory subject.

According to Anwukah, the government is keen and motivated by the need to actualize its dream of making French language the second language of business in the country.

Apart from the fact that Nigeria is close to the French speaking West African countries of Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Benin Republic, Togo, Guinea and Ivory Coast, French is a veritable language of international diplomacy, trade and commerce.  If we are to tap any knowledge written in French, we will need a good grasp of the language.

In the emerging global village, the knowledge of only one international language, in our own case, English, is no longer adequate to engage other members of the global community effectively. For years, Nigerian representatives at different regional and international fora have mostly depended on language interpreters to communicate with participants from French-speaking speaking countries.

It is also ironical that while some of the leaders and government representatives of   neigbouring French-speaking West African countries engage with us in English Language in most of our parleys, our own leaders and representatives cannot communicate with them in French. This situation suggests that there is a gap that needs to be filled in our education. Even only a few Nigerian diplomats can effectively communicate in French.

Therefore, there is a need for a new paradigm shift in favour of the study of French at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education in the country. This shift will help to bridge the communication gap between us and our neigbhours as well as the rest of the French-speaking world.

Before now, Nigeria had restricted the teaching of French in its public schools to the secondary and tertiary levels. Even then, the study of the language was optional from the senior secondary school level upwards. University students were not required to take any course in French, and its study was restricted to those majoring in the subject. The   number of students who take French in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is low. Even at tertiary level, only few students major in French.

To kick off this linguistic re-engineering of our schools, the government has flagged off a French Clinic Project in Federal Government Boys’ College, Apo, Abuja. The minister, at the occasion, explained that it will improve the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills of Nigerian students studying the language. He stressed that with these skills, our French students will fare better in their examinations and in the world of work.  Hopefully, the language clinic project will be replicated in the 104 Federal Government Colleges across the country.

We commend the government for coming up with this ambitious language policy. One good side of the initiative is the idea to include primary school pupils in the scheme. This will help to catch children at a very young age when it is easier for them to learn new languages. It may, however, be better to teach the language at the senior primary school classes when they would have learnt the speaking and writing of English Language.

Besides the challenge of saddling Nigerian pupils with the learning of so many languages, (since some Nigerian languages are also taught at this level), another problem that the government must surmount is the dearth of qualified and experienced French teachers.

Despite this problem, the new policy is good and should be well implemented. Let government embark on massive training of French language teachers. The policy would boost the teaching of French and provide jobs for French Language graduates in the country. Since this policy has been adjudged worthwhile, the government can consider the recruitment of French teachers from neigbouring French-speaking countries if there is a shortage of French teachers in the country.

The engagement of such teachers will also likely improve the relationship between us and these nearby countries, which we must admit, has not been at the optimum. The government should also consider the extension of the French Language Clinic to some state schools as well.

If the government wants this policy to succeed, the language must be taught well enough to produce graduates who can speak and write it proficiently. The cooperation of state and local governments is also important to ensure the success of this project.

The mass media, print and electronic, should also key into the policy and give  spaces for French programmes and articles to generate interest in the language and point the way to its future in Nigeria. This compulsory French Language policy is a good initiative that deserves to be properly implemented.

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