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12.09.2020 Feature Article

Brains On Empty Stomachs (3)

Brains On Empty Stomachs (3)
LISTEN SEP 12, 2020

“Learning to speaking the English”

Under any other circumstances, this could altogether be dismissed as nothing but mere trifling in the vast pool of a nation’s problems. But looking at the tentacled nature of the subject matter, we cannot afford to consistently put it on the back burner. “I want to be learning to speaking the English.” This is bad right? For a junior high school student, this is bad—is it not? If I may nit-pick, bad on two levels—horrible each way you slice it: 1) That this is spoken by, as noted, a JHS student 2) that is the answer given by said student to the question of her aspiration. You and I should just pump our brakes—hold off on submitting this one student under scrutiny, desist from using her as case-study of ‘ineptness’, and start ‘appreciating’ her on the fact that, in her school, she is the only student who can even speak the language (attempt speaking the language). In the entire school, this JHS 1 student is the only person who can ‘speaking the English.’

But then again, what at all is English? As a pan-Africanist, an anti-white supremacist enthusiast (of all the world’s boundless stupidities, this ought to be atop it: white supremacy), a pro-African-purity individual (if ever the was an expression like that), etc., I should be first to scoff: what at all is English? I should be first to join the illiterate, semi-literate (and sometimes literate, in fact) proud soul in defensively retorting: “English is not my language!” (By the way, have you noticed that people inept in the language always get defensive when you attempt—perhaps absentmindedly on your part—speaking English to them?) English is not my language! I, almost always, am on their side in this chant; but then again, not really. Because what this reveals—when the introspective Black/African ponderings are abandoned for a second, just a second—is a grave national problem.

Underlying ‘language’—with all its complexities, its varieties—is a fundamental, unchanged mission to communicate. And if ever there was such urgency, such importance for communication, it is now. If ever there was a time for national urgency for language, it is now—this Information Age. And this is something I hammer on a lot; this is something I do a lot—calling attention to the ‘name' (emphasis intended) of this age we are in. It is for good reason. ‘Information Age’ is not just a name, it carries with it, the very essence of our era. Like all other aptly described ages—the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Age, etc., ours too receives its name and aliases because it has earned it—the Information Age, the Global Knowledge, etc.

One thing that sure makes communication easy is ‘sameness’—that we are on the same page; that what I am saying, you are understanding. It is this need to ‘be on the same page’ that makes this language, English—with its very gory history, a history of bloodshed, inhumanness, belittlement, (slavery, colonialism, et al.)—important. For an Anglophone nation, case in point: Ghana, this common tongue, cutting across the various and varied regions, ethnic groups, must be taken seriously. I won’t go so far as to call it a blessing, but I will say it is convenient. This means that I must learn to put aside my pride—constantly put aside my pride. My African pride, my Black pride, my anti-white supremacist pride—put all these aside, and advocate for English (saying this through gritted teeth).

A case for English, isn’t a case for English only—although, perhaps so, when this conversation is limited to Ghana (and other Anglophone African countries), and not extended to the rest of the African continent. A case for English contextually, is a case for French, Portuguese, Spanish, etc. expansively. I find myself reluctantly arguing for these languages. To my own dismay, I find the incessant hapless retorts of “English is not my language” by our illiterate (and sometimes literate) nationals, very troubling. I find it even more troubling, that in an entire rural school, not a single Ghanaian child can speak the language—sometimes, one is lucky to find just one or two who can.

So how are they learning?
How are they learning when they cannot speak and understand this language used for the codification of the various components of the vast expanse of global knowledge? How are they reading those government-issued books? How are they preparing for the BECEs, the WASSCEs? Is knowledge being imparted to them at all? Is ‘level playing field’ true or fraudulent? Do we really mean that expression when we mentioned it in national conversations regarding education? If a nation has a vast majority of its children, its students, future leaders, sieved out, right at the point of entry—at the point of understanding, how is the word ‘level-playing field’ even toyed with, or dared boasted about?

If the Science, English, Math, etc., being taught the rural and underprivileged-urban student, cannot be read and understood by them, how are they expected to compete effectively in tests aimed at weighing their brain prowess, tests aimed at stratifying them accordingly, test aimed at dictating for them, their future professions—professions which they can and cannot have access to? And even if by the workings of a magician teacher, these students are able to understand the things taught them (dissemination via local dialects), how are these students to inform an ‘examiner’, this BECE and WASSCE ‘marker’ that they, in fact, know ‘what they are talking about’, that they understand the subject matter, if they cannot write these ‘understandings’ down on paper?

Mid 2005, Ghanaians were introduced to the National Education Assessment (NEA) by the Ghana Education Service (GES). It is a biennial, cross-country, testing system funded by the USAID (ahem!), conducted on Primary 3 and Primary 6 students on their “competencies” (they use this word a lot) in English and Maths.

But you may already have guessed what these findings have looked like and will look like if things do not change. Survey after survey, the Ghanaian child is constantly coming out short on English (another pivotal subject, Maths)—not just the rural child, but their urban counterparts too.

So how are we building future leaders, when the vast majority of our children and young people are disadvantaged—unable to have their fair share of the global pool of knowledge—knowledge which rules our world. How is the Ghanaian child to be a national and global giant—by that I mean, contribute their share to this global pool of knowledge if they are not given the wherewithal to tap from this very pool, in the first place?


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