On a daily basis, well-meaning Ghanaians from all walks of life bemoan the absence of clear-cut policies on the teaching and learning of Ghanaian languages.
We seem not to appreciate the policy which underlines the demand that a mother tongue must be used exclusively for instructions in the first three years of formal basic education.
At a seminar organised by the College of Arts and Social Sciences of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a lecturer at the Department of Publishing Studies, Mrs Aba Brew-Hammond, called for a review of the policy of using English as the sole language of instruction at the basic level.
As far back as 1930, the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures advised that, if possible, no European language should be used in the teaching of pupils in their first years.
It noted pertinently that “it is in the first years at school that the chief effort must be made to prevent the zeal for English from destroying interest in the mother tongue. If the greater emphasis is put on English from the outset, the harm cannot be undone in later years”.
The institute submitted in a resolution that it was a universally acknowledged principle in modern education that a child should receive instruction both in and through his mother tongue and that privilege should not be withheld from the African child.
“The child should learn to love and respect the mental heritage of his own people and the natural and necessary expression of this heritage is the language.
“Neglect of the vernacular involves the danger of crippling and destroying the pupil's productive powers by forcing him to express himself in a language foreign both to himself and the genius of his race.
“As a general rule, therefore, during the first three years of school education instruction should be carried out exclusively in a native language and we understand that there is a considerable body of educational experience which supports us in this opinion.
“We consider that no European language should be taught during that time and that it should be followed by a period during which the pupil begins to learn a European language, while other instruction is continued in the vernacular.”
This is an advice given by authorities on education and language as far back as 1930. We had the benefit of the doubt even before independence. It could have guided us to shape our future.
However, after 50 years, it is not too late to review the educational policy in the choice of language of instruction.
It is even more pertinent when kindergarten education has become compulsory and has been incorporated into the formal basic educational system.
We cannot do away with English, but that does not mean we cannot and should not expand to cover mother tongues.