Why teaching STEM subjects in local Nigerian languages is a bad idea

by | Jun 13, 2017

Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology recently announced that the federal government is making plans to teach STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects in indigenous languages to primary and secondary school students in the country. The minister said this at the inauguration of the inter-ministerial committee in teaching of Mathematics and Science subjects in Local languages, in Abuja.

This move is intended to revive the dwindling interest of students in STEM subjects by helping them understand mathematics and science subjects better. Even though this may sound interesting, however, one cannot help but wonder how exactly the government plans to implement this and if it is relevant in a country like Nigeria.

Nigeria is a diverse nation with over 250 ethnic groups and about 500 different languages. A typical Nigerian class is made up of a mixture of students from different parts of the nation. So even if STEM subjects are only going to be taught in the three major languages; Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, is the plan to have three different science lessons for students in the same class? Is this even feasible?

How about teachers from different tribes teaching in different regions in the country? Will they have to learn all the indigenous languages or does the government plan to employ new teachers that can handle this task in all the numerous primary and secondary schools in the country?

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Languages are strongly linked with ethnicity and Nigeria has been plagued with ethnic rivalry since our birth. What is the point in bringing the “ndi Yoruba” and “awon Igbo”  mentality that many children have to deal with in their homes to the schools? The traditional schooling system in Nigeria, where English is the only official language helps in no little way to foster peaceful interactions amongst the younger generation. Breaking up a class on a tribal basis may only fuel ethnic rivalry.

Also, does the government have plans to teach STEM subjects in all the indigenous languages in Nigeria? Or are they giving room once again, for the minority ethnic groups to feel marginalized and subjugated?

Perhaps the only way that a move like this can be reasonably implemented is if students are restricted to school in their hometown or states of origin. How will the result be any different from all the agitations caused by the Arewa youths asking the Igbos to leave the North? With continued threats to our national unity as pro-Biafrans agitate to break away from Nigeria, why introduce tribal divide to young students in schools, the future of our nation?

Still, the biggest question is if teaching STEM subjects in indigenous languages will truly boost the interest of these students. Was any research done by the government? While some students may have difficulty in the use of English, there are also others that have a good grasp of the language. For many students, especially in the urban areas, English is as indigenous as any language can get; it is practically their mother tongue.

So unless the government plans to focus this intervention on only areas that require it, it may be a waste of time and efforts. Besides, a lot of schools in remote areas already teach in native languages; whether this is truly beneficial to these students is a case for another day.

Perhaps the focus should be on teaching Nigerian students in new and creative ways that can spark their interest and refrain from using the same old teaching methods.

While we wait for the government to unveil their grand STEM education scheme for young students, we can only hope that they do not waste precious time planning another pointless education reform.


Feature image credit: Skool Media

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Onyinye Uche
Onyinye Uche

Writer. Interested in EdTech and tech careers


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cbianben
cbianben
4 years ago

I am of the opinion that the minister should be applauded, bearing in mind
that the success of such initiative is going to be determined by the implementation.

If I am reading your article right, you propose that
Nigeria should continue to rely on a foreign language for their education and technology
advancement to avoid agitants and perhaps confusion from a myriad of languages.
Look closely, you will notice that in most of the Technology heavyweights of the world,
(with the exception of some parts of the western world), STEM and
all education is conducted in their native languages. Having been in the Tech world for
a long time, I have worked with people from India, Russia, China to name a few
and one thing these folks all have in common is
English being a second language. Contrary to your assertions, NO, English is not a native language, but rather, it is a convenience. People tend to learn and understand faster and quicker in languages that are native to them.
Have you ever wondered how many languages there are in China and India, yet
they are Tech power houses. What is needed is an implementable Framework and a well-defined requirement(s). Once a Framework is defined, it can be adapted to any language(s) if there’s demand for it.

The success of Nollywood should serve as a template for how Africans should take anything, adapt it to their local environs and watch it bloom. Several books and lesson have been published on this indigenous platform and why it worksworked.
Ironically, most of these lesson and books are written by outsiders who see the value and albeit, see what folks looking in from the inside don’t see. My point being that, if it can be done with Nollywood, it can also be replicated in other sectors.
Am afraid that your article, well written as it is, may not be backed by what obtains in the real world; and seems; in my opinion a step in the wrong direction.
It is important to point out that most development environments and languages are ported to local languages with high numbers of developers. I believe the minister is heading in the right direction and as anyone who has written a line of code will tell you, it’s easier to develop applications in native OS than abstracting logic in non-natives.
As for agitants and folks, who spend their lives blaming others and
marginalization, for their own failures,
they will always be there. @cbianben

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