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Linguistics Diversity: Multilingual education in Nigerian public schools 

Stepping into a classroom in Nigeria’s public schools, what you’ll hear is a mix of different languages filling the room.
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Stepping into a classroom in Nigeria’s public schools, what you’ll hear is a mix of different languages filling the room. Nigeria is a country with lots of different cultures, and it has over 525 languages spoken by different ethic groups all over the country. From the North, where people speak Hausa, to the West, where Yoruba is common, and the East, where Igbo is spoken, Nigeria is a melting pot of languages and cultures. However, the official language in the classroom and other formal settings is English Language. Nigeria’s public school system serves as the cornerstone of education for millions of children across the country. It includes primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. While English serves as the official language of instruction and communication, the question still remains should there be an incorporation of indigenous languages in public schools to make learning easier, considering the linguistic diversity present in Nigerian society.

In context multilingual education refers to the use of multiple languages as mediums of instruction in educational settings. The Nigerian government has implemented various language policies aimed at promoting linguistic diversity and cultural inclusivity in public schools. The National Policy on Education recognizes the importance of mother tongue education in the early years of schooling, advocating for the use of indigenous languages as mediums of instruction at the primary education level. The provision of the NPE (2004), Section 4, Paragraph 19 (e) and (f) cited below confirms that the multilingual education is in existence: “The medium of instruction in the primary school shall be the language of the environment for the first three years. During this period, English shall be taught as a subject, from the fourth year. English shall progressively be used as a medium of instruction and the language of immediate environment and French shall be taught as subjects.” Additionally, the policy encourages the teaching of three languages – the mother tongue, English, and one other Nigerian language – to promote multilingualism and cultural appreciation among students.

Multilingual education provides numerous benefits for students in Nigerian public schools. One of the most significant benefits of multilingual education is its potential to increase access to education, particularly in marginalized and rural communities. In Nigeria, where access to quality education remains a challenge in many rural and remote areas, multilingual education can serve as a powerful tool for promoting educational equity and inclusion. By providing instruction in indigenous languages alongside English, multilingual education addresses barriers to learning faced by students from linguistically diverse backgrounds. It enables children to access education in their mother tongue, which is often more familiar and culturally relevant to them, thus increasing their engagement and participation in school. Additionally, multilingual education empowers parents in local communities to take ownership of their children’s education and participate actively in the schooling process.

Another benefit is that it enhances language proficiency and literacy skills among students. Research has shown that students who receive instruction in their mother tongue perform better academically and develop stronger literacy skills compared to those who are taught solely in a second or foreign language. By providing instruction in multiple languages (English, French, and one mother tongue), multilingual education caters to the diverse linguistic needs of students, and enables them to engage more effectively with diverse educational content and achieve better learning outcomes. The dominance of English as the language of instruction and assessment in Nigerian public schools may restrict many students whose first language is not English. Take the Yoruba tribe for example, a student raised with the Ijesa dialect needs a bit of Yoruba mixed with English to be able to learn effectively.

Also, multilingual education plays a crucial role in the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages in Nigeria. With over 500 languages spoken across the country, many of which are endangered or at risk of extinction, the promotion of multilingual education is important to safeguard Nigeria’s linguistic heritage. Incorporating indigenous languages into the curriculum and using them as mediums of instruction helps to promote the use and vitality of these languages among younger generations. This not only preserves linguistic diversity but also strengthens cultural identity and heritage among indigenous communities. Additionally, multilingual education empowers speakers of indigenous languages to participate fully in the educational system and broader society, bridging the gap between traditional and formal education systems.

Furthermore, Multilingual education empowers students to become proficient communicators in multiple languages, equipping them with valuable linguistic skills for personal, academic, and professional success. In most public schools, especially at the primary and secondary level, English language is imposed as the medium of communication. Whereas, many students cannot speak this language correctly. However, the continued reliance on English alone as the language of instruction has had a negative effect of the quality and access to education in Nigeria. Students are struggling to speak English language while neglecting their mother tongue. Moreover, proficiency in multiple languages enhances students’ communication skills, enabling them to interact effectively with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

While multilingual education offers numerous benefits, it also presents certain challenges and drawbacks that must be addressed. The complexity of managing multiple languages in the classroom and ensuring equitable access to educational resources for all students requires careful planning, coordination, and investment. Furthermore, resistance to change and cultural attitudes towards language may pose barriers to the adoption of multilingual education policies. Additionally, people may view indigenous languages as inferior or irrelevant in a globalized world dominated by English, leading to reluctance to embrace multilingualism in education.

In conclusion, the importance of multilingual education in Nigerian public schools cannot be overstated, as it helps the students understand what they are being taught easily. By embracing linguistic diversity and promoting the use of indigenous languages in education, Nigeria can harness the full potential of its rich cultural heritage and empower future generations to succeed while learning new languages and embracing their mother tongue.

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