Saturday, 13 August 2011

Nigeria: The need for improved English education

The need for Nigerian expression

I read Nmachi Jidenma’s blog titled Why every Nigerian on the Internet should start a blog [1] where she coordinates the editorial activities of CP-Africa.

One can easily see the premise of her argument; as usual some blogger with a big magazine profile receives a scam email purportedly from some Nigerian along the lines of what is commonly known as a 419 Letter [2] and finds the opportunity to fulminate.

When Peter Reilly who contributes to Forbes.com first wrote about the letter, he noticed a subtle change in the tone of a 419 letter from that of persuasion preying in the greed of the victim to fearful threats and is was only normal for him to default to stereotype with the headline Nigerians Switching From Greed to Fear [3].

It took one well-placed comment by a Nigerian resident in Nigeria to get Peter Reilly to change the title of his blog though the underlying URL still registers the original title; he then went one step further offering insightful research about the original of fraudulent scams and the resolution of some interesting cases.

Effective communication presages change

In the comments under his first blog he engaged the commenters and it appeared he was contrite enough to write the follow-up blog Fraud Has No Nationality- Apology to Nigeria [4] in what I felt was a display of maturity and interesting raconteuring, you had to hear him out.

However, back to the purpose of this blog, Ms. Jidenma noted that a Google search for “Fraud” almost always presented contextual results that made Nigeria prominent and this is exacerbated by the fact that there are not enough positive Nigeria narratives on the Internet to minimise the association between Nigeria and fraud.

That thinking is well placed but there are problems we do need to address, the comments posted on the Forbes.com posts ranged from a dispassionately objective criticism of stereotyping to somewhat unnecessary but naturally expected defensiveness.

An underlying problem

Now, having blogged for almost 8 years and reviewed many comments and blogs of fellow Nigerians on many Internet sites, I doubt flooding the Internet with Nigerian opinion without attention to content, quality and intellectual ability is the answer to the dissociation of fraud from Nigeria.

One statistic that buttresses this view comes with the announcement that only 30% of students passed English and Mathematics [5] in this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) results and whilst this is an improvement on the 25% last year it is appalling.

The problems are self-evident, maybe the strictures of mobile Short Message Service (SMS) known as texting does have an effect where the restrictions of 160 characters forces users to use abbreviations and strange spellings of words that depend on some sort of decoding to make sense; that form of communication is becoming so mainstream that it might have crept into formal communications like what students put down in examinations.

The low results in mathematics are worrisome too because it suggests that students are not leaving school with basic numeracy skills needed for further education or the workplace.

A failing curriculum

Even though English is my mother tongue by reason of it being the first language I could speak and the circumstance of birth but I do remember the attention paid to our English classes from primary school in Nigeria where reading, writing and spelling lessons and tests were part of our curriculum.

In secondary school, we were voracious readers, the girls on everything that Barbara Cartland [6] wrote and the romantic pulp fiction of the Mills & Boon series [7], we the boys started off with Nick Carter [8] crime novels then James Hadley Chase [9] and graduated to Harold Robbins [10]; we all not missing the African writers and compulsory Shakespeare texts in formal English classes and the traditional English novels by celebrated writers as Kipling, Twain, Shaw, Haggard, Dickens, Orwell and others.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the James Hadley Chase novels even had the Nigerian price on the dust jacket or back cover of the paperback novels.

The English syllabus contains essential guides for reading and comprehension, composition, context, interpretation which should result in communication that is at least structured and coherent with the possibility of it being concise, maybe precise and hopefully original belying some admirable intellect.

What is needed

I dare say, only a few expressions on the Internet have passed the muster and much as I would love to see more Nigerians on the Internet with blogs, comments and opinions that show Nigeria in more positive light, there is much more that needs to be done in terms of the quality of communication they present whilst it goes without saying that the slide of examination performance was not sudden much as it seems precipitously low.

Too much time is being spent on religious and motivational books and very little on those with useful literary value that would broaden outlook and improve expression, we have become clones of “How To” themed books.

The need to return to formal and traditional modes of English and language expression cannot be overstated and it starts with correct spelling, structured sentences, the ability to crystallise thoughts, an understanding of correct punctuation and tenses, the daring to be objective and a broadening of the reading curriculum.

Then we can ensure whoever decides to own a blog is at the least redounding to the positive narratives of Nigeria with good communication, clear thinking and commendable expression.

Sources

[1] CP-Africa.com | Why every Nigerian on the Internet should start a blog

[2] Advance-fee fraud - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] Forbes.com | Switching From Greed to Fear

[4] Forbes.com | Fraud Has No Nationality- Apology to Nigeria

[5] AllAfrica | Nigeria: WAEC Results - Only 30 Percent Pass Maths, English

[6] Barbara Cartland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[7] Mills & Boon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[8] Nick Carter (literary character) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[9] James Hadley Chase - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[10] Harold Robbins - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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