TECHNOLOGY IN OUR OWN VOICE
Last week, I shared some of my travel experience with the readers of this column regarding my very fulfilling and educative trip to Senegal. Senegal, by the way, and I did not refer to this last week, is one of the few nations of Africa that are economically impoverished but culturally endowed, enlightened and aware. Nobody of course can dispute this qualification, judging from the critical, historic and frontline role of its first President, Leopold Sedar Senghor. And this is not just an attribution of his cultural affirmation and consciousness that emerged from his Negritude philosophy—which many critiqued as merely emotive and negative, when compared to Aimee Cessaires' more positive, revolutionary response to imperialism, but due to his struggle to place African culture at the vortex of human civilization.
Added to this is the factor of his Pan-Africanist vision of an African, continental government as envisaged by the founders of Pan-Africanism. It is his location of culture at the centre of development—even economic development his essentialization of the Humanities in national growth, which laid a firm foundation for the future of a Senegal that is not only disciplined but one in which the core values of humanity form the crux of national essence. That science is crucial to national advancement was not lost on him but he firmly established the fact that science is only an empirical manifestation of the humane essence of life.
This leads me to a review of an earlier offering on this page of the place of language as a vehicle of communication of all the values that make a nation what it is and what it can be—including partaking in the global notion of a knowledge driven industrial world founded on science, technology and information. It is interesting to note that in spite of the unwholesome effort of the French imperialists to Frenchify Senegal and make it the model of France in West Africa, in Dakar today French is the lingua franca but everybody speaks Wolof.
Language, as used in day-to-day communication, in the media, and in government documents, etc., certainly has a major role to play in development. The transfer and transmission of science and technology is one of the ways of ascertaining the realization of the full human potential. In the process of this transfer, however, we often overlook the fact that science and technology is a cultural phenomenon.
Science and technology is only the superstructure of this culture; the base is often disregarded. This is why the transfer of science and technology in African states often produces discouraging and peripheral results. Bamgbose further submits that 'unless there is technology culture, the seed of transferred technology will fall on barren ground and fail to germinate.'
Since language is an integral aspect of culture, the transfer of technology culture needs the following cognitive and linguistic inputs for the typical pupil in Africa:
a) The development of pupil's skills in performing advanced language-based cognitive tasks, e.g. reasoning, understanding and explaining abstract concepts;
b) The development of linguistic skills in the standardized variety of the language. It should be possible to teach science and mathematics in a child's first language to imbibe the culture of technology in his own language.
Already, in the Nigerian situation, and via the national Policy on Education (1977), some preliminary steps have been taken, though not effectively articulated or executed, that the medium of expression in the primary schools should be initially in the mother tongue. That was how it was possible for the next step taken in the development of a glossary of terminology in Science and Mathematics in Nine Nigerian languages was possible and relevant. A sequel to that exercise is the development of scientific vocabulary in our indigenous languages. The development of terminology in primary school Mathematics and science in nine Nigerian languages, vide, Edo, Efik, Fulfulde, Hausa, Igbo, Ijo, Kanuri, Tiv and Yoruba leads us along the right path towards the development of a culture of technology.
c) Understanding and appreciating the products of the child's first language community, including the literary products; For instance, the debate on the
Language question among our writers in which it is becoming more and more fashionable to introduce indigenous languages to literary texts, either through songs, poetry, dialogue and so on. A critical, some would say extreme case is the decision of Kenyan's foremost novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong'O to write his literary books only in his native language Gikuyu and later make them available in translation is worth serious consideration among our writers.
e) The development of pupil's ability to discover information, to explore their inner world, and to develop their creativity. I referred to the 1970 Obafemi Awolowo Six-Year Experiment in Yoruba launched with 1,500 primary school pupils are instructive. A wealth of linguistic and cognitive knowledge was gained by these pupils who used the indigenous medium in their primary education. It opened the children minds to free thought and development of concepts in mathematics and science, through their:
f) Mother tongues policy of Government, which is just unfolding, to make the child spend the first nine years of his school life in his immediate geographical and cultural environment will benefit from this experiment-if it is carried through, logically and systematically. From the discussion above, the imperative of the development of a Nigerian and an African mother tongue as national and continental language is implied. All serious, advanced and technologically advanced countries of the world undertake their development-especially in technology, industry, and science, as a cultural activity, whose sole vehicle of communication and _expression is in their indigenous language.
Name it, Russia, China, Japan, France, Germany, Korea, and so on, think through and codify their technology in their national languages. The command of scientific terminologies is certainly low in our country today. But though his mother tongue can explode the myth that 'you can only do science or mathematics in English and not in Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Efik or Yoruba' What we try to restate here is that free reign of thought and creativity is best done in one's mother tongue, not in a poor and incompetently acquired language, as is the case with us in Nigeria, where we deploy the foreign language for thinking and perceiving our world.
I once painted a grimmer picture, in a similar lecture, about this time last year, of our language situation in our urban centres. This pertains to the danger of a zero-language option. The English language spoken and written in schools and society has suffered grave decline. In our middle class homes in the urban cities and towns, the parents still manage to speak their mother tongues, but only to themselves, husbands and wives, hardly or never to their children, who are now monolingual. And the English they speak as their only language is semi-literate, at best. They thus have no mother tongue and they are hardly intelligible in the English they consider as their first and only language.
This makes it germane to recall the effort of UNESCO in the last five decades or so in the promotion of the use of mother tongue as the educational medium. Language, as we have stated above, is the soul of a people. Elsewhere, we have attributed the survival of Africa from the ravages of colonialism, with its ideological intent of wiping out Africa from the memory of world civilization, is the resilience of the African languages.
All the constraints of development that we enumerated above, arising from the conduct and transmission of education in foreign languages will disappear, or at least reduce drastically if we conduct our education in our mother tongue-with its numerous advantages of free thought and thought processes, unbridled creativity. Knowledge, which seems to be the exclusive right of a fifth of the Nigerian population who speak and write in English, will now be available to the larger majority of our people. The society will enjoy wider participation, interaction and access in knowledge, including technological knowledge in a knowledge-driven, global age.