A short case for changing the current Nigerian English syllabus for high school children.
I’ve made a different case for mother tongue use as mediums of instruction in Nigerian schools, so this is not that. You can read that here if you missed it:
This is a case for why the current syllabus, as constituted, isn’t always very helpful to student’s educational outcomes. Okay, maybe there’s some connection in this conversation to the earlier one. But stay with me for a while.
Between 2012 and 2015, I taught English language as a high school teacher in Lagos, so I got a chance to better understand what is being taught, to relive what I’d gone through as a student many years before.
The first Qs to ask is ‘What is the purpose of English as a high school subject?’
1. To facilitate conversation between speakers of other Nigerian languages?
2. To build competence that is useful to acquire skills in other courses?
3. To deepen appreciation of English grammar?
And the answer, from the current set-up is 'all of the above’.

There are a few more, but they’re mostly under those three broad reasons.

I don’t know if these have always been the historical reasons for the inclusion of English as a subject, but it’s what we have now.
But in reality, the syllabus we teach today is built mostly for reason number #3.

There’s very little there that is useful for #1 or #2.
Pick up any WAEC/JAMB exam paper, and you’ll find questions like:

1. What is the grammatical Name/function of the italicized expression?
2. What figure of speech is used?
3. Complete this “I prefer rice ___ beans.”

None of these have anything to do with language as utility
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against teaching grammar. It’s important and can be fun, but why not keep it only for people who care for it… people who would become linguists, lawyers, teachers, translators, writers, programmers, etc.
There are other parts of the syllabus that get better responses from students: reading comprehension, essay writing, and summary. Almost everyone who will live in society will at once point need to read or write, so why not put a lot more efforts in these areas?
Add to that, without a credit pass in English language (with this strong focus on grammar), you can’t get a university admission, which leads to situations like this: bbc.com/pidgin/tori-44…

Exclusion on the basis of a skill one might not even need for one’s future career.
Sorry, the link above is in Pidgin. The main thrust is that of all the people who took Nigeria’s standardized exam (WAEC) in 2018, only 49.98% crossed the REQUIRED threshold of a credit pass in English and Math. Why is English part of this requirement?
Why should someone with a genius-level competence in mathematics be deemed unqualified for university admission just because they cannot speak in English? In short, why is English language (especially as currently constituted) NOT the optional subject?
As an optional subject, students will be free to take the grammar-laden course, if they want. And those who don’t want it at all can take other courses. All Nigerian schools use English as mediums of instruction anyway, so we never really needed the subject for communication.
As a linguist, I’d have suggested the use of at least one Nigerian language as the compulsory subject, not English, since that’s the only one in which most students are really deficient. English they see everywhere else: billboards, radio, in music, television, internet, etc.
I feel the same about the Literature-in-English, which is the only way literature is taught in our high schools today. Why not just Literature, a course that includes both local and foreign literatures (and oratures), including translations? Why limit to English?
So, there are many ways in which our accepted conventions & policies have hampered the growth of our languages, and how re-thinking a number of them can have significant positives both for the languages and educational outcomes. Emphasis on ‘education’ in its real/complete sense.
It's the same problem with what we call “Oral English”, which is the phonology component of our English language syllabus. To get a credit pass in English, you have to get a good grade not just in the grammar and composition parts, but also the ‘Oral English’ part.
Every Nigerian who has ever passed through school has done the “Oral English” exam and wondered why words are pronounced a certain way in the class (and in the exam) when they are never pronounced like that by anyone else in the country.
How do you say the word ‘man’ in English?

In the Oral English class, the teacher insists it’s something that sounds like ‘men’.

Phonetically, that's /mæn/.

But that sound /æ/ doesn’t exist in the Nigerian phonology. No, we say /man/, with /a/, with an open mouth.
Watch this American English speaker try to convince us of the difference between the pronunciation of ‘man’ and ‘men’.

To the Nigerian speaker, these sound exactly the same, as I argued with an American professor in this video:

And these are not the only differences in the British/American English phonology and the Nigerian English phonology.

Listen to how a former student of mine pronounced the word “can’t” in this his cover of an Elvis song:
These variations are normal. English evolves differently in different places. It's why we have British English, American English, Australian English, South African English, Nigerian English, Pilipino English, etc. Apart from lexicon, what sets them all apart are sound variations.
So one would expect that the English syllabus in each environment will teach students how to write WHAT THEY ALREADY SPEAK rather than how to write HOW OTHERS SPEAK (which is what we currently do). The result is immense confusion for the teacher and the students.
And countless hilarity in the classroom when the teacher attempts to speak ‘foneh’ — as Nigerians derogatorily call it — a word derived from ‘phonetics’ to mean ‘an impossible, and clearly risible attempt to sound like an Englishman'
The teacher says ‘This is how to say this word. This is how English people say it. If you say it any other way, you will fail this class.’

The student says ‘But nobody ever says it like that anywhere except in the movies. Even you, the teacher, don’t speak like that!’
The teacher insists: ‘It’s the syllabus. This is Oral English. Do as I say, and that’s that’.

So the students try, and usually fail, to speak like Englishmen. Some eventually figure how to pass the course by obeying and cramming the rules. Many do not.
So I think that’s inefficient. Nigerian English has evolved into its own over the years, and it should by now have a dictionary, written grammar, and an ‘Oral English’ syllabus, with a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach.
It’s what we speak — even Nigerians who try, on radio, to speak like foreigners eventually get caught and called out, since you can’t escape the limit of your speech environment — so why isn’t it what we teach in our schools? We’d have fewer frustrated students, I think.
Nowhere is the problem of accent differential more problematic than in speech recognition and in the conflict between what the machine (set to anglonormative rules) expects, and what the user says. How many times have we spoken to our phones and it has heard something else?
"Speaker: Okay Google. What does it mean to lose cultural identity due to globalisation?
Google Assistant: (Searches) Blues cultural dance is due to globalisation."

Quote from a piece I was interviewed for a few months ago: techcabal.com/2019/01/24/if-…
Smart companies like Google are paying attention and creating solutions to adapt to the local and regional varieties to allow for more inclusion. So, why is our educational system — on which we have placed our hope for the future — not following suit? That’s the question.
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