Josfyn Uba and Blessing Otobo
Naturally, it is the parents’ responsibility to speak their local dialects to their children, but if they do not do this, how do their offspring learn? Children learn and copy what they hear and see. If they can learn the English language, which is foreign, it follows that they can learn their mother tongue just as well.
That our local dialects are fast dying off is parents’ fault. You do not expect the teacher to teach your child your local dialect. It is part of informal learning and mothers are the first drivers of the informal learning environment.
These are the views of Mrs. Isioma Omoregie, a Warri-based educationist and computer analyst in this interview with Daily Sun. She submits that government should formulate educational policies to accommodate our mother tongue, or else it will go extinct.
In present-day Nigeria, it is almost difficult to find children who can speak and understand their mother tongue. What do you make of this trend?
First, I would say that intermarriage is partly responsible for the gradual dearth of our local dialects. Today, you find out that the ratio of inter-ethnic marriage is on the increase, unlike in the past. Oftentimes, you see that children from such backgrounds do not speak their mother tongue, unless concerted efforts are made by their parents.
Again, people now live in cities, where you can hardly find people from your ethnic background who would commonly and regularly engage the children in conversations in their mother tongue. Everybody speaks English, which is the standard and common language. Now, the onus lies on the parents, especially mothers, to make sure that the children communicate in their local language, as much as possible, at home. It is important for us to understand that the language for the formal learning in the school is English and it has been paid for. The teachers have been officially contracted within the terms and conditions of the school to engage the children and make sure that they learn that.
In the same vein, parents should realise that their duty is to ensure that their children learn their dialects in the informal environment. Parents must understand the need to speak their dialect and pass it on to their children. You must have something before you give it out. Otherwise, you can’t give what you don’t have.
Who do you think is responsible for this anomaly?
Our dialect is an integral part of our cultural heritage. I can tell you frankly that a people who do not know and understand their culture are completely lost. It is disheartening to find out that some children do not even know the simplest of words or sentences in their local dialect, and parents should be blamed for this anomaly. It is naturally the responsibility of parents to speak these dialects to their children. But, if you do not speak them, then, how do expect the kids to speak?
Don’t forget that children learn and copy what they see, and fast, too. If they can learn the English language, which is foreign, what makes you think that they can’t learn their mother tongue? That our local dialects are fast dying off, parents should be held responsible for it. You do not expect the school teacher to come and teach your child your local dialect. It belongs to informal learning and mothers are the first drivers of the informal learning environment. It is only when kids understand the true essence of speaking their dialect that they will be able to assimilate the extras that come from informal learning. If not, they would always compare what they are told traditionally with what obtains in their own formal world, which is a world of pictures, games and fantasy. You know that our traditional setup does not exist in their world at all.
What should government or the larger society do to address this problem?
Society has a role to play in this regard. Government has a lot to do, in addition to the role of parents, by putting in place policies that support cultural growth.
Is it in the educational setting?
Yes, it is for them to set up programmes within communities mandating schoolchildren to read at least a subject relating to her local language in the school curriculum. If the community is Igbo, or Hausa or Yoruba or any other, a subject in the curriculum should reflect the dialect. Just as English language is like any other subject in the curriculum. The difference is that it is basically some people’s language. So, government must formulate educational policies to accommodate our mother tongue, or else, it will totally go extinct within the next few years. That way, our history, cultural heritage and values will be lost.
Again, they should set up cultural programmes geared towards cultural competitions between schools, local government areas and communities so that the children can afford to prepare themselves for the future as well as know more about their culture and history.
On the parents’ part, there are folktales that parents do not know. They have to learn them first, after which they can pass them on to their children. There would be no forum for tales by moonlight. We can also encourage those with writing skills to continue to produce these in form of books that children can refer to and read; that way, cultural details will be explored.
There must be formal cultural policies to explore activities like cultural debates and other activities to be developed and set standards.
From all you have said, would it be safe to say that parents have failed in their responsibilities towards raising their wards?
There is no gainsaying about it. Parents, especially, mothers, have failed in their responsibilities. We no longer give adequate attention to our children and family, like our parents did. We are so engulfed in the pursuit of our businesses and quest for material things, to the detriment of our children. Naturally, family comes first before any other thing.
It is unfortunate that today’s parents no longer check their children’s schoolwork because they are not at home. We have abdicated our roles to teachers.
But should it be so?
No, it is completely wrong for anyone to assume that teachers will train their kids, formally and informally. They only play complementary roles of parents. They start from where parents stop. They are only there to assist you. It is important that parents check their children’s work when they return from school.
How would you adduce the high rate of crime and vices in society to the abdication of duties by parents?
The rising cases of crime and immorality now are as a result of poor parenting. These days, parents no longer care about what their kids do. They don’t bother about the company they keep or what they engage in, and don’t forget that, when parents fail, society also fails. Society is a product of families. They say, “Train a woman, and you have trained a nation.” It is in the same vein that, when a woman fails in her role, society fails.
Before now, the training of the child was the collective responsibility of the community, but it is no longer so. Any parent could actually scold or reprimand any child before. Teachers could flog pupils and discipline them, but all that is gone now. That is where we find ourselves today and all these things are putting pressure on society.
After all, armed robbers, kidnappers and all kinds of criminals are people’s children and relatives, but because they lost it along the way in the course of proper upbringing, they derailed and took to these vices.
Then, who is the society?
The society is made up of parents and children. It is the family unit. However, the kind of society we have now has changed. Before, a child was brought up by the society (community). Anyone could easily correct children then, but not anymore. Nobody even knows the neighbour’s child, let alone correcting him/her when they go wrong. With that, a lot of responsibility is placed on today’s parents.
However, these parents do not recognise the enormity of the responsibility because what society was contributing is no longer there. And you now have to take it up all alone.
I cannot adduce it to just one reason. There are several reasons that contribute to it. Religion is part of it, where your brother or parents are seen as your enemy. When people seem not to be doing well, they go to prophets who tell them that their mother or father is responsible for their undoing and they take it out on whoever the issue is directed at. So, religion is a major factor.
Illiteracy is another factor here. It is not about being learned because you don’t need to be able to speak English to understand your own culture. So, the informal and formal learning, most people have refused to open up to it, and so have become gullible.
Where does that leave us as a people?
It results in serious decadence in society. That is the reason Nigeria is the way it is; children are quick to learn the wrong values, such as the notion that there is a path in criminality. They now live like the Joneses without knowing how the Joneses made their money. Otherwise why should people live in competition, anyway? Unfortunately, that is today’s trend and lifestyle, especially in the social media and virtual worlds. These are some of the things kids see and copy.
Good parenting takes a lot of guts and determination to achieve. You must sacrifice to live an upright life as a parent and be able to pass such traits to your children. It actually hurts for you as a parent to restrain yourself from living like the Joneses and, before you realise what your parents are telling you about, it is late. It hurts your parents, too, to restrain you but it is evident that they cannot provide you with that thing that they do not want for you that has no value in your life. But that is the only way to teach you and inculcate the right values into you. It leaves the society, the nation and everyone in a very bad state and those who succumb to it in the mould of the custodians of our culture are complete enemies of the society. They do not deserve to be called leaders because they have not shown good example and are not responsible for what was entrusted into their hands by their people
The grassroot is already infested. All the echelon is also affected but what government can do is to put processes in place that can prevent people from having the leverage of exhibiting that kind of negative intelligence. And I think that computerisation is one of such. When we are able to computerise our activities, it becomes difficult for just anybody to go into the pot and pick something. You have to be knowledgeable, computer-wise.
You have to know how to seek authorisation to manipulate the system and overcome all the firewalls of the system. This will save us from a lot of losses.