FRENCH LANGUAGE EDUCATION IN NIGERIA: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES

By
ADEMOLA, Michael Department of French, Federal College of Education, Kontagora, Niger State.

Abstract
A well structured educational system is undeniably a strong key to a nation¶s survival in all ramifications. Thus, every nation, through its Ministry of Education is expected to accord equal status and value to all subjects that are being offered at all levels of education. This is because every educated individual should be able to give back to the society positively and productively via the training acquired. This paper sets out, therefore, to discuss French language education in Nigeria. It shall go about this by explaining what language education means as well as presenting briefly the history of French language in Nigeria. The paper further discusses prospects and challenges of teaching and learning of French language in Nigeria. Conclusively, some recommendations are made.

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Introduction Education, according to Oxford Advanced Learner¶s Dictionary (2001) , is seen as a process of teaching, learning and acquiring training, most especially in schools or colleges, in order to improve one¶s knowledge as well as giving room for development of skills. Thus, one can boldly and generally see education as a strong instrument of development in all ramifications of human life. Having said the above, what is language education then? In a simple term, language education can be explained as the teaching and learning of any language, either as a foreign or second language, in schools. Language education is of paramount importance since it is a process by which a child develops the communicative attitude which is of positive value to his/her society. In this case, one can also add that language education is the formal acquisition of communicative skills by an individual. There is no country of the world where language education does not take place. And Nigeria, as a nation is no exception. In the case of Nigeria, therefore, language education draws a special attention due to the country¶s historical background, geographical location as well as its heterogeneous nature. Today, in our educational system, these features make the teaching and learning of English and French languages possible alongside their local counterparts: Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Fulfulde, Kanuri etc. However, our present concern, in this paper, is about the position of French language in Nigeria. How relevant is the teaching and learning of French language to economic development of this nation? This paper attempts to answer this question as much as possible. Similarly, some challenges confronting French language education shall be discussed. And some possible solutions shall be proffered at the end. Meanwhile, let us briefly have a historical look at French language education in Nigeria.
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Historical Overview of French Language Education in Nigeria An attempt on the teaching and learning of French in Nigeria dated as far back as 19th century. In 1878, the Wesley High School already included in its curriculum the teaching and learning of German and French languages respectively. But unfortunately, French language education was not officially introduced into the secondary school curriculum in Nigeria until 1956. Thus, King¶s College, Lagos and Government College, Ibadan need to be mentioned in this regard for pioneering the teaching and learning of French as a foreign language in this country (Timothy-Asobele, 1999:32) At tertiary level, the situation was not much different. The teaching and learning of French language at the university level, for instance, was necessitated as those few lucky Nigerians who were products of the schools mentioned above were in quest for their university education. Consequently, as from 1960, shortly after the independence, some of the so-called first generation universities such as University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria took up the challenge of teaching and learning of French language with expatriate lecturers like Henri G. J. Evans, Wilfred Feuser, Brann C. M. B. etc. (Arowolo, 2004:229; Falade, 2008:71). Thus, the readers of this paper need to know that the first set of Nigerian French graduates were products of these famous universities. And many of them, after graduation, joined the noble teaching profession thereby reducing the penury of French of French teachers in the system at that time. At this juncture, it is our joy to stress that in Nigeria of today, some of these indigenous ³fore-runners´ and seasoned scholars of French language education in Nigeria are Professors of French in their respective universities, either at home or abroad. Among them on our interminable list are Professors Abiola Irele, Victor O. Aire, Tunde Ajiboye, Kester O. Echenim, Adebola A. Kukoyi, Raymond O.

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Elaho, John E. Elerius, Unionmwan Edebiri, Paul E. Modum, Pai Obanya, Olusola Oke, Emmanuel C. Nwezeh etc. (Ajiboye, 2004). Similarly, still on tertiary level, some Colleges of Education known as Advanced Teachers¶ Colleges in the country then also joined in the crusade for French language education in Nigeria. Among these old Colleges are Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Alvan Ikoku College of Education as well as University of Lagos College of Education. In the early 60s, there were already French graduates from these Colleges of Education. Moreover, one notable feature about French as a foreign language in Nigeria from inception to date is its popularity as a subject as well as the extent of glory and recognition it does accord any school offering it. Although for quite some decades, much has been done by various experts in the field, French education in Nigeria is still being faced with a number of challenges to be discussed subsequently in this paper. Status of French Language in Nigeria For the teaching and learning of any language to be carried out successfully, its status has to be clearly defined in the educational policy. The declaration of French as second official language of Nigeria during late General Sani Abacha¶s regime in 1996 paved more way for the recognition of French language education by some of our policies makers. Hence, in the National Policy on Education (NPE) (2004), the status of French language was officially stated and documented as follows: For smooth interaction with our neighbours, it is desirable for every Nigerian to speak French. Accordingly, French shall be the second official language in Nigeria and it shall be compulsory in
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Primary and Senior Secondary Schools, but nonvocational elective at the Senior Secondary School. The good intention of the Nigerian government, as reflected in the declaration quoted above, is highly commendable. But it is yet a pity that after about ten (10) years, the vision about making at least 70% of Nigerians internationally bilingual in English and French languages has not fully materialized. Despite the fact that Nigerian government wants French to be offered as a core subject in both Primary and Junior Secondary levels of our educational system, many public schools still remain adamant on the full implementation of the said policy (Falade, 2008:72). The question we need to ask at this stage is why the failure in the implementation of policy? Who is responsible for the failure, the government or the policy makers? As for us, the status of French highlighted in the National Policy on Education (NPE) is nothing but a mere paper work. And with a close and thorough examination, one will discover that the said status was just partially defined. This assertion explains the reason why French language is not only optional at Senior Secondary School, but also a non-vocational elective. Also, the status of French language in Nigerian schools is unstable as many Nigerians are still in their state of confusion over whether French should be treated as a second official language or as a foreign language. In our opinion , such state of dilemma is seriously and adversely affecting French language from taking its rightful position in the educational system of this nation. Because if French is fully recognized as the second official language of the nation, the entire Nigerian populace would definitely give it every support or succor needed to succeed as they have done to English language. Instead, Nigerians, up till now, label French as a foreign language thereby seeing it as a strange subject that does not need to be offered in schools.

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Prospects of French Language Education in Nigeria Nigeria, as a nation, has every cause to take French language education more seriously like never before. The trend of globalization nowadays is number one reason why Nigerians should strive to embrace the teaching and learning of French as the officially recognized nation¶s second official language. Connections are becoming inevitable among people, nations and organizations of the world which warrants a huge need for knowing more than one foreign or international language. Therefore, the use of common language remains a strong key in the areas such as trade, tourism, international relations between governments, technology, science and media. Nigeria needs to borrow a new leaf from Japan and China. These countries, according to Kubota (1998) and Kirkpatrick and Zhichang(2004), have ensure , in their educational policies, a strict adherence and compliance to teaching at least one foreign language at primary and secondary school levels. On the issue of self-reliance after graduation that the country has been clamouring for, French language education will definitely do a lot Nigerian youths good if incorporated into vocational and entrepreneurship education. Going by their definitions, vocational education, according to Osuala (2004), is an organized educational programmes which directly aim at preparing every individual for paid or unpaid employment; while in the opinion of Ijaiya (2007), entrepreneurship education sees to the training of all students irrespective of their area of specialization, towards developing an ability to identify business opportunities that can make them self-sufficient. As language of international society that is only rivaled by English, French will surely serve as a linguistic visa in disciplines like Banking, Pharmacy, Secretaryship, Medicine, Commerce, scientific and technological research etc. (Bariki, 2004:23) .

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In the military, learning of a foreign language is very important. As we all know, communication of ideas, either in oral in writing, can never be ignored among human beings. Developing more passion for French language education by our fellow Nigerian military men and women will help them communicate better during their various military operations abroad, especially those on peace-keeping mission in some neighbouring francophone countries. In the United States of America of 21st century, for instance, foreign language training programmes are organized for various security agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defence Intelligence Agency etc. All of them have individual foreign language training progarmmes and capabilities that can enable them meet their respective needs in the course of discharging duties. Furthermore, additional knowledge of an international language like French is a must for every Nigerian delegate who wants to be more relevant and comfortable at any meetings, conferences, seminars and workshops outside the shores of this country. Perhaps this was why, on NTA, French language was used alongside with English, official and second official languages of the nation, for official live broadcast of the Presidential Inauguration on Sunday, 29th May, 2011. Such initiative was of course necessitated by the presence of other Presidents from francophone countries at the ceremony. Challenges Facing French Language Education in Nigeria The first challenge facing teaching and learning of French language in Nigeria is that of bad policy making. In most cases, policy makers are usually short-sighted on the scope of French language teaching and learning in their policies. As a result of such short-sighted policy, French language education has suffered a lot of setback in this country. This should be one of the reasons why it was considered not compulsory at senior secondary school and a non-vocational subject in the senior secondary curriculum. Candidly speaking, such policy is very

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unhealthy as French is seen by Nigerians as not being enough to render them economically independent. In other words, people do not see any possibility of making a promising career out of French language apart from teaching profession which many regard as a job that could be done when there is no other choice (Bolarinwa, 1996:181). Therefore, some Nigerian parents see ne need or reason to allow their children offer French in school knowing well that they would not be able to continue with it at senior secondary level of their education. Another similar challenge facing teaching and learning of French in Nigeria is that of making French a single-major course in most of our State and Federal Colleges of Education. According to NCE Minimum Standards by the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), students offering French as a single major course should be ready to combine with courses like Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Social Studies, English language etc. (NCCE, 2004:6). Such course combinations do often create division of attention on the part of French language students as the issue of clash of lecture periods usually occur on the time-table thereby resulting into missing of lectures. The aftermath of the foregoing is , of course, a poor performance in terms of low grades or carry-overs in French by students. No wonder many NCE graduates in French do finally fall back on the teaching of their respective course combinations to the detriment of French language. Another area of concern is that of linguistic background of majority of students learning French language in Nigerian higher institutions. As we said earlier, majority of public primary and secondary schools in the country are not offering French yet. Only few private ones have been able to include French in their programme just to make difference. Therefore, many French students both at the University and College of Education levels do start via admission into Remedial and pre-NCE programmes respectively. Unfortunately, this kind of oneyear academic activity can never be enough to substitute/make up for the loss of
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knowledge that is supposed to be acquired within 12 years of primary and secondary education. And since there is every tendency of such students to have come in contact with two or more languages (local languages and English) before engaging in the learning of French, there is usually the problem of linguistic interference both in oral and in written aspects. And when they finish their studies and join the system as French teachers, such people will either consciously or unconsciously pass their language imperfection to their students. The issue of disparity existing among schools, especially Colleges of Education offering French as a course of study is not healthy at all for the Nigerian educational system. For the avoidance of doubt or curiosity, it will interest our readers to know that Colleges of Education in Nigeria today are divided into two: pilot and non-pilot institutions/schools as regards Frenc h education. The pilot ones do enjoy certain immunities over there non-pilot counterparts. And the French Embassy in Nigeria that is supposed to be the promoter of French language in Nigeria is not helping matter at all. Whenever it comes to distribution of teaching materials such as textbooks and audio-visuals as well as sponsoring French lecturers for workshops and trainings, the pilot institutions are usually given preference. Such practice is very discouraging of a body or an organization that should play a peace-making role in this type of controversial situation. Another major challenge facing French language education in Nigeria is in the area of putting into practice the communicative method of teaching in relation to available teaching materials. It has been discovered that contents of textbooks such as Studio 100 available to set this new language teaching technique in motion are too foreign. Therefore, Nigerian students studying French do find such materials difficult to understand as their contents do not reflect learners¶ cultures or things in their immediate environment.

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Recommendations  French language should be made compulsory for all students to Senior Secondary School level in order to sustain and perfect its learning progression.  We advocate that the clause regarding French language as a non vocational elective subject at Senior Secondary School in the National Policy on Education (NPE) be modified. Thus, French should rather be taught not only as an independent subject, but should also be incorporated into other disciplines at all levels of education in order to pave way for the opening of wider doors of career opportunities and professionalism.  At Colleges of Education level like in the Universities , French should be made a double-major course to create room for more seriousness and better academic performance on the part of students. We admonish the NCCE Minimum Standard Panel to please consider this in their next visit towards the review of the existing one.  All institutions offering French language should be given equal recognition in terms of provision of materials and further training of staff. Therefore, Federal and State Ministry of Education should, as a matter of urgency, see to the abolition of pilot or no pilot schools already in operation. Such disparity is very inimical to the promotion of French language education in this country.  In order to attain its full status of a second official language of the nation, French language should be used alongside with English in the preparation and publication of various official documents. Also, its usage should be enforced in the media (i.e. television and radio stations), hospitals, banks, ministries etc.

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Government should set up a monitoring committee to monitor the implementation of the educational policy on the teaching and learning of French in primary and secondary school levels.  Nigerians should be better educated and informed on the need to encourage the learning of French at all levels of education and in fact across disciplines.  Both federal and state governments should ensure a quick implementation of the recently announced #18,000 minimum wage for all civil servants in the country. Doing this will encourage them to deliver their best.  Indigenous experts in French should intensify more efforts in producing more teaching materials in order to discourage the use of the foreign ones that are making learning of French difficult for Nigerians.

Conclusion This paper, in all its discussions above, has made it clear that Nigeria, as a nation, needs another international language like French to function effectively in the international economy of the 21st century. There is need, therefore, for national commitment to French language education in this nation. The time of ignorance has passed. All Nigerians should be ready to be French compliant, if they want to remain relevant in this fast changing world.

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