Dr. Gladys Nyarko Ansah Delivers Inter-College Lecture

Dr. Gladys Nyarko Ansah, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English has delivered an Inter-College Lecture on the topic: Harnessing our multilingual Heritage for National Development.  The lecture which was the last in the series of Inter-College lectures for the 2018/19 academic year, was held on May 2, 2019 at the ISSER Conference Facility.  It was chaired by Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, Dean, School of languages.

Setting the tone for the presentation, Dr. Ansah explained how human and national development are believed to be indexed by education and how language development is often not seen in the equation in development literature even though language is central to both education and human development. The lecture outlined how educational reforms implemented by various governments in Ghana in pursuit of national development have not only resulted in increased enrollment particularly for girls and English literacy rates but also increased indiscipline in our society, e.g. carnage on our roads, filth on our streets, open defecation, impunity and inefficient social interventions.

Dr. Ansah described this situation as ironic given that education is supposed to make people better and useful first to themselves and then to society. This situation, she argued, may be blamed on the theoretical foundations of current educational policies which have affected our attitudes to the values and place of our indigenous languages over the years.

Examining Ghana’s language-in-education policies that have accompanied the various educational reforms, Dr. Ansah argued that the associated policies and the reforms espouse human capital ideologies and assumptions which evaluate education in terms of economic capital only, e.g., employable skills and access to better paying jobs that ensure increase in one’s life time income. In this spirit, the economic capital of the English language on the global market is unmatched. Consequently, she opined that the country has vested all linguistic capital in our highly multilingual country in English only as stated in the 2007 language-in-education policy.

English is the medium of instruction from Primary 4 in the school system. This means that success in education at all levels depends, to a very large extent, on the individuals proficiency in the language (MOESS, September 2007).

According to the lecturer, the result is that many citizens no longer see any value in their own languages and begin to move towards English even if they are not competent in it.

Dr. Ansah illustrated this situation by referring to a recent phenomenon in urban Ghana where inter-generational transmission of indigenous Ghanaian languages is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. She demonstrated this using audio-visual presentations in which traditional chiefs, custodians of our culture, are seen struggling to address their subjects in English, however imperfect and ridiculous they sound.

The danger of vesting all linguistic capital in one language in a highly multilingual country and the damage it causes to building quality human resource for national development she argued,  are many.  For instance, when people lose their (indigenous) language, they also lose all the cultural values (e.g. on morality and good citizenship/good neighbourliness) that are encoded in the language.  In addition, they lose the cultural identity and national pride which are intrinsically linked to their language(s).

The lecturer noted that by moving away from one’s  indigenous language to English only, there is a danger of becoming an acultural society - losing the cultural values encoded in one’s  indigenous language and also unable to connect to the cultural values that are encoded in English.  This, she further argued, is a recipe for disaster – “living in a society without values is like living in a jungle where people live and act without consideration for their neighbours, and results in underdevelopment or no development at all”.

The lecturer emphasized the position of English as an important language in the world with a lot of global cultural capital and underscored the importance of factoring the language in Ghana’s educational policies. She however cautioned that this must be done with great care. “We must not delegitimize our own languages and disable our people; we should neither gag our people nor force them to operate in a language they feel powerless in as that greatly incapacitates them”.

Finally, the lecturer made a passionate call for transformative educational policies that empower Ghanaians by making their multilingual heritage count, at least in their own contexts; policies that consider people’s indigenous languages as a form of cultural capital (embodied capital). For policies which approach human development from a cultural capital perspective and legitimize people’s indigenous languages, she argued, will emphasize the achievement of qualitative results, e.g. how the knowledge people receive is relevant to their lives and how they are able to apply such knowledge for their own good and for the good of others in the larger community.  

In conclusion, she stated that education that is based on such policies leads to a change of mindset which is what we need for true national development.