Language planning for national development: the case of Ghana




Agbedor, Paul Kofi

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Studies by Fishman (1968a) and Pool (1971) show some correlation between economic development and multilingualism. In other words, countries that are multilingual tend to be less economically developed. This kind of investigation is not easy or straightforward. Pool mentions three difficulties associated with such a study. The first is what to measure and how to measure it; the second is unreliability in sources of statistical information, and the third, and probably most dangerous, is the risk of making erroneous causal inferences. While it is necessary to keep these cautions in mind, it is nevertheless appropriate to give these studies some thought. For example, why does multilingualism correlate with poor economic growth? Are there any inherent problems in societal multilingualism that have adverse effects on economic performance of certain countries? Are there any ways that this effect can be minimized? This study of language planning in Ghana’s economic development is an exploratory study of language use in the educational system of Ghana, its relation to the general sociolinguistic and demographic profile of the country, and the potential for greater roles for the indigenous Ghanaian languages in the pursuit of economic progress. The study attempts to contextualize the case study of Ghana within the larger framework of multilingualism and multilingual education, by analyzing the factors which, in the past, determined and continue to determine the language education policies of the developing nations in the former British Colonial Africa. The study has three components; the descriptive, the empirical and the programmatic. The descriptive component examined the socio-historical factors that shaped language policies in the past and continue to influence present-day policies. Ghana was born out of an amalgamation of several otherwise independent and powerful kingdoms. This was the result of colonial intervention. This amalgamation brought with it a complex linguistic problem. In order to promote unity among the different ethnic groups that have come under the new nation, and to pursue their economic and political agenda, the colonial government set into motion a language policy which gave English a sole official language status, which has remained ever since. With this language policy in the midst of such linguistic diversity as Ghana's, it is expected that problems would be experienced by persons who are not proficient in the official language, and by persons who are illiterate. The purpose of the study, therefore, was to assess the language-related and literacy-related problems that occur in social, economic and political experiences of the people. It was necessary to evaluate the success or failure of this policy, and that is what the second component of the study sought to investigate. The empirical component comprised a sociolinguistic survey, conducted with the aim of evaluating the present language policies in a small way, and with a view to finding out what went wrong and why. The survey sought to find out the real language situation in Ghana and the level of individual multilingualism or bilingualism in three sample populations, which were assumed to represent the different types of communities found in Ghana; (a) rural homogeneous, (b) rural heterogeneous and (c) urban. It also sought to find out how successfully the ideologies behind the present language policies have been fulfilled. In short, the survey tried to find out the role played by the various languages used in Ghana in the social, economic and political lives of the people, and how the languages stand in relation to one another as far as their functions are concerned. As part of the empirical component, an English proficiency test was conducted in six Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) in the three districts involved in the survey (two schools from each district). This was to find out to what extent the results would reflect the emphasis placed on the learning and use of English as the official language of Ghana. The following summarize some of the findings; 1. the majority of the people use the indigenous languages more than English, including the elite; English serves only an instrumental role; 2. most of the people are engaged in occupations that do not require English; 3. the emphasis on English prevents the larger masses of the population from having access to vital information on matters that could otherwise promote the economic, social and political well-being of the people; 4. the school drop-out rate is high, and most children drop out at a stage where they have no firm grip on literacy in either English or a Ghanaian language; 5. learning through a second language implies knowing that language, and the conditions for learning English in Ghana are not favorable (lack of native speakers, lack of qualified teachers and textbooks, etc.); the result is that after 9 years of schooling, most children can neither speak nor read and write in English; 6. the results of the proficiency test showed that most of the students in the final year of Junior Secondary (JSS) (the stage which happens to be the terminal point for a majority of the students) have such a low level of literacy in English that they cannot communicate in it in any meaningful way. 7. the unity that English was supposed to bring about seemed to be better served by the indigenous languages. In the urban and linguistically heterogeneous rural communities, the people are more united by the fact that the minority groups are able to learn the language of the majority group without losing their own languages; these major Ghanaian languages feature most in inter-ethnic communication. The programmatic component is a proposal for a national language policy and a consequent proposal of a framework for language of education in Ghana. The proposal was based on the findings of the survey and other theoretical and pragmatic facts, some of which include the fact that: 1. bilingual education is vital and necessary for Ghanaian children; 2. research into second language acquisition supports the positive role of L1 in L2 acquisition; 3. concept formation is important in the early part of a child's education, and the language that can more efficiently transmit knowledge to the schoolchildren at the early stages of schooling is the mother tongue or L1. 4. the full development of a nation demands (a) mobilization of the population in informed participation in the social, economic and political programs of the nation; (b) equalization of access to information - for example, information regarding workplace health and safety, global problems of population growth, resource consumption and the environment, and how to help deal with the problems. The present policy makes it possible for only a small proportion of the population to become fluent in English and have access to higher education. This situation denies a majority of the population access to information, because they are not literate in the official language in which most of the relevant information is encoded. The framework proposed gives equal emphasis to English and the Ghanaian languages, and ensures that children who drop out of school early are able to read and write at least a major Ghanaian language. It is also acknowledged that literacy in a Ghanaian language can play positive roles in the lives of the literates by way of acquisition of knowledge and the opportunity to participate better in nation-building.



Language planning, Multilingualism, Ghana, Sociolinguistics