I needed some information on our education sector, so I went in search of Nigerian education news in the internet. To be honest, I was so surprised and impressed by what I saw. I told myself that a lot of funds and supports are pumped into our education sector, yet our public schools refused to improve.
The height of this surprise came when I saw an article on the translation of English science textbooks into Hausa. This feat was done by a team of translators from Bayero University Kano (BUK). Sincerely, I read something about this textbook translation last week but it was on someone’s personal Twitter page, so I didn’t take it seriously. But seeing Punch newspaper’s coverage of an interview with the secretary of this team changed my perception immediately.
Some people may wonder what’s so spectacular about the translation of science books into a Nigerian indigenous language. This group of people will say that other languages of the world teach science without the English language, and they are right. But we haven’t had it done in any of the country’s 500 languages, so the fact that some people have started it is something to commend.
However, there are some genuine concerns raised by Nigerians and I think they need to be addressed as soon as possible, though I will explain the concerns related to my profession.
Correctness of the Content: The first time I saw this textbook translation of a thing on Twitter, one of the comments made on the post was related to how someone can ascertain that these translations were correct. In fact, the most hilarious comment on this said, “You sure say na science textbook they translate?”
Of course, I don’t blame people for being suspicious of this new development, but I want to assuage their fears by letting them know that copies of the translated books have been sent to Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), an agency in charge of curriculum and book developments in the country. This means that the matter will be well taken care of.
Translation of Non-Existent Words: Someone said something about Hausa language not containing most scientific terms. For example, a question was asked by someone on what the Hausa term for “Pythagoras Theory” is. This sounds hilarious but it’s true that scientific terms are foreign to Hausa language, though I don’t speak it fluently. The truth is that no language has names for all the concepts in the world. In a case like this, what has to be done is to borrow from the source language (English) into the target language (Hausa), and then modify the terms so that they abide by the rules governing the target language. This is why linguists and grammarians should be part of this translation project. However, I was glad when I read the interview of the team’s secretary and found out that they employed this method of word formation process in their translation project.
Usage in Nigerian Schools: This is actually where I have my reservations. In as much as I encourage the learning and the use of Nigerian indigenous languages, I still acknowledge that Nigeria needs English because that’s the only language that can unify the 250 Nigerian tribes and the 500 indigenous languages.
Some people worried about these books being made compulsory in schools in the North as against their English counterparts. This part really touched me because if this is done, most non-Hausa speaking students and teachers (including corpers) will be cut off. Not everybody in the North speaks Hausa, even though a majority of their inhabitants do.
This isn’t supposed to be an issue but some comments made by Abubakar Yusuf, the Secretary of the BUK team of translators, shows that they have this in their game plan. According to him, they have started the process of making Hausa the language of science in the Northern part of Nigeria up to the tertiary level. To support this goal, he cited China and Germany as countries that teach sciences in their indigenous languages.
If I start giving reasons on why I found Mr. Yusuf’s statement disappointing we won’t leave here. As I mentioned earlier, English is the only language that unifies Nigeria and that is one major reason Nigerians can live and work in any part of the country without hitches. Making Hausa language of science in the Northern part of the country is indirectly telling non-Hausa speaking Nigerians that there is no teaching jobs for them.
As for lecturing with Hausa at the higher institution level, it means that only Hausans can study science related courses in the North. This is a way of dividing this country intentionally. We all know that children go to primary schools within their vicinity but start moving away from home from their senior secondary school. Telling them there’s no place for them in the North, well, is just the same as saying that Northern Nigeria isn’t Nigeria after all.
Then coming to the use of China and Germany as examples of countries that teach with their native languages, I want to make it clear here that these countries are not English-speaking countries, though they spend heavily to learn English as a third language. In other words, they have their books written in their own national languages. That China made Mandarin its language of education and science is because that’s its national language and, according to statistics, is spoken by 955 million out of the 1.21 billion Chinese citizens living in China. As for Germany, German is spoken by 95% of its citizens, and that is its national language. In Nigeria today, how many Nigerians speak Hausa?
It is good that BUK Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages, Translations and Folklore made out time to find ways to make teaching and learning easier and interesting for students. But they shouldn’t create more problems in their bid to solve an existing one. Left for me, I will suggest that these translated books be used as supplementary books for teachers and students. Let it be like a reference book where teachers and students can consult to get more clarifications on subject matters. Making them primary textbooks for use in teaching and learning will not solve the high level of illiteracy in the country.
I will also enjoin other universities in different parts of the country to pull off stunts like this to help in teaching and learning in their domiciled states. We need more indigenous science books, especially in Mathematics and Chemistry.