The Need to Unbundle English Department in Nigerian Universities

The Need to Unbundle English Department in Nigerian Universities

Those days in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, aka UNIZIK, English Department was split into two major sections – Language Stress and Literature Stress. What it was like then is that every student studies both stresses in 100 and 200 levels, and then goes into one of them from 300 level.

This method helped us a lot because we were able to find out what we truly wanted before making a choice. But even at that, the model didn’t make experts out of us.

Even as I complained that UNIZIK’s model didn’t do the job very well, some schools don’t even divide their English department. They leave their students to struggle through literature and language related courses from 100 to 400 level. Maybe they thought they were doing these students a favour but they didn’t know they only ended up releasing half-baked English graduates into the society.

I know this because most of the people that passed through this later method have little or no knowledge of either language or literature related subjects. This is because for their schools to be able to stick within the approved course loads, they dropped off a lot of courses from their curricula. The end result is that the students graduated without having deep knowledge of their field of study.

I don’t know how it is for other courses but I believe English, as a course of study, should be unbundled. I was so happy when I learnt that Mass Communication Department has been professionalised and I couldn’t help wondering when English Department will receive its own “blessing”.

Both the students and lecturers of English will bear me witness when I say that we graduated from that department only to find out that we don’t have in-depth knowledge of our field. We all came into the wider world and started learning what we should have learnt from school. It is not because the lecturers didn’t do their best, but because the curriculum didn’t go deep into the course. We floated through different areas of language study because there was no way we could have achieved more within the duration of the study.

There are so many areas in English Language and Literary Studies Department that needed to be studied deeply for students to become experts. The only way this could be achieved within the four years of study for this course is to unbundle the department into several sections and units.

I don’t know the body under whose jurisdiction it is to do this, but I will suggest that English Scholars Association of Nigeria (ESAN), which is the umbrella association for other English scholars groups, should kickoff this campaign. Based on my experience as an English scholar, the English department should be broken, from 300 level, into the following divisions, sections or stresses:

  1. Grammar: Grammar is one area of language study that needs in-depth analysis and understanding. It was after graduation that I found out that grammar is more than just understanding where to put “is” and “was”. Grammar itself is the basis of the language. It has so many units and sections that it shouldn’t be studied alongside other areas of the language.
  2. Phonetics and Phonology: Even though we are second language users, there is still a need for experts in this area. Earmarking only one or two hours a week within a semester is not enough to learn this area. If I’m asked, I’ll suggest that students that have interest in phonetics and phonology of English should be allowed to go fully into it from their 300 level so they can graduate as experts. It is quite a pity that we graduated from English department and were not able to produce, properly, the sounds that exist in English. A lot of us don’t even know the proper intonations and rhythm, or the stress patterns of the language. This is because enough time and attention wasn’t given to learning this level of language.
  3. Stylistics and Discourse Analysis: These are the people that should analyse, review and criticise language use in people’s works. These days, there is much need for critics and reviewers but few are seen because a lot were not well grounded. Many Nigerian reviewers these days are self-taught, which is not supposed to be because it should have been learnt while in school.
  4. Applied Linguistics and Sociolinguistics: These people should study language use in society and the problems associated with language learning and teaching. They should be experts if they can help with the research of the use of the English language in Nigeria.
  5. English as a Second Language (ESL): This section is a separate department in all universities in English speaking countries. It should also be given much priority in Nigeria.
  6. Creative Writing (Fiction): It is unfortunate that people graduate from English department, even from literature stress, and still pay heavily to learn how to write fiction. This section should even be further broken into different units – drama, poetry and prose.
  7. Creative Writing (Non-Fiction): This section should also be divided as its fictional counterpart.

There is no way anyone can say that when a student focuses on one particular thing, he will not become an expert in it. Packing up so many courses at the same time has never helped Nigerian students. Let them focus on one area so they can become well grounded in it. There is no need to make Nigerian students the proverbial jack of all trades that mastered none.

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