That We May Leave A Footprint… BY AGBA JALINGO

In Akwa-Cross Entertainment, Breaking News, Opinion

Yours sincerely had a conversation with Maazi Ogbonanya, who wrote the first Physics textbook in Igbo language today and he is so emphatic that this effort is just the beginning. He intends to get as much feedback, criticisms, and reviews as possible to enable him to subsequently improve on this phenomenal groundbreak he has achieved, and that sounds intentional, promising, and methodical.

After listening to him keenly, I could only encourage him by recounting an account I read in the Biography of Professor Babatunde Fafunwa. In the biography of Nigeria’s foremost educationist, the late Professor Babs Fafunwa, published by the KPI Institute, he shared an experience he had in Igboland in 1963, while he was observing the teaching of nature study in Primary IV, a class of 10-year-olds. According to him, the teacher had a colorful picture on the wall showing different animals and vegetation. He wanted the children to describe what was in the picture. Several hands were up. However, when the teacher indicated that he wanted the answers in English, all hands went down. This was a painful situation for Fafunwa and he vowed to promote mother-tongue education whenever the opportunity arose.

Fafunwa also recalled the period when his father and his relations worked with the Nigerian railways. Many of those who worked as illiterate technicians developed the habit of ‘Yorubanizing’ technical terms. Thus, there were such ‘Yorubanized’ words as kopulu for ‘couple’, boila for ‘boiler’, wosa for ‘washer’, wagunu for ‘wagon’, and braketi for ‘bracket’.

Physics and its laws precede English. Physics vernacular is understood only by those who understand Physics. In fact, the laws are formulas and equations obtained by wrestling with nature and gaining understanding over time. Every person have to find a way to reduce those formulas to digest-able meaning for their population. The same way the English people ‘Englisized’ the formulas. The same way the Arabs ‘Arabnized’ the formulas. Same way the Chinese, ‘Chinesed’ the formulas. Same way the Japanese, ‘Japanized’ the formulas.

Factually, there are more people in the world studying physics up to the most advanced level, in languages other than English, than those studying it in English. No language ever had the equational equivalents in a drawer where they pulled from. The cross sign+ that represents ‘addition’ today is not English. If you want to write the ‘addition’ sign, in Hindi or Arabic or Mandarin, or Malay, you won’t use the cross sign+. They have created their own representation for this sign, some of which precede English for millennia.

From the records, as indicated in Fafunwa’s biography, between 1842 and 1881, the mission schools encouraged instructions in the mother tongue. Examinations were still written in English. But they encouraged instructions also in mother tongue. They held that the child would benefit cognitively, socially, culturally, and linguistically through the consumption of knowledge in the mother tongue. Indigenous languages only began to suffer setbacks when the colonial government included a clause in the Education Ordinance of 1882 (Clause 10, section 5), which stipulated that grants would only be paid for the teaching and learning of the English language and not for the teaching and learning of vernaculars.

The short-term impact of this ordinance was, forbidding children from speaking their vernacular in their schools in their communities and the consequences for breaking this rule was receiving some strokes of the cane or manual punishment. The long-term impact of this ordinance is that, we now have an educational system that is alienated from our people and culture, that is not tailored for problem-solving but for cramming and passing examinations for grades.

That is why the effort by Maazi Ogbonnaya to produce a Physics textbook in Igbo language, has to be applauded. It is also noteworthy that, before the commendable effort by Maazi Ogbonanya to write his Physics textbook in Igbo language, in 2017, a Mellon Fellow from Tulane University, Taofeeq Adebayo, along with four graduate students from the University of Ibadan, translated Longman’s Basic Science 1, into Yoruba language. The book is now used to teach students in some parts of the South West. The initial idea is to get feedback from them regarding how the translation can be improved to meet their classroom needs and how he can subsequently design the translation so that it is accessible not only to the students but also to the teachers, as well as parents who read in Yoruba.

So, this attempt to create these aphorisms in a manner that brings the meaning of Physics closer to a people of a distinct dialect in South East Nigeria is a new and uncharted path in that clime. It provides an enviable opportunity for us to build on, and continue to devise novel indigenous lingo for achieving the same for other inventive subjects like Arithmetic, Chemistry, Algebra, Calculus, Geometry, Biology, Basic Sciences, etc.

It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate this feat or you consider it not commendable, the work will speak for itself. What I think has happened here is that inventive knowledge will spiral downward and this block that has been molded will be built upon and history will remember Maazi Ogbonanya, for this footprint that will surely lead to numerous foot holes.

Yours sincerely,

Citizen Agba Jalingo is the Publisher of CrossRiverWatch and a rights activist, a Cross Riverian, and writes from Lagos.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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