The teaching and learning of the English language from the colonial era until about the mid-1980s was strongly characterized by understanding and competence, both in terms of academic performance and communication.
This may be explained by the importance given to the language as a language of official transactions and a tool for functioning beyond its immediate environment. It also proved instrumental in getting a good job at the time.
Moreover, English was mastered by its users in the media, government administration and even in social interactions.
It was the time when even primary school leavers could communicate clearly in the language, and high school graduates could perform well with their writing skills.
Unfortunately, the last twenty years have seen a turnaround in the quality of English language teaching and learning, and the situation has gotten so bad that the rate of English language failure in secondary school exams is become worrisome.
The terrible performance in recent years reflects many human and non-human factors that will be discussed in this article.
To begin with, the government started the whole problem with its insufficient funding of education at all levels.
The indifference of the government towards the faculties of education, colleges of education and other teacher training institutes in the country has reduced the quality of teaching and learning in the country.
Teaching has become anyone’s job due to the brain drain and the discrediting of this work due to inadequate funding.
For many, education is now their last resort. That said, the low financing of education has resulted in the preponderance of private institutions.
On the one hand, qualified teachers now attend good private schools where they are better paid. On the other hand, there are also many private schools with teachers who should still be students.
The faculties of education of many institutions of higher learning have also become alternative admissions centers for people who cannot attend their preferred courses.
Undoubtedly, the government has a huge role to play if the quality of education in general and the quality of English language teaching is to be restored.
Moreover, labor shortage is another government-related problem. There are not enough teachers teaching English in schools.
Notably, different aspects of the language such as oral English, composition and grammar need to be taught by different teachers. On the contrary, all these aspects are taken care of by one person, in many schools.
The environment is another serious factor affecting the teaching and learning of English in Nigeria. There is an irony worth mentioning in this article.
Students spoke and wrote the English language better when they were allowed to speak their native languages and the English language simultaneously.
Nigeria suddenly reached a period where our indigenous languages were stigmatized as vernaculars.
We encourage students to speak a language they don’t live in the culture of, while they live in a culture we forbid them to speak.
Therefore, we have students who are neither here nor there. They cannot speak their mother tongue or English effectively.
Notable writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Niyi Osundare, JP Clarke and many more have written amazing literature because they were grounded in their language or mother tongue first which gave them a vivid view of the world that they could report in English.
Indigenous languages facilitate learning. It should also be mentioned that young people have the ability to understand several languages simultaneously.
It is therefore a false impression to think that the use of their mother tongue would hinder their ability to use the English language proficiently.
Thus, it should be ensured that the appropriate languages are used accurately in different contexts.
Mother tongues should be spoken at home and the English language can be used in schools and other formal settings.
Schools also contribute to the decline in the level of education in general and in the teaching of English in particular.
The government does not pay public school teachers well, and there is the unsavory situation of some private school teachers who owe salaries for months. Such circumstances discourage teachers considerably.
Again, among many private school owners, the emphasis is now much more on the need to help students pass their exams than on the importance of preparing them for active intellectual growth.
It becomes a deficit the moment these students are admitted to higher institutions and cannot function to their fullest.
The previous school problem is intimately linked to that of parents who are only interested in the upward mobility of pupils without worrying about the corresponding increase in intellectual development.
Honestly speaking, what do you teach children who know that you helped them shape their age?
When parents forge children’s ages of 13 or 14 to make sure they meet the requirements for 16-year-olds, one wonders what those parents are in a rush to accomplish when the kids end up getting their diploma at 19 years old. without native intelligence and proper exposure to life.
Furthermore, parents cannot afford to leave the entirety of their ward’s development to their teachers and assume that their only job is to provide for them.
They should be concerned with the academic progress of their offspring, not just promotion. As such, parents should pay attention to the interests of their children and let that guide their way.
It should be emphasized again that compulsory education ends after lower secondary school. That’s why the last class there is now called Basic 9.
Schooling should not be seen as a compulsory duty. A child who wants to become an actor can be enrolled in an academy from an early age, and one who enjoys braiding hair can be apprenticed in a fancy salon.
Those who wish to pursue formal education will happily do so and will not view school as a rip-off, if that is what they want for themselves.
Indeed, learning, including language learning, will be easier.
Also Read: Teaching English in the 21st Century
A child’s desire is therefore a crucial determinant of the quality of his learning, including language.
In this context, it is necessary to be attentive to the passions of children to guide them in their career path.
Students can also be blamed for the decline in their academic skills in general and their English skills in particular.
Akeredolu-Ale (2007) argues that learners’ attitudes and motivation contributed most decisively to learners’ language acquisition performance.
Nigeria has been ranked by the World Culture Score Index as one of the countries in the world with the lowest reading culture, while available statistics from the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult Education and non-formal education show that 38% of Nigerians are illiterate, as four out of ten primary school children cannot read to understand.
Even in institutions of higher learning, reading, for many students, has become a mere academic sacrifice, not anything for personal growth.
It is also important for students to understand that beyond the need to pass tests and exams, reading expands their vocabulary, improves their sense of coherence, sharpens their intellect, and expands their worldview.
This piece discussed the major challenges affecting English language teaching and learning in Nigeria. The situation can be better if the relevant stakeholders play their part accordingly.