The Northern Awareness Movement is gaining momentum because it seeks to intervene in the common problem of poor education in the northern states. There are many factors that contribute to the low school enrolment and retention rates among those from poor socio-economic backgrounds in northern Nigeria. Problems such as poverty, poor infrastructure and, among others, a lack of trust in a western-oriented education system plague the region. In 1999, the Federal Government of Nigeria introduced the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program which was an effort to provide free and compulsory education across Nigeria for all those of school going age. Today, even though basic education is free, millions of children do not go to school and many who do perform poorly. To achieve quality Education for All in Nigeria, we cannot afford to ignore this situation. We must work together in order to meet the learning needs of all.

At NAM, we believe that one effective way of tackling the problem of educational deprivation in northern Nigeria is to focus on language. Nigeria is a country blessed with diversity and this diversity in culture has gifted us a diversity of language. Though our official language is English, English is not one of our many mother tongues. This divide between mother tongue and English has created a gulf in education within which a vast majority of our northern Nigerian students fall.

The medium of instruction in schools across the country is the English language. Northern Nigeria is predominantly monolingual (Hausa language) and where students do speak another language, it is usually not English. One reason why southern Nigeria fares better when it comes to education is simply that they have a better grasp of the English language. A child sees the world through his/her language and through their culture, therefore, learning should start through this familiar context. UNESCO considers that “providing education in a child’s mother tongue is indeed a critical issue.”

I therefore strongly propose to NAM to facilitate the establishment of learning centres that will complement government schools by teaching specific subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, I.T and others in Hausa, the predominant language of the north. These centres could be used to augment what is already there in the form of evening and weekend classes. Adult education can also be considered depending on the scope of material in the language.

Mother tongue-based schooling has been tried and tested successfully in countries such as Bangladesh which suffers similar problems in their education systems. Education consultants have observed that in regions where the mother tongue is used as a medium of instruction, pupils have a sense of self-worth and value, cultural identity, a place in the community, emotional stability and reduced alienation and social dysfunction.

In order for us to combat situations where teachers and students don’t understand each-other, where parents are excluded from their child’s education, where students suffer a lack of confidence in themselves and interest in what they are learning, we can use a mother tongue-based schooling approach.

As mentioned previously, there are millions of students already out of school (most of them girls) and a vast majority of those in school do not do well. A mother tongue-based schooling approach will facilitate the success of those in school and may even attract those out of school to return.