Fanfare in Lagos as UNIC marks mother language day, urges parents to encourage mother tongue at home

Language is culture and a way of life. Little wonder it was all fun and fanfare in Lagos: Traditional drummers in their elements, display of traditional dance steps, oral poetry rendition in Yoruba language, participants in gorgeous traditional attires, educational briefing of students in Yoruba Language and at a venue decorated with cultural artefacts, all combined to make Tuesday, 21 February 2017, truly the International Mother Language Day in Nigeria.

Organised by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lagos, in collaboration with the Lagos Education District 1, Agege, and observed in the 99 schools under the administration of the District, the Mother Language Day event also featured the launch of the Guidelines on the use of Yoruba Language on Thursdays, at the Assembly Ground of all Public schools in the District. By the Guidelines, all public schools must on Thursdays conduct the Assembly Ground activities in Yoruba Language.

Addressing the over 400 participants at the observance of the 2017 International Mother Language Day in Lagos, the Director of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Mr Ronald Kayanja urged parents to teach and encourage their children to speak in their mother tongue. “Master your mother language. Teach and encourage your children to speak their mother language”, he said.

Explaining the 2017 theme: ‘Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education’, the Director noted that “To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.”

Mr Kayanja whose message was interpreted in Yoruba language by the National Information Officer of UNIC Lagos, Mr Oluseyi Soremekun, therefore, called on teachers to desist from cautioning students who speak in the mother tongue. “The era of ‘Do not speak in the vernacular’ is gone. The United Nations General Assembly has called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.” He said.

Mr Kayanja added that “promoting the mother language is part of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ and I want to commend the Lagos State Government for its commitment to promoting the mother language in schools”.

Clad in the traditional Yoruba attire, the Tutor General and Permanent Secretary of Lagos Education District 1, Dr (Mrs) Olufolayimika Ayandele, noted that the launch of the Guidelines was meant to draw attention to the need to promote mother language speaking, reading, listening, writing, teaching and learning. She said further that any student who has mastered the mother tongue would find other subjects easier if thought in the mother tongue.

“Besides”, the Tutor General continued, “a good understanding of the mother language, would not impede the development and the performances of the students in any field they have chosen,” she continued, “All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world.”

The International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62) and has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.