There is a growing debate around the world concerning the best language for science to be taught in. English, being a global language and the language of many of the leading nations in science, has been the natural choice. Today, many countries with local languages are weighing out the possibilities of introducing science learning in their vernacular languages very early in the school curriculum. There are pros and cons of such a move and numerous examples of nations at different points along this journey of indigenization. India and Nigeria are good examples.
The Case of India
India is currently moving to expand science education to many of the vernacular languages. This nation of over a billion people has many local languages, 22 of which are official. English is the natural medium for science education, but this presents an accessibility challenge because only 12 percent of the population can communicate in it.
The government there, led by the prime minister, are pushing for the translation of science materials in health science and biotechnology to various local languages. It is a massive task, but one they believe is going to promote their own languages and decolonize education.
The Case of Nigeria
Nigeria is another example of a nation with many indigenous languages that is realizing the potential benefits of expanding science learning. As Africa’s most highly populated country, Nigeria has 190 million people and over 520 vernacular languages.
In 2017, the west African nation’s Ministry of Education expressed its commitment to introduce science in three of the country’s local languages. This ambitious goal was met with a few obstacles, including unavailability of teachers and adequate students from the different regions. Since then, strides have been made towards accomplishing the ministry’s goal.
Reasons and Benefits Behind Teaching Science in Vernacular
Many other countries around the world also have many, many local languages. Through colonization, globalization, and migration, many of these have been overshadowed by languages such as English and French. Some vernaculars are even at risk of being lost as the populations of speakers dwindle. It doesn’t help that most of these indigenous languages are hardly taught in schools, if at all.
Teaching science in the languages of the local people is a move that can uplift the use and importance of local languages. It can also increase accessibility by bring science to the large populations that cannot speak English. Children deserve to learn some science as part of their schooling, regardless of where they come from and what their mother tongue is.
Challenges of Teaching Science in Vernacular Languages
While bringing science education to local languages is a noble pursuit with many good reasons and benefits, there are also challenges involved. Consider the logistical issues such as translating current science materials into vernacular languages. Many of these languages have limited vocabulary compared with English and few technical terms. New words might need to be coined, or the most technical ones could be borrowed from the English, Latin, and Greek languages.
There is also the question of when the best time to introduce this science education might be. Entire education systems might need to be shifted and tweaked considerably to incorporate not just science in the vernacular but also vernacular at high school and college levels. In many countries, the vernacular is taught for only a few years. Science teachers who can teach the subject in the different local languages also need to be trained and equipped. There is also the question of how much students who learn science in less-spoken languages can participate in global platforms.