English points

There was much to savour in Minakshi Maharaj’s insightful article on the use and teaching of English (FT20/1/18).

I would like to elaborate on one of the points made therein, viz that proficiency in English is not the sole criterion of intelligence.

“There are millions of brilliant people in the world who have never studied English. In Fiji, too, there are many highly intelligent people who may not have a high degree of mastery of English. Such people could perform exceedingly well in subjects (such as) maths, the sciences, economics and accounting.”

This is quite true, and a timely reminder, since we still adhere largely to the educational philosophy we have inherited from 1930s New Zealand: that English is the only language in which it is possible to be educated or skilled, and that the vernaculars are useless.

Yet if we were to take the trouble to develop curricula in our major vernaculars, and not make basic education dependent on competence in English, we would have many more literate, useful and even brilliant citizens.

We see the same erroneous principle at work in our Parliament, in which people who are not competent in English maybe arbitrarily deprived of the opportunity to contribute to their nation’s destiny.

In another sphere, people who want to be certified as rugby coaches need to pass exams in English.

Why cannot they learn and be examined in their mother tongue?

They’re not going to be talking to the local players in English! Many years ago the late Rupeni Ravonu approached me for help in translating rule books and coaching manuals — something that should have been done eons ago — and yet his efforts were thwarted (he told me) by ignorant elements in the FRU.

Surely the time has come to acknowledge that our vernacular languages are not an obstacle but a boon, and to use them in education and training in all spheres.

After all, that is what every advanced nation in the world is already doing.

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