Vernacular languages

YOUR correspondent Nishant Singh (FT 13/4) is right on both counts.

First, it makes no sense for any government to say that it supports vernacular languages, and at the same time ban those languages in the highest decision making body in the land.

Every previous government has allowed vernaculars in Parliament, and so do most democratic nations around the world, so there is no excuse. Participation in public life in Fiji should not be the exclusive domain of those who are fluent in English, and members of Parliament should be free to use their mother tongue if they so choose.

Second, the Ministry of Education should indeed clarify whether it allows schools to punish or fine students for speaking in the vernacular. I thought this ridiculous colonial practice — inherited from New Zealand — had long disappeared, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it still exists in some schools. As pointed out by Agni Deo Singh, general secretary of the Fiji Teachers Union (FT 14/4), research by eminent educators has proven that knowledge of one’s mother tongue facilitates learning a second language, and the reason our children are not proficient in English and are unable to grasp basic concepts being taught, is the lack of knowledge of their mother tongue.”

Forcing students to speak English at all times has the opposite effect so that intended — it contributes to the decline in standards of English, because they then speak English any old way — me rawa ga — and mistakes constantly repeated are very hard to eradicate.

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