Education has been described as the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which make one a functional member of society. Many have erroneously likened education to schooling, which is just an aspect of it. Educationists talk about three kinds of education, namely: formal education, non-formal education and informal education.
Formal education is structured learning which takes place in a school or a similar institution. Formal education builds cognition and is likened to the cognitive domain of learning. Non-formal education deals with planned and structured programs and activities geared towards instilling skills and technical knowledge outside the formal education curriculum. With its interest in dexterity and technique, non-formal education is similar to the psychomotor domain of learning. Informal education deals with the kind of learning that occurs outside a structured curriculum; it concerns attitudes and values. It is the kind of education that is instilled into a child from cradle and that the child continues to use until death. It deals with empathy, love, good manners, compassion and whatnot; that is why it is connected to the affective domain of learning. These three types of education have also been described as the three H’s of man: formal education (the head), non-formal education (the hand) and informal education (the heart).
Having explained education and its types, I shall proceed to establish the importance of English language to the realization of a quality education in Nigeria.
First of all, it is important to establish the difference between “the English language” and “English language.” The former is used when English is emphasized as a language. In other words:
Non-standard: English language is spoken by over one billion people.
Standard: The English language is spoken by over one billion people.
By contrast, we say “English language” when English refers to a subject taught at educational institutions.
Non-standard: She got an A for the English language.
Standard: She got an A for English language.
Take note that, in both contexts, the “l” in “language” is not capitalized. Hence, do not write:
Non-standard: The English Language is spoken by billions of people.
Non-standard: She got an A for English Language.
With this clarification, I can proceed to discuss the importance of English language as a subject connected to the different types of education. In formal education, the National Policy on Education (NPE) (section 3f) states that: “From the fourth year, English shall progressively be used as a medium of instruction and the language of immediate environment and French shall be taught as subjects.” This means that from primary four upward, English serves as the language of instruction for other subjects and also as a compulsory subject for students. This emphasizes the importance of English language as a subject and the reason attention must be paid to its appropriate and effective teaching in schools.
English language also has to be effectively taught in vocational and technical schools. The NPE (2014: 24) explains technical and vocational education and training as a comprehensive term referring to those aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupations in various sectors of economic and social life. English language has a crucial role to play in effective vocational education because the textbooks and technical manuals used for these programs are mainly written in the English language. Again, the students at vocational schools need competence in the English language in order to deal with the jargon (technical terms) used in their specific fields. Importantly, too, competence in English will help them establish their relevance in society. All of these realities make the teaching of English language very important, even in non-formal education.
Finally, in informal education, the teaching of English language is instrumental in students’ ability to exhibit the right values and attitudes. The knowledge of modals, for instance, helps one to communicate with politeness. Let us take a critical look at the sentences below:
Give me your pen, please.
Could you please give me your pen?
While both sentences perform the same function, the second will be adjudged polite and appropriate because of the use of the modal auxiliary “could.” Such knowledge lies in the effective teaching of the English language.
In conclusion, English language has to be effectively taught in Nigeria and other countries where it serves as the official language, as a quality education and learning largely depend on competence in the English language. Again, it is important to pay attention to the development of indigenous languages with a view to encouraging the younger generation to use these languages. This eases the difficulty of learning a second language.