Background of the Study
In Nigeria, English language is the medium of instruction in schools, medium for government administration, mass media, commerce, law and politics. Apart from being a core subject in the school curriculum, the Federal Republic of Nigeria National Policy on education (2004) has it that all school instructions from upper primary (4-6) to tertiary level will be carried out in English language.
The policy states:
- for primary school, which lasts six years, each child must study two languages, namely his mother tongue (if available for study) or indigenous language of wider communication in his area of domicile and English language.
- For junior secondary school (JSS) which is for three years’ duration, the child must study three languages viz:
- his mother tongue (where it has orthography and literature) or and indigenous language of wider communication in his area of domicile,
- English language, and
- Anyone of the three major indigenous languages in the country, namely, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba provided the language chosen is distinct from the child’s mother tongue.
- In Senior Secondary School (SSS), which lasts three years, the child must study two languages; viz:
- An indigenous language, and
- English language
Of all the subjects which Senior Secondary School students and other candidates take in West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), English has remained a core subject both in Junior and Senior Secondary classes. It is a subject which candidates must pass if their overall success in the examination is to have any value. Considering different universities’ departmental requirements, a candidate who has „A’ grade pas in all subjects he/she offered in WASSCE but fails English language cannot gain admission into any university. A pass at credit level is an essential requirement for admission into any higher Institution of learning irrespective of the course of study. (JAMB 2009/2010 Brochure).
Judging from the above, therefore, English language learning in Nigeria is a matter of ensuring that students have a complete mastery of the language. The Nigeria students’ use of the English language in schools has numerous learning problems. Many students come from homes and environments in which English is not used. The students, therefore, have a lot of difficulties mastering the language. The students need to be proficient in English in order to benefit from entrance into tertiary institution or gain employment. This proficiency calls for reading, comprehension, structural competence and a large stock of vocabulary for the students to understand and produce utterance on various topics. According to Akabogu (2002), a student who does not have enough vocabulary can neither understand comprehension passages nor construct sentences to express himself/herself freely on various topics.
Reading and comprehension are specialized activities which are very important in a person’s educational pursuit. Effective compression helps the reader to read, extract meaning and generate ideas from the information got from the text (Akpama, Egong and Akwa, 2005). Reading and comprehension have to operate as one concept due to their synonymous relationship. Comprehension is a by-product of reading. It does not occur in the absence of reading neither is reading interesting or meaningful without understanding. For whatever reason a student decides to read, comprehension is aimed at, and a reader does not continue to read if he does not comprehend the material.
Effective comprehension for students in the context areas is important. Akpama et al (2005) assert that the comprehension questions which students answer in examination expose their level of understanding of various aspects of the language, that is, the grammar, vocabulary, and content level. This shows that lack of competence in any of these affects the general performance of students in English language, adversely.
For a long period of time, the Government, the Universities, the general public and the West African Examination Council have to express disappointment at the annual poor performance of candidates especially in
English language. Onukaogu, (1993), found out that over 70% of candidates failed because of their performance in the comprehension and summary sections of English language paper 1 (English Paper 1). According to him over 40% of those who failed in this section scored less than 10% because their inability to understand a passage makes it difficult for them to summarize it. All these are indications that most of the students are not exposed to the written word. They were not only not well prepared, but have a very limited vocabulary and lacked the necessary techniques of answering comprehension questions. Instead of reading and understanding and then stating the answers to particular questions in their own words, most of the students would copy out portions of the passages, thereby manifesting their inability to generate the ideas of the passage in their own words (Onukaogu 1993). Also as a result of poor exposure to extensive reading, many students perform badly in vocabulary test. This is seen in the nature of words students give as synonyms for the words set in vocabulary tests.
Reading is more than recognition of words. It is a meaningful interpretation of words, phrases and sentences, requiring all types of thinking (Eyisi, 2005). Reading is the bedrock of formal education and so, no one can neglect it and still find learning in a formal situation easy. In agreement with this statement, Wilkins (1972), states that it is only through massive exposure to language that vocabulary meaning could be acquired, and this acquisition, he believes, can probably be achieved only through extensive reading. Similarly,
Chukwuma and Otaburuagu (1997) also observe that the more one reads a material extensively; one becomes more proficient in the language. Being more proficient in English assumes that one could confidently and correctly manipulate the grammatical structures, use words adequately in speech and writing and above all, one’s communication becomes more effective.
Materials for extensive reading are divided into literary and non-literary works. Under literary works are novel, plays, poems, short stories and tales. Daily newspapers, weekly or monthly magazines, biographies, autobiographies and social commentaries are group under non- literary works. For student at senor secondary level, exposure to literary works through the study of literature in English may enhance their proficiency in the English language. Literature according to encyclopedia Americana is an imaginative form of expression whose major feature is seen essentially as a form of art whose distinguishing trait is functionality, creative imagination and uses words as its instruments. It is a sure way of cultivating reading culture in students and bringing them in contact with the language as it is. Creating a clearer picture of the role of literature in effective communication and information, Ossisonwa (1997) maintains that a creative prose writer has a number of tools at his disposal which include the use of lexical items, syntactic patterning, semantic field and special semantic usage (idioms and figures of speech). Considering the above statement these linguistic instruments, when properly formed in the mind of the readers, make them acquire proficiency both in written and oral speech. It goes a long way in improving their comprehension of a passage.
The interrelatedness of literature and language cannot be overemphasized. Interrelationship between literature and language tends to explain that language is not separable from literature. None has and or should have an edge over the other because they are complementary. Azikwe (2007) brings it to the fore when she states that to learn a language is to develop skills; to learn the literature written in that language is to understand it. In learning the English language, the students are taught different aspects of language but in literature in English student see the language in use. Hence the study of literature may enhance the mastery of the language. The West African Examination Council’s objective for the teaching of literature in English in Secondary School and their objectives in examining English Paper 1 (Essay, Comprehension and Summary) bring out clearly the complementary nature of the two subjects. One of the objectives of teaching literature is to aid the learning of the language in which the literary work is composed as well as develop the reader’s creative and thinking ability, (WAEC syllabus, 200 9-2012 session). Also the objectives of examining English paper 1, as enumerated in the syllabus and WAEC marking scheme include testing the student’s ability to communicate in writing, reading and understand different kinds of English prose; and to summarize the whole or part of a passage.
Examining the objectives of the two schools subjects critically, one can see that the study of literature in English may be an aid to the mastery of the English language. It may go a long way in improving the achievements of students in reading comprehension and the English language, generally.
Literary art does not only help in mastering the skills for communication but also hold the key for the understanding of other subjects. Within and within (2000), stress the role of literature in understanding of other subjects when they state that writing and talking are the ways that learners can make their mathematical thinking visible and that both writing and talking are tools for collaboration, discovery, and reflection. Palmer (1998) also asserts that Literature is an application of linguistic science which is not science itself. He sees Literature as the history and practice of the written forms of a language which has become classic. Furthermore, William (1999), also speaking on the role of literature in the understanding of other subjects said that knowledge of humanities and science can be gained from literature.
The knowledge of literature forms the foundation upon which the child’s proficiency in English is built. Stressing the supremacy of literature in the area of communication, Vincent (1998) argues that English is important but Literature is one sure way of transmitting and developing communication ability in children and adult. English as an International language is, among other things, the language of science and technology. In the view of Igiligi (2006), scientist or technologist or mathematician whose hobby is reading Literature-in English such as novels or other genres or literary works usually develops a good reading culture and has a better command of English than his counterpart who reads only materials or works that are directly related to his area of specialization.
Consequently, it is also not off point to state that literature has helped readers to develop the ability to discover specific facts, infer meaning of unknown words from the contexts, acquire reading habit, respond to opinion expressed by the writer, especially in his interaction with a short prose composition such as short stories or comprehension. In addition, literature helps the readers to develop the spirit of creativity and to reflect on the knowledge acquired from literature in real life situations.
Modern literature has a lot of lessons to teach us. Fictional prose has the functions of educating, entertaining, cultural transmission and preservation. Igiligi and Ogenyi (2002), state that “the classical function of literature is to delight or please and to teach or instruct”. Literature, whether fiction, poetry, or drama educates its readers. Literature is not only aesthetic but also didactic in literary works. From what happens to the major and minor characters in a novel, for example, the reader can learn one or two lessons and thus becomes wiser. For instance, from Chinua Achebe’s ‘No Longer at Ease’, it is learnt that dreams and realities are as far apart as theories and practices in a corrupt society. Also from IsidoreOkphewho’s ‘The Last Duty’, one learns that war is not good and should be avoided.
Literature assists in the function of cultural transmission and preservation. Culture is a way of life. It is the way people live. Cultures are transmitted from generation to generation, otherwise they become extinct. For example, Achebe’s early novels and those of his contemporaries tell the world how the Igbo people lived before and after the coming of the white man. Some rich Igbo proverbs are being preserved in those works which also tell the yardstick for measuring greatness, social status, and personal achievements among the Igbo then. Additionally, reading works of art with different cultural and geographical setting from ours enables one to tolerate other people’s cultures and views.