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Re-envisioning the Ghanaian ecolinguistic landscape: Local illustration, literacy instruction, and local languages


There are 79 languages in Ghana (Lewis, 2009), but the postcolonial language of English is the legislated official language. As a result, large numbers of Ghanaian children have never learned to read and write, especially in poor rural areas where there is lesser contact with English than in urban areas. One solution in recent years has been the National Literacy Acceleration Program (NALAP), implemented in early childhood education in February 2010, and initially reaching an estimated 2.7 million children (Ghana News Agency, 2010) through the distribution of over 5 million textbooks as well as the professional development of 80,000 teachers (RTI International, 2011). NALAP teaches reading and writing in local languages during a two-year kindergarten program and during grades 1-3, transitioning to English immersion in grade 4.

While it is too early to judge the success of NALAP (see a report on fidelity of implementation, RTI, 2011), technological innovations might be discussed which constitute significant elements in its design, but they are not digital because those would not reach the lion’s share of these children. Hence, the purpose of this short report is to briefly examine aspects of NALAP’s pedagogical materials that combine the work of a Ghanaian illustrator with reading and writing lessons. In this analysis technological innovation is framed as new relationships between local illustration, literacy instruction, and local languages.

These are noteworthy ecolinguistic relationships as local illustration had until NALAP only informed English literacy in nationwide efforts to strengthen early childhood Ghanaian education; today children (ages 4-9+) receiving NALAP potentially learn to read and write in one of eleven regionally dominant high status local languages and English. This, of course, begs the question of the fate of many other Ghanaian languages, a fate that remains to be seen as they could become critically endangered. Moreover, this is so despite the fact that all Ghanaian languages have developed orthographic components compatible with the Roman alphabet, with but minor variations, rendering them similarly easy for the 38 Ghanaian Teacher Education Colleges, also regionally dispersed, to produce curricula and teacher education were that on their agendas, but it is not.   

Nevertheless, it will be argued that NALAP represents a promising technological innovation in mother tongue literacy—at least a promising beginning—and, by implication, an important benchmark in the ecolinguistic reality of Ghana. Moreover, the adaptation and extension of local visual literacies through both composite and schematic illustration linked to reading and writing instruction hold potential for language revitalization efforts in other developing countries if shown to increase literacy and the rate of literacy.

Central to the argument is the theory of investment (Norton, 2000). It will be argued that emerging identities—often multilingual from birth—of Ghana’s underserved children will potentially more readily invest in literacy tasks because they build on prior visual and linguistic knowledge in child-centered ways. Moreover, if the construction of visual and linguistic literacies is a complex, dynamic, and adaptive integration of systems (Cazden, et al. [The New London Group], 1996; Cope & Kalantis, 2000), then the pedagogy should follow suit and be well integrated too. Finally, the argument made in this report will reflect the relationship between working memory and complex cognitive tasks required to comprehend and produce meaning through reading and writing (Baddeley, 2000) as this would seem to close a circle and fully reify the sociological and cognitive unity of experience (Brunner, 1996; Vygotsky, 1978).