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Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. English Textbooks in Cameroon. RTE, May 2016. Posted 07/01/2016.

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Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. “Textbooks, Literacy, and Citizenship: The Case of Anglophone Cameroon.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 378-99. Print.

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw reports on a study of English-language teaching materials in Cameroon. She addresses textbooks from four periods of recent Cameroonian history: the colonial era of the 1950s and 1960s, the postindependence period of the 1980s, the postcolonial years reaching into the early 2000s, and the “era of globalization,” which the country is now experiencing (381).

To investigate the colonial context, Yenika-Agbaw reviewed the Oxford English Readers for Africa (OERA), which, published in the 1930s, was a “staple in the curriculum” (379). Beginning in the postcolonial period, educators moved to “alternative textbooks,” including the Evans Cameroon Primary English series (ECPE), the Primary English for Cameroon series (PEC), and the Basic English for Cameroon series (BEC) (379). Yenika-Agbaw notes that the PEC and BEC are “current” (379).

Yenika-Agbaw chose these texts for analysis from lists of the most commonly used textbook series in Cameroon. The head librarian of the Penn State Education and Behavioral Sciences Library helped her obtain these lists as well as a copy of the OERA. She owned the EPCE and visited Cameroon to purchase the series topping the lists, PEC and BEC (384-85). She read all the materials, selecting “nonfiction” sections that addressed citizenship and national identity (385-86).

Yenika-Agbaw’s questions involve how educational materials in the Anglophone Cameroonian language-arts curriculum constructed students’ identities as members of Cameroonian culture and as citizens. Her theoretical focus derives from postcolonial theory as developed by scholars like Henry Giroux, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha, and others (382). This scholarship analyzes texts to posit that colonialism and its outgrowths over time “produce a culture of hybridity” in which historical and evolving forces influence each other (382).

Yenika-Agbaw also cites work by M. V. Tlostanova and W. D. Mignolo that sees “the problem of the twenty-first century” as one of “dwelling in the borders” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 382; emphasis original). Such “border dwellers,” this scholarship proposes, have the opportunity to address the inequality underlying colonialism.

Yenika-Agbaw argues that Cameroon’s trajectory through multiple colonial relationships and its deep multiculturalism, evinced in part by the existence of more than 200 languages, make it a rich source for study of the effects of colonialism. She notes tensions between resistance to what B. T. Kishani calls “languages of dependency” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 380) and the social capital inherent in the use of these languages (380). She draws on the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o to position her research in the study of how language conveys values and identities (380).

Yenika-Agbaw uses content analysis to draw inferences about the development of Cameroon’s educational practices from a reading of the textbook series in light of their contexts (382). She notes only two other scholars who have addressed textbook use in Africa (383). Her work, she states, differs from that of these researchers in that she is interested in the cultural messages in the four texts rather than “the linguistic expectations of well-intentioned professionals” about such topics as grammar and usage (383).

Her analysis of the country’s transitions reveals a trend of moving from outright adulation of British and European culture to a more nuanced awareness of Cameroon as a unique, independent country. The OERA, used during the colonial period, encourages students to admire European products and points to Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan as models of exemplary accomplishment (387). Citing Bhabha, she argues that during this colonial period, “[l]earning how to speak/read/write in English is thus synonymous with learning how to be British and earning one’s place in the British empire,” as well as in Europe with its material goods (387).

The ECPE, used during the postindependence phase, introduces village and family life as essential components of a Cameroonian citizenry. Cultural sites such as a “Handicraft Centre” are also presented (388). However, Yenika-Agbaw finds that British and European “famous people/inventors” continue to dominate lessons. Europe is presented as a place students should hope to visit (389). Thus this textbook series bridges colonial commitment to European supremacy and an emerging awareness of the distinctive nature of Cameroonian citizenship.

Yenika-Agbaw locates PEC, still in use, in the postcolonial era. This series addresses the global environment through a unit on the United Nations and its multinational peacekeeping efforts. The text explicitly presents Cameroon’s “National Day” as a marker of the country’s independent status. However, it also invites continued affirmation of the nation’s British heritage with a section on Cameroon’s involvement in the Commonwealth games (389-90). Students are encouraged to admire a wealthy South African male and two famous Western females, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Serena Williams (391). Yenika-Agbaw sees this mixed focus as “a struggle to assert Cameroon’s independence from colonialism while working with the tools inherited from this sociopolitical legacy” (391).

According to Yenika-Agbaw, BEC, also still current, expands the global context by asking students to consider their personal impact on “nature” and by introducing the complexities of refugees affected by the Rwandan crisis (392). These discussions are juxtaposed with sections on Cameroon’s official “Youth Day” and with presentations on Cameroonian Christmas celebrations. Yenika-Agbaw proposes that this text offers the possibility of “multiple citizenship,” in which students can identify with a global community while still identifying as members of their own country (392).

Yenika-Agbaw traces two persistent themes through the four series. A notion of “white male supremacy” dominates the early texts; the later texts work to transcend this focus, but can only do so by featuring women who are not from Black Africa, wealthy individuals with little to teach young Cameroonians about their own place in modern culture, and a Western version of Christmas not “typical” of Cameroonian practice (394).

Drawing again on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Yenika-Agbaw posits that the authors of the textbooks, even when they are Cameroonian, may be influenced by their roles as “the first generation of Educated Africans,” entrenched in the legacies of their “Eurocentric education[s]” (395). A continuing view of Europe as an appropriate cultural model, she contends, may be “the price former British colonies pay” in seeking the perquisites offered by fluency in English (395).

She urges educators to remember the power of educational materials to affect students’ sense of their own place in world cultures and warns against a definition of citizenship that “innocently disenfranchises children within their continents and countries of origin and this leaves them culturally and literarily uprooted” instead of providing them with the tools to navigate a diverse world (396).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

3 thoughts on “Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. English Textbooks in Cameroon. RTE, May 2016. Posted 07/01/2016.

  1. Pingback: AT COLLEGE COMPOSITION WEEKLY: Learning English in Cameroon | Virginia S. Anderson

  2. “ELT [English language teaching] from Development Aid to Global Commodity,” a chapter in Alastair Pennycook’s The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (1994) would be a great companion to this article. I’d love to use both of these in a class preparing future teachers of English as a foreign language!

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