Angola’s only official language is currently Portuguese, which was introduced when it was a Portuguese colony. Making English an official language would not only demonstrate that Angola is unequivocally unshackling itself from its colonial legacy – the change offers significant socio-economic benefits too.
English is the world’s most widely spoken language – with 1.5 billion speakers. Just roughly 400 million use it as their mother tongue, with the balance using it as a secondary language, making this the first truly global lingua franca – one that is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The global use of the language, and its adoption as the standard corporate language of many multinationals, such as Daimler-Chrysler, Airbus, Nestle and SAP) means that it is powerfully linked to business activity, economic growth and prosperity. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Christopher McCormick finds that:
- Research shows a direct correlation between a population’s English skills and the economic performance of the country with indicators like gross national income (GNI) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rising.
- Greater English proficiency is connected with a rise in per head income.
- Job applicants with “exceptional” English compared with their country’s level earn 30-50% more.
Adopting English will turbo-charge Angola’s economic development, making it easier for foreign companies to invest and do business in the country and for Angolan businesses to expand internationally. With two of its neighbours, Namibia and Zambia, both using English extensively, the shift would also strengthen regional economic ties, making cross-border trade and investment much easier.
Making English an official language has the potential to unlock manifold international opportunities for Angolan citizens, such as studying and working abroad. Crucially, English language proficiency would enable them to command better jobs and higher salaries, regardless of where they are based – improving the quality of life of themselves and their families, and leading to increased tax revenues that can fund government-provided services.
Reaping the Rewards
A shift to English has African precedents: in recent decades it was made an official language of Rwanda and Burundi, both historically francophone. Since 2011, English has been Rwanda’s medium of instruction for schooling from the fourth year onwards. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s economy grew by an average of 7.2% a year over the decade to 2019, while its per head GDP grew at 5% – making it one of the continent’s fastest growing economies.
According to the latest edition of the EF English Proficiency Index – the world’s largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills based on the test results of 2.1m adults – Angola languishes near the bottom of the 111 countries and regions surveyed (at 105) and has the fourth lowest score of African countries evaluated. For this to improve, a comprehensive, multi-faceted rollout of English language education is needed.
One of the most important places to start is within the education system. We need to recruit foreign national English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructors and deploy them to primary and secondary schools as well as universities (an initiative which could be modeled on Japan’s hugely successful JET Program or the British Council’s English Language Assistants program).
There need to be immersion classes and training in English for teachers already employed. English should be a mandatory subject from the first year of schooling, with a target date for it to become the official medium of instruction once teachers are sufficiently competent.
A model worth replicating is the success of the Complexo Escolar Privado Internacional (CEPI) – a highly reputable school run by ABO Capital in Luanda to help expand access to international education in Angola. Last year, its students won over 50 awards at international education competitions. The school has introduced Maple Bear, a globally renowned Canadian education system that brings bilingual instruction and international academic standards to schools around the world, setting students up for success in life.
With teaching in both English and Portuguese, the Maple Bear program is currently being rolled out for more than 200 students from pre-K to second grade, and it is expected to be implemented across the remaining primary to high school grades by the next academic year.
Education should not end in childhood, however. Angola should provide free or subsidized English language ‘night schools’ for adults and tax credits or subsidies for workplace English language training. In addition, access to internet-enabled English language learning for all ages can help propel the adoption of the English language.
As a country, Angola could also drastically increase the amount of English language programming on TV and radio (for all ages), with news bulletins also reverting to English. While it will take an investment of time and money, these interventions will ensure that Angola is fully able to reap the economic and social rewards of making English an official language.
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