article comment count is: 0

Questioning the importance of English language proficiency tests

Many African countries use English as the official language, which is also the medium of instruction in schools. However, it is shocking that Africans from Anglophone speaking countries have to prove their proficiency despite years of education. Applicants who wish to attend British and U.S. institutions have to pay a hefty amount to write or retake international proficiency exam IELTS or TOEFL.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a language based exam organised by the British Council. It costs $200 (N75,000) and tests one’s English language ability. The academic test is for those who want to study at a tertiary institution in an English speaking country, while the general test is for those who want to migrate to an English speaking country or gain work experience there. IELTS is not the only language test required to be taken. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) which has a validity of two years and costs $170 is a requirement forced on many seeking to study in tertiary institutions outside the continent.

Writing an English proficiency exam every two years raises a lot of questions. Is the British Council and the European (read UK), Australian and American universities unaware that English is the language of instruction in African countries (Commonwealth) colonised by Britain? For critics and cynics they question if these visa fees, are money making scheme for these institutions? The existence of the Commonwealth is enough evidence of the participation in the English language, or so we in Africa would think.

This is Africa contacted Obinna Ezeh pushing for the removal of IELTS as a prerequisite with the hashtag #EndIELTSNow using the Twitter handle @travelBrothers_. He said, “Nigeria is a commonwealth country and a former English colony and English is the official language of the country, why still take IELTS? I take IELTS; I prove that I’m proficient in English. Two years later, I have to renew my proficiency subscription because my English is no longer good enough. If we must take IELTS across Africa, certificate validity must be for life. The fee must be reviewed, it is too high and I consider it as a way to launder money from Africans.”

Read: Tanzania to ditch English as a medium of instruction in public schools

Read: English to be Stellenbosch University’s language of instruction

In a skit by Ugandan comedian Anne Kansiime, she is stopped by a traffic police who asks for her driver’s permit. Kansiime hands over the permit and the policewoman declares that the permit is expired. Kansiime appears taken aback and asks if the knowledge of driving has suddenly evaporated from her because her driver’s permit has expired. Or if the expiry of her driver’s license affects her ability to drive. While there are logical legal reasons which necessitate the need to renew a drivers license, the same logic doesn’t seem to apply for the English proficiency tests. The same question Kansiime raises could be asked of the international examinations many Africans on the continent are forced to take when seeking admission to schools in the U.S and the UK.

English is the language of instruction from primary school to university, approximately 16 years of learning in English. English is also the official language of all countries colonised by Britain. Unfortunately, these exams are usually a mandatory requirement. However, there are been those who write directly to the schools explaining they were taught in English, the institution the applicant attended would then need to provide a letter confirming that its an English medium institution. If the confirmation letter is provided, the applicant will not have to write the proficiency tests. Providing a confirmation letter seems to be a more dignified and indeed cost effective way to deal with this language issue, rather than mandatory proficiency tests. Is there then a possibility that if every African student gave this explanation and confirmation the requirements for admission would be reviewed? Does this further mean that there is really no need to write IELTS or TOEFL if you can prove to the institutions that you’ve been taught in English all your life? How relevant then are the TOEFL and IELTS exams in the context where applicant can provide solid proof of their English language skills?

Batswana writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa in response to taking the English proficiency exams said, “When I was applying to graduate schools I wrote a letter instead of the English proficiency test exam. In the letter I asked: “If you could not spare me the indignity of colonization at least spare me the humiliation of having to prove I speak English as a result.”

The side-lining of our indigenous languages in place of English has done enough damage to our linguistic fabric. These tests further expose the imbalance of power and the continued colonial ties between African countries and U.K and U.S.

Tell us what you think

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website.

By continuing to use our website, you agree to our use of cookies. If you'd like to learn more about the cookies we use, please read our Cookie policy.