Opportunities and Challenges of Using Mother Tongue as a Medium of Instruction at Primary Schools in Ethiopia

Author: Teshome Gudissa Degu (University of South Africa, South Africa)
Speaker: Teshome Gudissa Degu
Topic: Pedagogical Anthropology
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


The language of instruction plays a crucial role in the educational development of students, and is vital for the realization of communication and understanding between teachers and students. This study aims to comprehend the opportunities of mother tongue instruction in Ethiopia’s primary schools. It also provides a discussion on how instructional language choices are influenced by educational, linguistic, political and social challenges. 150 teachers and 200 students were taken for the study using simple random sampling techniques. Moreover, 15 school principals were considered for interview using a purposive sampling approach. Questionnaires and in-depth interviews were used as tools for data collection. Data collected through the questionnaire was analyzed using both descriptive and inferential statistics. Accordingly, mean, standard deviation and t-test were used to analyze the data. Data collected through in-depth interviews were analyzed qualitatively. The findings revealed that students who learn using their mother tongue do better in exams, develop more self confidence, make more active participation, more easily learn concepts, more quickly understand and develop practical skills, better understand experiments and experimental procedures, and more easily learn technical vocabularies, especially in science subjects. The study also identified challenges that hinder the use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction at primary schools: lack of sufficient textbooks, negative attitude towards mother tongue among practitioners, lack of training for teachers on how to use mother tongue as a medium of instruction, and teachers’ preferences of English (and Amharic where it is not a mother tongue) to using native languages. Thus, it is recommended that teachers and educators need to examine their practices and develop ways to authentically engage and legitimize the use of the mother tongue for teaching in Ethiopian primary schools. The Ministry of Education should also ensure that schools follow the rules put in place to promote the use of mother tongue as the medium of instruction in the primary education in Ethiopia.

Keywords: mother tongue, primary school, education, medium of instruction, Ethiopia