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Friday, April 3, 2015

Second grade students in Sidama, Zone in the Southern Nations,
Nationalities and Peoples' State of Ethiopia, are learning to read
with the revised curriculum developed by USAID and the Ministry
of Education to improve reading for 15 million children.
(Robert Sauers, USAID Ethiopia)
If a given student does not know the subject matter he/she is being taught only because the course is offered in his/her non-mother tongue, what other reasons could be mentioned than this to put quality education in jeopardy? And what other reason is there to turn to for the academic failure of the student if not the medium of instruction that is alien to the learner?
Unless the mother tongue, that is used in the teaching-learning process, is commonly understood both by the teacher and the learner, how can quality education be attained?
This writer is in the opinion, no matter how the school environment is crammed with best teaching learning equipment and no matter how the school is praised for having brilliant teachers, in addition to other good qualities, combined together, they won't be solely fruitful unless lessons are offered in mother tongue of the learners if the goal is to bring forth quality education.
In parallel to the aforementioned point, Global Campaign for Education Policy's Brief on Mother-tongue education illustrates the issue further. It reads, “Literacy is not simply being able to decode what is on a page: it is the intellectual process of gaining meaning from text; an achievement only possible in a language that is understood.”
Moreover, the offering of education in the second language is condemned for throwing students into confusion. According to the brief, children in remote rural areas, who speak one language at home and have no contact with the school language outside of the classroom, often have the biggest problems in gaining any understanding of the language taught at school.
Here is a real life incidence that paints a picture of how children will be separated from the reality they live in, if not taught in their mother tongue. Once a friend of mine who was a teacher told me about his experience. He was a tutor for a grade three student in a well to do private school. Once the tutor asked his student what ‘rehab’- Amharic term for hunger means. The student, as my friend told me, was puzzled and reiterated back to the tutor saying, is there an Amharic word called ‘rehab’? In the discussion following what happened with the tutor, we found out that it was the responsibility of that private school 'policy' the kid attends. “Because the school's medium of instruction is English—a language that is not the mother tongue of the boy.” Needless to say, it has become a trend in many of the private schools to ban learners speaking any of their mother tongue but English.

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