Addis Ababa City Banning English as Medium of Instruction in Primary Schools

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 3, 2009 ( -- Addis Ababa Education Bureau has a new regulation that bans English as medium of instruction in primary level private schools. According to Education Bureau Head, Ato Gezahegn Abate, the regulation will be applied soon to all private primary schools in Addis Ababa from grades 1 to 6.

Ato Gezahegn further added that all private schools are currently focused on English language as a medium of instruction for teaching subjects like mathematics, science, ethics, and others. “Our office learnt that many private schools are teaching their students in English so that they can compete in the job market. However, we believe that these schools can teach English as a supplementary course inside a tutor program. In Addition to English, students may also be taught other languages such as French and Arabic without compromising the capacity of the students,” said Ato Gezahegn Abate.

This new regulation will not affect public primary schools, as they are not using English as a medium of instruction currently. The new regulation will also not include all international community schools.

The Education Bureau plans to impose a uniform education curriculum in all private as well public schools all over the city.

Public opinion seems to be divided on this issue. Those who support the new regulation say it will save the new generation from losing our language. However, many are afraid that this will compromise the English proficiency of our students, a proficiency that they badly need.

“Our children are losing their identity, some of them hardly speak Amharic and many of them can’t read or write in Amharic. We are losing some part of our generation. In the long-term, I am afraid that we will have less and less of our children who are proud of their identity, language and culture. We shouldn’t only think about today. We must think about the consequences for years to come.” said one father, who didn’t want to be named.

Ato Biruk Fekadu, who teaches English at Liza Private School, disagreed. “We shouldn’t regulate teaching like this. This will kill the learning capacity of our students at a very crucial age. Learning language after grade 6 is not the same as learning it before age 6. This is the time they can learn many things very easily. The regulation can also affect the competence of the students in the international job market. Children can learn Amharic in every corner: family, friends, media, and the society in general. It is the national language. If they are afraid that we will lose Amharic as a language, we should work on the language itself in different ways, rather than changing the medium of instruction.”

Ato Biruk Fekadu further said, “I have three points to argue against this new regulation. First, using English as a medium of instruction for other subjects will help students master the language effectively and easily at an early age. Second, English language should be used as means of communication at schools as courses in higher education are also given in English in Ethiopia. Students can use English more effectively if they practice it at their tender age. And third, in general, we should use English as a medium of instruction in schools from the beginning. As I said, since our higher education institutions are teaching in English, the language should also be used as a medium of instruction starting from an early age. If not, our students will face two difficulties: one studying the language itself and second studying the subjects. However, if we take care of the language problem early on, teaching other subjects in English becomes much easier.”

Ato Biru Tulu

Ethiopian News: Ato Biru Tulu

Ato Biru Tulu, grade 9 Amharic teacher of 27 years at Bole Secondary School had this to say to, supporting the new regulation. “First level teaching should be given in Amharic. When students learn subjects in English, they will take everything from the language, including adopting and developing the western culture, and abandoning their language, values, and identity in the process. Language is a manifestation of one’s identity. If the students lose their identity, who are they going to be? I don’t mean that we should abandon English as a language. There will be time for it, like learning it after grade 6. Look at the time during Emperor Haile Selassie. Students were good in using the English language even though they did not use it as a means of instruction early on. That is because the educational system was effective. However, we failed to be effective for many years now. Therefore, it is the structure of the curriculum and how it is applied that shapes our students. There is one paradox here. Students think that they know Amharic well just because they can speak it. But when you test them, they fail. They don’t know the basics of this language. But if our schools teach other subjects in Amharic from the very beginning, it can help them know their language better. These days, our students are not even proud of their language. We should change that attitude.” 

W/o Asrat Teffera

Ethiopia News: Asrat Teffera

Many others whom contacted also had strong views on this subject. One of them is W/o Asrat Teffera, who taught English for 40 years at Bole Secondary School. She said “We have an English based curriculum. Starting from grade seven, we are teaching them in English. I see no harm in teaching them from the very beginning. We have many languages, but none of them can become an international language. If we only stick with our local languages, we cannot compete in the world effectively. Our students should know the English language to learn and benefit from the scientific and technological progress that the world has made. If they are not good in this international language, they can fail in the global marketplace. I don’t mean we should disregard Amharic; it is our identity and we should develop it side-by-side with English. Especially for the past ten years, Amharic is not taken as one of the EGSLCE (Ethiopian General School Leaving Certificate Examination) subjects. This has a negative impact, as it makes students less serious about it. But if we put Amharic as a compulsory subject just like English and Mathematics, they will pay more attention to it. We can also promote our national language in many different ways. This will help us revive our language and enable the students to like their language, culture, values and identity. I believe this will improve our literary works, too.”

Currently, there are 521 primary schools in Addis Ababa, teaching students in grades 1 to 6.  Among these, 239 of them are owned by private companies, and they will all be directly affected by the new regulation.


Eden Habtamu Ezega News 

This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to



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