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When kids use their native language in early education they understand the curriculum better and have a more positive outlook towards school, according to a study conducted by the Amhara Cultural and Tourism Bureau (ACTB). As a result ACTB is recommending that regional educational departments have their schools teach seventh and eighth grade science in local languages.

The study still requires the approval of the education bureau but it has already made an impact on the Physics, Biology and Math curriculum in some schools as they are switching to Amharic education in these subjects. Before 2005 schools in most regions used the local languages for elementary science subjects but changed it to English after 2005. Now they are considering reversing this policy as a result of the study.

Dr. Hirut Kassaw, head of ACTB told Capital that the study restricted English to one subject  while the remaining were taught in Amharic. English was taught using simple techniques. “Certainly, language is deeply connected to notions of culture and identity, and the language children are taught in can often reflect broader societal inequalities. Being taught in a known language is a key component of quality education for all learners – from the very early stages right through to adulthood. Early education in the mother tongue can prepare children for school and foster foundational skills, such as literacy and critical thinking, which are proven to significantly increase learning later,” she said.

Since the introduction of the Education and Training Policy in 1994, English has been taught starting from first grade in all subjects and in all regions, without exception. However, regional governments may determine what language they want to teach students in grades 1 through 8.

Thus in some regions local languages are used as medium of instruction. In grades 7 and 8

in Oromia, Somali, and Tigray regions local languages are used. English is still used as instruction for non-language subjects in Gambella and the southern region, and yet in others English is partially used as instruction to teach science and mathematics in Amhara Region. From grade 9 onwards, however, English is the official medium of instruction, with the exception of teacher training colleges.

Some studies indicate that English is more of a foreign language than a second language in Ethiopia. This is mainly because English is so infrequently used in daily life outside the classroom and students do not have the opportunity to learn the language informally.