Language Ideologies and Challenges of Multilingual Education in Ethiopia The case of Harari Region

Author : Moges Yegazu

Year : 2006

In Ethiopia the language question is one of paramount importance, since the Constitution of
1995 confers rights up to secession to population groups on the basis of their ethno-linguisitc
character. Ethiopia’s geo-political units are thus primarily defined by language and ethnicity.
In this context, the ancient city of Harar presents a particularly interesting case for study and
represents a unique geo-political entity within Ethiopia. The huge linguistic and related
socio-political and ethnic diversities of Harar produce a microcosm of the Ethiopian State itself
and thus provide a fertile ground for asking questions about multilingualism, federalism and
ethnicity that have relevance beyond Harari Region itself.
The primary objective of this study was to make a critical appraisal of the implementation of
vernacular education in the Harari region and examine the challenges of providing primary
education in several Ethiopian and international languages, i.e. English, Amharic, Oromo,
Arabic and Harari. The study made a comparative assessment of the use of languages as
media of instruction for primary education, and concluded with an appraisal of the relative
strengths and weaknesses in the use of each language, from both pedagogical and social
The study has two major focal areas: policy formulation and policy implementation. The first part
looked at the current educational language policy against the background of the socio-cultural
history of the country and outlined the ideological foundations of this policy and its political and
socio-economic implications. The second part examined the implementation model adopted and
dealt with issues, such as the level of development of the languages involved in the school
system, the school environment, the appropriateness of orthography, the teaching methods and
materials used.
The research was a field study in which qualitative and quantitative primary data were gathered,
classified, analyzed and interpreted using various techniques. Because of the multiple
objectives outlined above, the study followed a mixed research method such that a qualitative
research paradigm was be used for some parts of the research and a quantitative research
paradigm for other parts. The two research paradigms are considered to be complementary in
the sense that one set of results is complemented by another set of results and generalizations
are made on findings that emerge from both methods together. The qualitative approach is used
to carry out inquiry into the perceptions and aspirations of the community at the individual as
well as the collective level. Types of qualitative research methods that have been employed to
gather data include: historical survey, ethnographic research and phenomenological research.
The following conclusions have been drawn on the implementation of the policy of vernacular
education in Harari.
It is clearly a multilingual education model, involving the use of three languages. Harari and
Oromo are local mother tongues (L1) and Amharic is the indigenous language of wider
communication (LWC) (L2). English and Arabic are foreign languages (L3). This model is in line
with UNESCO’s recommendation of having three languages (L1, L2 and L3) in multilingual
primary education; a recommendation that follows from the position that teaching in the mother
tongue is most effective in the academic achievement and cognitive development of the child.
The model implemented in Harari has, therefore, a strong component of mother tongue