English Instruction Medium for Primary Schools in Indigenous Agaw-Awi
Social Context Whilst Rehabilitating Its Language and Culture

Chekole A
May 27 2010


The FDRE/ Ethiopia’s primary education policy has been designed to entertain multi-ethnic pluralism; inline with global norms. Despite appropriateness of the policy in principle, some adjustment is needed to deal with special circumstances, in the case of the Agaw-Awi community. Awi’s social environment is unique, which comprises of a kinship society, but with diverse dialects. Currently, primary education is given in two different medium depending on a child’s birth of a dialect. On the basis of this principle, siblings can be placed in a different instruction medium. Applying the two learning medium in the same community is encountered with tremendous challenges as proved through a comprehensive study, as indicated below. These drawbacks include, presumably creation of emotional barriers between the learning groups, utilization of inappropriate alphabet, low quality learning materials, educational supply shortages, poor/outdate curriculum, skilled personnel limitation, incompatibility in vocabulary selection and wordings. To tackle the problem and reserve the Awi as a distinct community, the replacement with the English instruction medium has been proposed in this article. At the same time, alternative actions have been recommended to accelerate the rehabilitation of the Awi culture and language. Besides that, other developmental gaps and achievements are discussed herein.


In my previous article, Review of Agaw-Awi Family Tree, I introduced the readers with the paper entitled Awi Family Tree. This paper has been authored by Siltanu Belay (2009). By reviewing Siltanu’s literature, I acquainted the reader with Adil, the father of the Awi (southern Agaw) and his original family members, the fathers of present Awis. It is accessible at click here Also, I reported the following questions addressed in the same paper:

  • Whereabouts of the Agaw people who lived in central Ethiopia, Shua to Eritera
  • Reasons for disappearance/discontinuation of the Agaw civilization.
  • Impartiality of the Ethiopian history literature

Besides that in the review, I condensed the suggestion that made for the establishment of the neutral fact finding body to investigate the issue and lastly stated matters related to identity. Since the publication of my review on April 16, 2010 on the tigraionline.com web site, twelve comments have appeared. These comments virtually can be characterized as constructive and rationale. The statements indicated below are, for example, among the comments posted by the readers:

  • “This is very interesting article. I understand that Agews have left us a very proud and strong history…. Who is responsible to disappearance of the Agew Kingdom and civilization? ….. I went back home four times & visited Lalibela twice. I found it amazing!”
  • “The Agaw people are with diverse dialects and as a result, in the short run, they should use English as [a] common language to eliminate communication barriers among themselves for common good…. Using English as the communication medium will give considerable advantages in technology transfer and business.”

Awi’s Exceptional Social Environment: Kinship Community with Diverse Dialects, Instruction Mediums and Effects

On the basis of my brief observation, the Awi’s social environment is reflected with exceptions in comparison to other nationality administrative areas, like Sidama Zone in the south. Either the Awi educators or political “elites” are not assertive for the rights of their people. These elites lack strategic vision and gut to face the reality. Many people in the Awi Zone are relatives, it is not only ethnic based autonomy, it can be also characterized as kinship system autonomy, essential for community revival if implemented properly. In spite of their kinship-ness, the Awis speak diverse dialects. A considerable number of Awis able to speak both Awigna and Amharic, some speak Agawgna only, other lost their parents’ Awi language and consequently speak Amharic. It is not unusual finding people in a single family with diverse dialects in Awi Zone and its environs, like Dangur, Qora and Belaya. Awigna dialects in the zone and environs supposedly similar, but with considerable variations in accent. In western Gondar, Tikldangay, Kimant area Awigna language has virtually lost. Awigna in Dagur, Belaya and Qora is becoming a vocal vowel, whilst the Awigna in the zone is likely a tongue language. Minor communication barrier is inevitable till they adjust each other’s accent, which may take weeks. Another challenge to the community is schooling experience. Primary school orientation is linked to the language of birth regardless of their grand parents or parents’ dialects. In this way, the members of a single family can be placed in the different instruction medium, either Amharic or Awigna depending on the orientation of language of birth. They are biologically true Awis, but sociologically in a different environment. Amharic is dominant at mass media, radio television public events, and as a result enabled to manage hegemony at consciousness of the Awi people. Consequently, these who even cannot pronounce it properly speak with heavy accent at home and in social interaction. The Awi dialect is spoken on college campuses rather than Awi towns. Furthermore, lack of practices has caused, most children of Awi political figures fail to speak Awigna language. These children have to be placed at elementary schools with the Amharic instruction medium. Disadvantages of different schooling arrangement has to do with the creation of an emotional barrier soon or later in the Awi community. It can develop eventually dilemma about themselves, making susceptible to identity confusion or bogus identity pronouncement, complicated with the past inhibition. Beyond this, according to Baguna, social vulnerability has been used for suppressive political agenda by some elements.

To be objective, the Amharization process is dramatically faster than ongoing Awinization to reserve the Awis as the community. I think, at this rate, it will take less than fifty years to dispose Awigna from Amhara Killil. One can refer works of Dr Heterzone, Dr Megersa and Prof Lapiso Dilebo, to know his/her real root and the impact of the past millennium. The race between these two languages is as if contest between a child and an adult man. My objective is not to discredit the government’s efforts made to rehabilitate the community, just to show the shortcomings that can obscure the achievements of intended objectives, preserving the Awis as the community.

In the early period, there was objection in use of the Agawgna (Awgin) instruction medium. A key justification for resistance was education in the Awi language would not equip with needed competency for higher learning and career for their children since higher education is in English. Comprehensive study by Dessalew in 2002 pointed out the problems as indicated below (quote):

  1. Those who translated the curriculum from Amharic to Awgin were not given any training related to the assignment they were given.
  2. The working teachers were not given short term introductory trainings before they were assigned to teach in Awgni.
  3. Hundred percent of the teachers, respondents [of the study] were not trained in Awgni in their pre-service training and … they are still training in Amharic.
  4. … Aesthetics and Environmental Science textbooks were not available to the students.
  5. … the textbooks were written in difficult words that do not match with the level of the students. The dialects of language used were not common to all the students of Awi Zone. Moreover, the readability of the exercise was also reported poor by the majority of the students.
  6. Awgni culture was not adopted in the textbooks.
  7. The majority of the teachers (75%) were not given support in the form of in-service trainings…
  8. The vast majority of the teacher respondents (63.1%) reported that the woreda and zone education experts did not provide them with instructional support.
  9. The great majority (87%) of the teachers responded that they would not choose Awgni as a medium of instruction in the primary schools, if they were given choice.
  10. Majority of the parents didn’t want their children to learn in Awgni, whereas the students were happy to learn in the Awgni language (page 91-92). In addition to these problems, lack of the syllabi and unavailability of radio education reported in the same study.

The study was conducted eight-years ago. These problems have not yet tackled; significant measures have not been taken to address the problems. The curriculum and related activities are carried out by junior staff, because the zonal education office cannot afford to pay competitive salaries to keep senior personnel in the area, making the problem chronic and continuous. Just this budget year, a nominal teacher training institute was set up without proper facility after considerable public pressure for university establishment. The nominal institute has hosted itself at a high school facility and admitted the student for a certificate program in Awi dialect and Amharic. The building foundation stone was laid by Mr. Demeke Minister of Education, but nothing has been done so far.

At the time of Dessalew’s study, 74 primary schools used Awi dialect as the instruction medium, but at the present, the figure has raised to 130, covering more than a half of primary schools. However, the post study essential and robust achievement was offer of Awgni as one subject in all elementary schools in the zone, despite it lacks appropriate supportive learning-teaching materials, such as audio visual.

The overtly objection to Awgni has diminished gradually overtime for several reasons. However, it is believed that the majority of population in urban is in favor of English as the instruction medium. The English has seen as a language of science, technology and consequently linked to the wider job opportunities. The English medium is also linked to free availability or less cost, quality, updated and best option to ride of the problems discussed above. The Awi schools are first to reinstall the English instruction medium for the 7th & 8th grade students in 2003 when the national curriculum was in the local languages. The move created a serious dispute between Regional Education Bureau and eventually divided the Nationality Administrative Council members. Despite it is the nationalities’ constitutional right to use whatever suitable medium of instruction, the bureau objected the third option, English because it thought it might increase the student immigration to the Awi Zone from other zones. Regardless of the bitter dispute on the issue, the English medium has been implemented since 2003. In other non-Awi Zone schools in Amhara Region, the Amharic instruction medium in the 7th and 8th grades reversed immediately after the 2005 election.

Incompatible Alphabet Use for Awigna Language

An inherent difference between the Awi and Amharic dialects is stressing syllabus/sounds, which represented with three characters (see figure below). The families of these letters are used frequently in the Amaharic language. The Awi language has no such syllabus at all. Any person Awigna speaker at birth cannot internalize these sounds, except limited improvement through training or learning. The same is true for Europeans those learn Amharic as the second language. When it comes to these sounds they are helpless.

Use of Geez, known as the Sevan script is not compatible to Agawnga language for writing. Currently, the Geez alphabet is used at elementary schools to write Awigna language. It is applied without factual justification because it is probably easily accessible, otherwise no justification to write Awigna in the Geez alphabet. Its use is another problem in the learning process and language rehabilitation. Children who learn Awinga as one subject say oral learning is not difficult, they can make 90 out of 100, but writing is hard because the letters have so many accented symbols and inconvenient to write fast. A compatible alphabet could be selected consulting various sources, like the alphabet used in Oromoffa, the alphabet used by a German man to compose Awi literature. If it used for solidarity purposes with the other Geez script users, it is an irrelevant scenario since we have so many common heritages that can bind us together as Ethiopians. It should be clear that Awi people have no problem with Semitic cultures, languages, or people, but there shall not be compromise anymore on their existence/their shrinking size as the community implicitly or explicitly.

Recommendations for Instruction Medium at Elementary Schools

The government’s policy that recognizes children to attend a primary school in language of birth has no problem in principle. Its objective appears to reserve cultural and ethnic diversity as outlined in the constitute of FDRE. Another scenario for justification of the policy is children learn better in a language of mother tongue than a second language, which is in effect contrast to the children are fast language learners and can be taught in any dialects. However, in most social settings, this policy should work favorably, although an alternative arrangement has its own merits.

While appreciating the policy, it is essential the Awi community with the unique social factors to appraise cones and prones associated with the policy or outcome. The appraisal of the policy has to address an expected and an actual net output, trade-off, not just limited features. Any adjustment, modification in the policy implementation is required to align to this aspect. As illustrated above, Awi primary education in the language of birth is hindered by several problems. The result of this ailing process is inevitably undermining ongoing rehabilitation, risking the survival of Awi as a distinct ethnic community. In order to evade the stated undesirable outcome, the Awi’s unique social context has to be taken into account, of course, ensure sustainable community rehabilitation. For that intension, the English instruction medium is favored in the present recommendation, first for the reasons discussed above, second not to use any of adjacently spoken languages as the instruction medium to minimize its negative impact on identity, third raise generation fluent in English for better academic performance, and fourth withstand hypocritical behaviors from any direction. At the same time, actions proposed in this recommendation section hopefully implemented to facilitate Awi language rehabilitation, so that it can develop to a higher level. For the stated objectives, I humbly recommend zonal, regional and federal government to take the following measures in collaboration.

i) For the instruction medium execution:

  1. Establishment of a primary school English instruction medium task force; comprises of representatives of parents, teachers, staff from education desk and other concerned professionals. The duties of the task force shall include sharing experiences with the southern nationalities schools already in use English as the instruction medium, drafting of the curriculum, communication with public on the impending change and preparation of the work plan, then:
  2. Organization of workshop for the draft curriculum appraisal and other relevant activities.
  3. Preparation or collection of textbooks and other education supplies
  4. Preparation of short term summer training for teachers to be assigned in the duty.
  5. Execution of the new instruction medium initially in the first grade and then consecutively upper grades.

ii) For strengthening of the Awi language and cultural rehabilitation:

  1. Establishment of a committee in each woreda for the same purpose. The duties of the committee shall involve designing of mechanisms to facilitate executions of the Awi language promotion in social interactions, such as in activities of extra curriculums in the form of a short drama, competition questions & answers and other appropriate means.
  2. Acceleration of availability of learning aids such audio-visual displays to strengthen Awi language lesson as one subject, at the same time, Amharic shall be given as one subject beginning from the third grade.

iii)Budget for implementation:

Allocation of especial budget for the project: The federal, regional and local government shall allocate adequate budget for the implementation of the plan.

Long Journey Ahead to Overcome Indigence

According to a solicited document by Baguna in 2009, the Awi people granted political and cultural rights to administrate their homeland in line with FDRE’s constitute 1995. Accordingly, Nationality Administrative Council, at least theoretically the highest authority in the zonal territory has established and gradually exercised its rights more or less. He acknowledged economic progress in rural Awis. He articulated his report with the IMF report, which recognized the economic development in Ethiopia. As he put it, “there is agricultural economic growth in the country over the past couple of years, but we don’t know about proportionate of beneficiary farmers and sustainability of the trend in the future.” Moreover, Baguna reported accomplishments in urban areas describing:

  1. The existence of the local radio broadcast service in Awi language once a week, implementation of Awi language lesson in all elementary schools in the zone
  2. Extension of primary school coverage in the Awi language instruction medium.
  3. Awi-Amharic dictionary production.
  4. Presence of an amateur zonal musical band for cultural development contribution, except its budgetary limitation.
  5. Creation of a zonal NGO for development acceleration.
  6. Under taken a hospital construction in a newly zonal capital Injibara, and referring planned district level hospital constructions in the towns of Dangla and Chagni.

During my tour, I observed more positive progress not covered in Baguna’s report; I saw two private health college facilities in the zone, one at Dangla and another at Addis Kidam, capital of Fagta Lekoma, Woreda, in eastern Awi. The investor of Addis Kidam is reportedly a Diaspora couple. The children and youths of Addis Kidam were proud of having such facility. One youth said that he was ewentngna mihur (true intellectual) who committed to invest his money in the small town, for the benefits of residents in the town. It was reported that the couple had been working for further investment with partners from East and West Gojjam. Accordingly, Danagla had been selected for livestock investment on the basis of climatic conditions. More development activity is also expected in the near future. According to local news, Mr. Addisu Legesse, Vice Primer, traveled to Awi for the 2010 election campaign with other officials. During the tour, the delegate discussed with audience on the issues of development and good governance in major towns. The new pledge made by Mr. Addisu during this trip was asphalt pavement Gimjabet- Kass (main highway), in rage of 13-14 Kms; Gimjabet is the capital of Ankesha-Gugsa.

Generally, Baguna’s report emphasized positive aspects; however, it criticized a settlement activity and religious extremism. He portrayed the settlement and fundamentalism as threat to the survival of the indigenous community. In spite of, there are several gaps have not been addressed in the baguna’s report, including deficiency in capacity building. The zone lacks either private or a community information technology center, which is a key overhead to facilitate communication and development. Very few zonal agencies have Internet; dial up connection services, but in most cases, non-operational, due to service deficiency and lack of skills to use. Only technology in utility is cellular phone, yet expensive, consumes more than its pie of budget. Some high schools are not benefiting from the school-net, e-learning known as plasma. At vocational schools, electronic and metal workshops lack appropriate equipment for practices. Financial constraints have been main reasons for facility acquirement for the school-net service operation. The grade and high schools, as well as, health posts are mostly constructed by public contributions, but lack quality and appropriate size even comparison to the regional standards.

The capital of Agew-Midire was Dangla almost for the century. In the new FDRE’s administrative arrangement, the status of capital transferred to the small village, Kosober/Injibara. Following capital designation, it has grown to a relatively modern town in the matter of 15 years. Yet, still it lacks tremendous infrastructures, including assembly hall, offices for civil servants and Nationality Administrative Council deputies, adequate drinking water and power supplies. The most irritating situation at the town is blowing dust as heavy trucks run the east-west, known as Chagni Road. Despite the Chagni town is an economic point for the federal and regional governments, its road has been poorly constructed and dusty.

Except wood and metal cottage industries in towns, no considerable investments in a manufacturing industrial sector in the zone, but a small honey filtering firm in the town of Dangla and water mineral factory in Injibara. Major investors in the area are Shek Alumdi’s agro company and Gudar Industry. Cereals, potatoes for chips and bamboos for furniture are reportedly potential raw materials, which available throughout Gugsa Shikudad Woreda.

Looking into Bahir Dar City

My last stop was Bahir Dar, which seated on the south shore of Lake Tana. Bahir Dar is the regional capital and at the same time, the capital of West Gojjam. Damot’s effort to take the capital status to Finot Selam has not succeeded so far. Damot, which enjoyed autonomy in the pre Tekle Haymanot era is eager to designate Finot Selam, as the West Gojjam capital. Its predecessor, Debre Markos once the capital of Gojjam seems in constructive contest with Bahir Dar if possible to triumph unless to ensure equal footing. Tremendous impressive changes have witnessed in Debre Markos in terms of city development. Bahir Dar, of course, is in dramatic progress. Many of traditional mud walls and corrugated iron sheet have been replacing with modern three and five stories buildings. There are also beautiful hotels and restaurants on the beach of the Lake Tana, except hot temperature that can cause sweating dearly. Memorial facility on Abay Mado is another attraction to the city. Up to date, the most modern building in the city is Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, Regional Headquarter with nine-stories in the front of the Lake Tana, one block to the west from Dibambasa Hotel. Its finishing with gray white marble shines in the dark, like the moon.

Regardless to the city’s ample progress, something that attracted my attention was manually paved semi-asphalts known as cobble stones throughout the city. The outputs are the fruits of the young people, men and women. They work hard daily in team spirits. They chip stones with handy hammers, then molded it to somewhat an egg shape and put them in gravel sand to fit firmly on the ground paving the cobble road. The advantage of the cobble road over the normal asphalt is not only economical, but it is also capable of draining water, which is ideal for the city’s land-escape.

In the afternoon, my friend and I traveled to the Peda university campus. The security personnel on the entrance were somewhat reluctant to allow into the compound, but finally they did. As soon as, we got into the compound, paved internal streets and huge new buildings caught my eyes. They are good indicators of the Ethiopian Government’s determination for expansion of higher learning institutes in Ethiopia. But unfortunately, the buildings were marked with cracks everywhere. There is no functional mechanism that can hold accountable three parties: contractors, managing bureaucrats and engineers in the duty for the consequences.

Well, it was the 5th of May 2010, university officials, invited guests and students were on celebration, the 10th anniversary of the promotion day, college to university. The hall with three entrances and with capacity of about 650 people packed with participants. Others listened from outside of the hall. The old hall, the final time of Emperor Haile Silassie-I was marked with gray spots on the ceiling indicating leakage during the rain season. There was no seat in appropriate distance for natural ventilation, my friend and me had no choice, but stood at the western side door, behind a column to watch the event. Two senior faculty delivered speeches on the background of the university. Then, the senior faculty cut a creamy European cake, following a coffee ceremony, whilst traditional musical play taking place turn by turn in various ethnic languages. First two Amharic musical dances were presented, then Oromoffa followed. All of musical plays were lovely. At the third, an Awi band music CD played. Suddenly, I noticed unusual movements. Students rushed into the hall from three directions, north, east and west routs. I thought some accident happened. I asked my friend reasons for students rush. He told me they wanted to watch the Awi musical play.” He said, let us retreat back away from the hall we would be suffocated. We did about 10 meters back. In a couple minutes, a half of large lot, outside the hall got filled by the crowd. After one track play, the CD was turned off. The crowd shouted, repeat it repeat, (yidegem, yidegem). The stage manager seemingly uttered something, but I couldn’t hear it. I thought she tried to say, sorry we were out of time. She moved ahead to another activity. I caught by surprise regard to the students’ reaction to the Awi music. I couldn’t imagine and explain this phenomenon. Is it the isolated phenomenon or an indication of trend in an attitudinal shift. What is the flavor of musical popularity? At least for now, I have no answers to these questions. Someone with an artist background may have the right answers.