Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Teaching language to the street children of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a unique problem with language effecting economic mobility. Many people in remote villages learn their own tongue, there are over 80 such languages in Ethiopia. The problem comes when these people begin to do commerce in the country, for Amhara is the official language for business.

A story from Reuters today details the efforts to teach Amhara to the street children in the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa. According to writer Jasleen Kaur Sethi computer programs developed in the US are used to help the children learn the language.

Ethiopia, one of Africa's biggest and poorest countries, has more than 80 languages. Experts say a quarter of those are on the verge of extinction, and the government faces a tricky balance between protecting its linguistic heritage and training workers to compete in a globalised world.

As a result, the five-year-olds at Medhamiyalus Church's tiny primary school have to tackle three different tongues: their local language, Amharic -- the official language of Ethiopian business and politics -- and English.

"English is most important for our students, otherwise they cannot cope, they cannot get the proper education intended for them," school principal Fikre Teferra told Reuters TV.

"If these children succeed in getting to high school, and colleges, what else can they do? It is English that everything is given in."

The pupils are playing various interactive computer games that teach them the notoriously difficult 256 characters and variations of the Amharic alphabet.

Like the majority of the estimated 150,000 street children in the Ethiopian capital -- most of whom are from families that migrated to the city from rural areas -- it is not their first language.

After the brutal Derg government was overthrown in 1991, the constitution was changed to safeguard the country's scores of local languages by giving ethnic groups the right to set up "mother tongue" primary education systems.

No comments: