Bilingual practices in Ghanaian primary schools
: implications for curriculum design and educational practice

  • Elvis Yevudey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Ghana is a multilingual country with around 79 indigenous languages and English as the official language. The country has had several educational language policies since independence from British colonial governance in 1957 and even before. These policies are mainly in regard to the attitude towards either monolingual use of English or bilingual use of the indigenous languages and English. In March 2016, for instance, the Ghana Ministry of Education announced its plan to eliminate English as the primary language of instruction in schools, especially at the lower grades 1-3. This decision was intended to give more prominence to the use of the indigenous languages. These unstable policies over the years have raised certain significant questions: What does the language of education stipulate, and how is the policy reflected in code choices in bilingual and monolingual medium classrooms? What are the pedagogic relevance of bilingual and monolingual code choices in the classrooms? What are the perceptions of teachers and pupils towards the language of education in Ghana?

This study therefore explores the pedagogic relevance of code choices in bilingual and monolingual medium classrooms at the lower grades 1-3. The research was conducted in bilingual Ewe-English classrooms, and monolingual Ewe and English classrooms in Ho, in the Volta Region of Ghana. To understand code choices in these contexts, triangulation was adopted as a research methodology including ethnographic field notes, audio recordings of classroom interactions, teacher interviews, teacher questionnaire surveys, and pupil focus groups.

The ethnographic field notes and the classroom data show that both Ewe and English play significant pedagogic roles in bilingual and monolingual medium classrooms. Some of the pedagogic functions identified in the classrooms include switching for vocabulary acquisition, for teaching pronunciation during English lesson, for recapitulation and explanation, for instruction, for quotation/quotative, for class control, for teaching grammar, for teaching pronunciation during English lesson, and for enhancing pupils’ understanding of class exercises.

The attitudes of teachers and pupils based on teacher questionnaire surveys and interviews, and pupil focus groups, show mainly positive attitudes towards bilingual medium of instruction. In addition to expressing positive attitudes, some teachers and pupils expressed preferences for monolingual Ewe and English medium of instructions. Based on the observed pedagogic functions of Ewe and English in both classroom contexts, the diversity of opinions, and the linguistic realities in the classrooms, this study recommends inclusive-flexible multilingual language of education policy and planning that considers the socio-linguistic realities in the schools, the linguistic backgrounds of the teachers and pupils, and the linguistic realities and needs of the community and the country at large. Curriculum design should also take into account the multilingualism of the country and specifically the multilingualism of the various regions in developing contents and code choices that reflect the linguistic realities.
Date of Award13 May 2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGertrud K Reershemius (Supervisor) & Jack W Grieve (Supervisor)


  • monolingual education
  • bilingual education
  • bilingual practice
  • pedagogy
  • Ewe
  • Ghana

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