Category Archives: Language

Time to ponder

By Zubeida Mustafa

HERE is something to take your mind off the novel coronavirus pandemic that has overwhelmed the globe. I would like to take you to another world — the world of education. It is too early to speculate about the post-virus age. We can, however, use the opportunity provided by the lockdown to ponder issues pertaining to education. The fact is that they have never received much thought.

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Which language?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE medium of instruction in school is once again being hotly debated, not that the issue had ever been resolved. But now that the pro-mother language lobby has gained more leverage over the years, its voice is being heard. That is why passions generated by the language issue cannot be slapped down.

What provoked the controversy this time? It was a report prepared by a subcommittee of the National Curriculum Council on the medium of instruction that caused the ruckus. Later, a member of the NCC described the report as a piece of ‘misreporting’. The so-called wrong report had prescribed English as the medium for quite a few subjects from primary to Grade XII. The regional languages had been omitted totally. It was the latter omission that had led to the deafening furore on social media — and quite understandably so. Mercifully, a clarification was later issued by the government explaining that the question of the languages to be used as the medium had been left to the provincial governments to decide.

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The miseducation of Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Seldom does one come across any good news about the state of education in Pakistan. In July this year, a UNESCO report stated that one out of every four children in the country do not complete their primary education. Additionally, the government revealed that 23 million out of 55 million children (40 per cent) are out of school.

Unfortunately, those who do attend school are not much better off, for the quality of education imparted at institutions is abysmal.

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Love of English

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE reason why our education system is going to the dogs is that our policymakers earnestly believe that to be meaningful, education must be serious and dull. They think that a student enjoying herself in class is not learning anything. That would explain why our classrooms are generally not intellectually lively and why our students learn so little.

Having said this, I will ask the question I had asked in my earlier column, ‘Books are fun’: can a child enjoy any activity in a language she cannot understand? The answer is so obvious that it amounts to insulting the readers’ intelligence and I am sorry for raising this question again. Yet our schools insist on teaching small children in a language they do not understand and enjoy. In Karachi, with the exception of public-sector schools and some NGO-run educational institutions such as TCF, the medium of instruction is either English or a hybrid of Urdu-English because the teachers know no better. The worst part is that all the reading and writing is done in English because the textbooks used are in English.

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Books are fun

By Zubeida Mustafa

RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun? But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let them discover this for themselves.

My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.

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An uphill drive

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.

The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen into decay.

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Why Language is important in Education

By Zubeida Mustafa

I shall begin this paper by listing five myths which have dominated our collective thinking on language in education in Pakistan. This thinking also shapes the narrative on education in many other countries that were decolonised  less than a century ago.

Myth # 1

Language has no bearing on a child’s education, Irrespective of which language is used in the classroom, it is the quality of teaching that determines the quality of education.

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Language myths

By Zubeida Mustafa

A MAJOR debate on education has been sparked by an announcement from Islamabad that a uniform curriculum for the country — from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Karachi — will be introduced. Given our national obsession with conformity and aversion to diversity, such a move should not surprise us. But that does not detract from its unconstitutionality as former chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani has correctly pointed out. Under the 18th Amendment, curriculum-making was devolved to the provinces. Continue reading Language myths

Language: Conudum in Education

By Zubeida Mustafa

OVER the years we have appointed a gatekeeper in our education system who is pretty stern and manages to frustrate the dreams of many underprivileged students.

This gatekeeper is the English language. Every examination board in the country has made English compulsory and no one can obtain his Matriculation certificate without clearing this paper. Maleeha Sattar, who teaches at a private university in Islamabad, did research on the language issue for her MPhil thesis. Her finding was that a third of the students who appeared from the Rawalpindi Board of Intermediate and Secondary Examination in the previous five years had failed in compulsory English and had to discontinue their studies. The tragedy is that Pakistan doesn’t even have teachers who are proficient in English and can teach it correctly to the students. Continue reading Language: Conudum in Education