Category Archives: Language

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

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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

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Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

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It wasn’t English

President Mamnoon Hussain in a Group Photo during the Inaugural Session of Conference on South Asia arranged Pakistan Institute of International Affair at PC Hotel Karachi on 15-11-2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT the inaugural session of its 70th anniversary conference, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi, did us proud when the proceedings were conducted in Urdu. It was a pleasure to hear chaste Urdu perfectly articulated at an occasion not dominated by our Urdu litterateurs.

I was told that this was at the suggestion of President Mamnoon Hussain who was the chief guest. Masuma Hasan, the chairperson of the institute, confirmed it, adding that it was her idea as well. Urdu is Pakistan’s national language, so no one should challenge Masuma’s decision. However, the smooth sailing at the PIIA function made me wonder why the demand for other provincial languages being given the same constitutional status cannot be considered favourably. Continue reading It wasn’t English

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Storytelling

If the storyteller is good, children listen with rapt attention

By Zubeida Mustafa

READING is an essential element of education, and textbooks are an integral part of the curricula of formal education that can’t shrugged off. But reading books other than course texts helps children enrich their minds and makes them superior to their ‘non-reading’ peers.

Yet the general impression is that our children are not into the reading culture. This is surprising because in the last few years children’s books have flooded the market and some of them are really good. They have all the qualities a book should have to grip the readers’ interest — a lively style, strong storylines and characters with which our children can connect. Continue reading Storytelling

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Mother of all tongues

By Dr Tariq Rahman

The book under review is a collection of 24 articles with a foreword by Professor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, and an introduction by the editors. An afterword by Ahmed Kabel brings the work together as a conclusive whole. As anyone at all familiar with the academic discourse in the teaching of the English language will immediately understand, this is the latest endeavour by people who have not accepted the hegemony of English without question: rather, they have chosen to make people conscious that English has become a hydra, in the sense that it is weakening the other languages of the world.

Indeed, writers, like Robert Phillipson and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, have been raising key questions about this hegemony for a long time. In a sense then, this volume revives some of these old anxieties, with the help of new case histories of countries as diverse as Iceland and China, and helps explain what precisely is at stake in the field of education in general, and language-learning in particular. Continue reading Mother of all tongues

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Creeping changes

By Zubeida Mustafa

A SILENT language revolution is changing the face of Pakistan in the public discourse. There was a time when proceedings in most dialogues were conducted in English. As could be expected, the message conveyed by the speakers would not get across to the entire audience.

Mercifully, things have begun to change. Bilingualism is the order of the day with greater weightage being given to indigenous languages. Those who really want to communicate with the audience — politicians and the electronic media — are aware that they would have few takers if they were to speak in English as not many understand the nuances of this foreign language and even fewer can speak it. This acknowledgment of the reality is a positive development, especially when we claim to be a democracy. Continue reading Creeping changes

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Language whims

By Zubeida Mustafa

MY last column on language-in-education evoked interesting comments from readers. Some raised valid concerns. Others betrayed unfounded fears about language — and also education. Quite a few of the comments were more an outpouring of emotional biases and not based on rational thinking.

First of all what needs to be clarified is that there is a world of difference between using a language as a medium of instruction (MOI) and teaching it as a subject. Whenever there is a discourse on the language-in-education issue we seem to get carried away by our passion for English. It needs to be understood clearly that a child learning history, geography or even science in an indigenous language can still learn English as a second language just like any German or Korean child does. If English is taught by competent teachers using the correct methodology the child will learn it well and quickly. Continue reading Language whims

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Why English again?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SINCE 1999, when Unesco first declared Feb 21 International Mother Language Day, this issue has received much attention throughout the world. In Pakistan, where the language issue has always had a complexity of its own, educators, linguists and activists are now more vocal than ever.

Will the ruckus being created have a real impact on the language situation in various sectors of national life? The courts have given two major language-related verdicts in the past two years. One was the Supreme Court’s directive of 2015 asking the government to use Urdu as the official language of administration. The second is the recent order of the Lahore High Court asking the Federal Public Commission to conduct CSS examinations in Urdu.

There is a logical link between the two. A person who is to conduct the affairs of governance in one language should be fluent enough in it to pass an exam to qualify as an administrator. The conclusion that follows is that the CSS candidates should have studied Urdu in school as well as college to be able to take examinations in that language. Continue reading Why English again?

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Why English?

By Zubeida Mustafa

A 9781783095841YOUNG mother recounted to me her harrowing experience of her daughter’s schooling in Lahore. The child was asked by her teacher to report on her classmates who spoke a language other than English in school.

When I heard this I was saddened but not shocked. Many parents have had a similar experience. Worse still, many believe that this is the only way to learn English. Continue reading Why English?

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