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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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→
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→