Category Archives: Language

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

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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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