Nadia (aged 14) is a typical victim of the tyranny of the English-language Hydra in Pakistan. Coming from an underprivileged socio-economic background, this girl is required to master an alien language if she wants to realise her dreams. Thanks to the easy accessibility of electronic media and a concerted movement for reform by concerned members of civil society, public interest in education has been stirred, and expectations are high. There are millions of teenagers like Nadia who want to acquire a good education to uplift their socio-economic status. But many are headed for disappointment. The facilities needed to educate such large numbers have not been created in Pakistan by the state, notwithstanding the growing demand. Worse still, the curricula and textbooks have not been designed to meet the specific needs of these children. Hence, aspirations and motivation will not prove to be enough to help Nadia and others like her to achieve upward mobility.
Although there are many hurdles in Nadia’s way, language − especially English −is a major one. Even though the government institutions may not be insisting on English as the language of education, their poor performance disqualifies them as trendsetters. Given the ambiguity in the official education policy, the English-language Hydra has become the driving force. This policy was announced in 2009 by the education ministry in Islamabad, as it was its prerogative to lay down the guidelines for the entire country. The policy defined in detail its vision and strategy, but it was vague about the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It was left to the provinces to decide whether they wanted to use the national or regional language in the public-sector primary schools in their jurisdiction. But it was specified that English would be used to teach science and maths in Years 4 and 5 in these institutions. Private schools were given a free rein. They generally opted for English. In 2010, constitutional amendments devolved powers to the provinces. To the detriment of all, the provincial governments chose to be equally vague and adopted an ad hoc approach to language in education. There has been no clarity in the governments’ policies ever since, on account of the policymakers’ ignorance of education and language-learning matters and their misguided belief that English promotes progress. Their failure to adopt a firm approach on the medium issue has allowed market forces, societal pressures, élite private-school owners (some with political clout) and the leverage of foreign aid givers to gain the upper hand.
Going by the number of education policies announced in Pakistan since 1947, the volume of reports produced by commissions on this issue of direct concern to human development and the statements issued by government dignitaries pledging their commitment to universalising education, one would have thought that by now Pakistan must be heading the world education league.
What is the reality? The UNDP, which compiles the Human Development Index using schooling as one of the criteria, tells us another story. In its 2015 report, Pakistan is categorised as a Low Human Development country and ranks 147th out of 188 states. The mean years of schooling for children is 4.7 years and only a third of the population above 25 has had some secondary schooling. Continue reading Keeping them illiterate→
LAST week Karachi hosted the Teachers’ Literature Festival — an innovative experiment — to introduce an alternative discourse in education.
Here a lively session on language in learning was held. That teachers should be interested in this is understandable. The issue impacts their work directly. The fact is that the language used in education determines the learning output of students. Their poor performance in independent assessment tests such as ASER actually reflects on the quality of pedagogy they receive. That in turn is a clear measure of our teachers’ skills and professional standards. Continue reading Language myths→
Please note: This paper was presented at the Second Silk Road International Cultural Forum in Moscow, Russia on September 15, 2015, in the session on Cultural diversity contributes to innovation, and later with slight modifications as The Tangible and Intangible Aspects of Cultural Diversity at a Roundtable Discussion in the Rumi Forum where the overriding theme was Respect Difference and Diversity to Foster Peace and Harmony, on October 14, 2015.
Cultural diversity, tangible and intangible, affects and influences our lives, wherever we may be living. We imbibe diversity, consciously or unconsciously. The result is perhaps more significant in cultures which are still predominantly traditional, within today’s modern urban condition.
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016. Continue reading Learning from CLF→
LANGUAGE continues to be an enigma in Pakistan. For the umpteenth time education is being ‘reformed’ in this country. Federal Minister of Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has now announced that ‘Urdish’ will be used as the medium of education in the country.
This is the first time Urdish (not Urlish) is being introduced officially. According to the minister, this initiative will rid the country of the “English medium-Urdu medium controversy that has damaged education standards and adversely affected the growth of young minds.” Continue reading Over to ‘Urdish’→
HASAN is a special child. He is autistic. Music inspires him and had it not been for his love of classical music which he shares with his grandfather, his mind would have continued to be caged. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) prevents Hasan from connecting normally with the world around him because his communication skills have been impaired.
The magical effect of music on children has now been scientifically documented. Preschool teachers testify that sound — including language, poetry and music — positively helps a child’s mental and emotional development. Continue reading Inspired by music→
IT is a pleasant paradox that in recent years literature festivals have taken Pakistan by storm when our society is not exactly famous for its reading habit. For long we have mourned — and do so even today — our failure to inculcate the love of reading in our children who grow up to be adults with no interest in books.
Hence the flood of events related to books and literature for people of all ages is something to celebrate. They are designed to promote the book culture. Continue reading What’s in a book?→
THE importance of education is reiterated so passionately that the phrase has become an end in itself: We stop dead after asserting its importance. Duty has been done and homage offered.
There has not been a single attempt at government – civil or military – that has not set up its own national education reform commission, taskforce, or whatever rubric the jargon of its moment favours. The labels change but one may comfortably hazard a guess that the substance of reports, the diagnosis and prognosis of the malady, are rather similar. The same sage recommendations and prescriptions have been heard over and over again, and whatever is attempted never really gets going. Yet, outstanding blunders perpetrated in the field resonate despite policy change or retraction – think Bhutto’s nationalisation and Zia’s madressas.
This article’s purported focus is higher education and language: the medium of instruction. I will forbear – but only after reminding clichés survive because they are valid – from the clichés as to the advantages of instruction in the mother tongue and the advantages of English as a global language. Look instead at what we have and what we want – not from the perspective of the arbiters, the consultant expert advisers on system – but from the point of view of their captives – Pakistan’s students and teachers: For students approaching higher education, and teachers as they receive and dispatch them, Continue reading Language fracture→