Category Archives: Language

The power of the word

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

FOR three days last week, forty or so women writers from five South Asian countries along with four others from America, Russia and Peru interacted with one another in a colloquium to discuss what the organisers termed the power of the word.

Hosted by the Indian chapter of the Women’s World International in New Delhi, the meeting was designed to take up the problems women writers encounter in the course of their work. Why the need for such a moot? Jeelani Bano, the Urdu fiction writer from Hyderabad, India, posed the rhetorical question, “Why do we not ever hear of a men’s conference to discuss an issue pertaining to men only?”
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Teaching in mother tongue

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

NADIA is a bright and intelligent child of eight. Her mother — a housemaid — has a dream. She wants to educate her children so that they can lift themselves out of the grinding poverty that has been their parents’ lot. Happily that is what President Pervez Musharraf says he also wants. But probably, he does not have a clue as to how to go about it.

Take Nadia’s case. She attends a private school (charging a monthly fee of Rs300) near her home in a low income locality of Karachi. With her mother’s help she has learnt to read and write Urdu fluently. I talked to her about the moon and the stars and explained the concepts of tens and units – in Urdu. She understood what I told her perfectly since this is a language she is familiar with. That night she even went out in the courtyard to explore the celestial bodies.
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The language conundrum

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE government is once again about to experiment with the education system in Pakistan. The federal education minister, Lt Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former ISI chief, has now announced a revised schedule for the language reforms to be introduced in schools.

From September 2007 (instead of 2006) students of class one will be taught science and mathematics in English, while Islamiat and Pakistan Studies will be taught in Urdu.

It is not very clear where the mother tongues, namely Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto and Balochi, will fit in the new scheme of things. According to the minister, in five years the language policy will allow the authorities to eliminate the distinction between the English and Urdu medium schools and “homogenise them in one single entity”.
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Globalisation and languages

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AT A conference on elementary education organised recently by the Sindh Education Foundation in Karachi, an issue which came under discussion was that of globalisation and language. In his well researched and enlightening presentation, Dr Tariq Rahman, professor of sociolinguistics at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, pointed out the snags in Pakistan’s language policy in education. He also explained how globalisation was affecting the state of languages all over the world.

Quoting Dow Templeton Associates, he said, “English will become the universal language and capitalism will become the dominant social system.” Dr Rahman continued, “If this vision comes true, most languages will die and English will be the great ‘killer’ language. It is already moving towards that role.”
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Early learning in mother tongue

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ON October 22, the federal education minister, Lt Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf, made a presentation on the “Education scenario in Pakistan” to the president and prime minister. At this meeting some key decisions were taken that were communicated by the prime minister’s secretariat to the federal education ministry for onward transmission to the provincial education departments to ensure their implementation.

These decisions, marked as “top priority”, reached various sections and departments concerned with education in Sindh on Dec 21. Some of these decisions have far-reaching significance, that is if they are actually translated into reality. Others will not have the desired impact — in fact they will have negative repercussions — because they are unscientific, unnatural and go against the basic mental development of a child.
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Debate on medium of instruction

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

A QUESTION we are still grappling with in Pakistan after 58 years is, what should be the language of instruction in our schools? Given all the scientific research that has gone into the language and literacy issues worldwide — but surprisingly not enough in Pakistan — one would have thought we would have found the answer by now. Unfortunately, we haven’t.

Those who have studied the psycholinguistic development of a child are very clear about their findings. They say that language and cognitive development are intimately related. According to them, a child learns best in his mother tongue because he is not doubly burdened with the task of acquiring literacy skills simultaneously with learning another language not his own. That is why very often the student taught in a non-mother tongue learns to read syllable by syllable with very little comprehension.
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An uncalled for controversy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

A LANGUAGE controversy has been brewing in Sindh for the last five weeks. It would have assumed the shape of a full-blown crisis had the earthquake of October 8 and its aftermath not diverted public attention. But as life returns to normality, attention is once again focused on the language issue which can become quite explosive if not handled promptly and tactfully.

The venom being spewed out is reminiscent of the tumultuous days of July 1972 when Karachi went up in flames, curfew had to be imposed and people lost their lives. It may be recalled that the cause of provocation at that time was the Sindh (Teaching, Promotion and Use of Sindhi Language) Act, 1972, which the Sindh Assembly adopted on July 7, 1972. This prescribed measures for the teaching of Sindhi in accordance with Article 267 of the Constitution which provided that a provincial legislature could promote a provincial language without prejudice to Urdu, the national language.
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Increased funding amid high scepticism over real progress

By Zubeida Mustafa

36-15-07-1988GIVEN the public outcry against the government’s failure to invest adequately in the social development of the people, the authorities in Pakistan have become more wary about making loud pronouncements about their commitment to the social sectors. What better occasion would they have of speaking about this commitment and receiving media publicity than the time of the presentation of the budgets — federal and provincial. Hence, it was no surprise that in the budget season this year each and every finance minister spoke in exaggerated terms about the social sector being his government’s major priority.

But the problem with budget speeches is that they are accompanied by budget documents and preceded by the Economic Survey which do not always substantiate the official claims. This year too the provincial governments have attempted to focus on health and education, which are central to any programme of human resource development. Although there has been an overall increase in the budgets for these two sectors, one cannot but feel sceptical about the progress that will actually be made. Continue reading Increased funding amid high scepticism over real progress

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School education: Addressing the human dimension

By Zubeida Mustafa

Education has traditionally been a low priority sector in Pakistan. This is best illustrated by an incident, seemingly trivial but profoundly meaningful, that took place a long time ago.

After Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad had sworn in Mohamed Ali Bogra’s cabinet, he realised that no minister for education had taken the oath of office Hurriedly, one of the departing politicians was. recalled and the education portfolio was unceremoniously thrust upon him.

52-25-01-1991

Things might be slightly better today. Heads, of governments remember the education portfolio when forming their cabinets — but more because they do not want to let one opportunity for patronage go by default. Continue reading School education: Addressing the human dimension

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Teaching English the modern way: Mind your language

By Zubeida Mustafa

It might sound paradoxical but the fact is that in spite of English being quite commonly used in Pakistan, a foreigner visiting this country can face considerable difficulty in communicating with the people he meets in the course of his travel. Not many of the people he would come in contact with in restaurants and hotels (not the five-star ones), on the road, at airports and railway stations can speak English. Continue reading Teaching English the modern way: Mind your language

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