Rethinking medium

By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week there was something to celebrate — rare in these troubled times. One of our eminent scholars, Dr Tariq Rahman, dean of the School of Education at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, was awarded a DLitt degree by the University of Sheffield, UK, for his work on language, art, culture and social developments that was assessed to qualify him on merit for this honour. In Europe less than 1pc of faculty gets a DLitt in the social sciences.

This achievement should do Pakistan proud. Given the state of our education, any academic whose work wins recognition, especially internationally, deserves to be acknowledged. This should be treated as an occasion for us to revisit his work and scholarship.

It is also important for our policymakers and educationists to read some of Dr Rahman’s 18 books embodying his knowledge and research. They will realise where they have gone wrong. Dr Rahman is a prolific writer and his works are eye-openers especially regarding language in the educational, social, cultural and political context in Pakistan.

Dr Tariq Rahman
Dr Tariq Rahman

Even a quick reading of Tariq Rahman’s Denizens of Alien Worlds: A Study of Education, Inequality and Polarisation in Pakistan is enough to help one understand how our education system and language in education policies are polarising society.

The ill-conceived language policies adopted in this country have divided society into the haves and have-nots. Instead of education being an equaliser, it has split people into highly educated elites who study in English and poorly educated ones who study in their local language that is badly taught.

Then come the new batch of education policymakers and we have a typical case of hell being paved with good (and ill-informed) intentions. They realise that our failure to have uniformity in our education system is at the root of all evil. It is this disparity that creates alienation. True. But they go off the mark when they look for solutions.

To introduce uniformity, they believe that English as the medium of instruction in schools will bring everyone at par. Punjab took that route till it learnt the hard way that this approach was creating new problems. Hence the government reverted to the old system. English would not be the medium of instruction and will be taught from Class 3 onwards.

Now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wants to opt for English as the medium of instruction. It has not learnt from Punjab. No one looks closely at the matter. Education can only be good so long as the teachers, pedagogy, textbooks, curricula, examination systems and governance are good. It is better still that children begin schooling in a language they understand, ie their home language. In this way, their cognitive development is facilitated and they also learn how to think.

What is happening instead is that a huge majority of children who are not familiar with English, a foreign language for them, are required to learn it which places them at a severe disadvantage. In the absence of teachers with proficiency in English, students cannot really learn the language, let alone understand other subjects taught in a language in which they have no proficiency. This lowers the standard of education further.

One would not disagree with the objective of removing disparities which have a profound impact on society and the economy. There are other ways of doing it. Do what the Chinese do. China-Shanghai topped the list in the OECD’s PISA, an international student assessment programme, of 2012 in which 510,000 15-year-old students from 65 countries participated.

Their method is to require every student to study in their own language for nine years and qualify for the local school-leaving examination. Thus they are thoroughly grounded in the local culture, history and knowledge. English is taught as a second language. Thereafter those who wish can join institutions to pass the school-leaving exams — ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels — conducted by foreign examination boards.

One is not very clear what the KP government had in mind when it decided to switch over to English as the medium of instruction. If the idea is to introduce uniformity the move will deepen the divide. Non-English speakers will be robbed of their faculty of critical thinking as they cannot articulate original and abstract thoughts in a language they are not familiar with.

English speakers who gain a head start on account of their family background will continue to have the upper hand. So how is equality being enforced by having English as the medium of instruction? However, uniform high grade curricula bridge the chasm between the haves and have-nots and that is where the focus should be.

Source: Dawn

7 thoughts on “Rethinking medium”

  1. “A good grasp of one’s mother tongue is an essential base for a child who then has to get to grips with the language of their host country,” reckons Amelia Lambelet of the Fribourg Institute of Multilingualism. Therese Salzmann, an expert in multilingualism at the Swiss Institute of Youth and Media, agrees. “The teaching of mother tongues reinforces self-confidence and gives the child a feeling of security.” She adds that “taking account of a child’s double cultures is a determining factor in their social integration and professional success.”

    Each language is a reflection of society. “Knowing a language and mastering its expression reinforces the idea that the child is part of a group and helps build a rounded personality that is able to open up to other cultures,” says Hélène Char, in charge of Swiss Intercultural Libraries, an association that promotes reading in other languages. She also believes singing is important. “The songs that parents sing to their children as well as the texts that they read them in their maternal language help the children learn other foreign languages.” Given the significance of a child’s first language, integrating it into the school day would be a step towards the goal of offering equal opportunity to all pupils, reckons Salzmann. “It is a shame that most school programmes are taught in one language, because exposure to other languages is reduced.”

    With this in mind, Hélène Char points to Austria, where some teaching of migrants’ first languages is included in the school programme, mainly at the primary school level. But even though that initiative has garnered favour among parents and children, many teachers and experts think it is a waste of time and a useless increase in workload for children, according to a study entitled The Teaching of Foreign Languages in European Union Countries led by José Carlos Herreras. Lambelet admits that “encouraging the teaching of mother tongues and the culture that goes with them in the public school system doesn’t do much to change the reality of equal pupil opportunity”.

    The sound knowledge of one’s owns language would appear to help – not hinder the acquisition of a second language and bilingual children may even have cognitive advantages and that the ability to speak more than one language is going to be increasingly important for the world of the future. Therefore, Muslim children and young Muslims have potentially a major educational advantage, although sadly this is not being developed well at present. British policy makers now recognise bilingualism as an educational asset rather than a problem. Education plays a central role in the transmission of languages from one generation to the next. The teaching of mother tongues is essential in terms of culture and identity. Arabic is a religious language for the Muslims but for Pakistanis, Urdu is also essential for culture and identity. Blind Muslim children in Bradford are learning to read Arabic and Urdu Braille, by a blind teacher who travelled from Pakistan. Now blind Muslim children are not going to miss out on culture, religion, language and the social aspects and integration into their own community and identity.

    Speaking English does not promote integration into British, American and Australian societies, and broaden opportunities. English speaking Muslim youths are angry, frustrated and extremist, thanks to state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers and English language. English language is not only a lingua franca but also lingua frankensteinia. Human right are also covers linguistic right. Cultural and linguistic genocide are very common. British schooling is murdering community languages like Arabic, Urdu and others. English is today the world killer language. Linguistic genocide is a crime against humanity and British schooling is guilty of committing this crime. Language is not just a language. It defines one's culture, identity and consciousness. It defines how we think, communicate and express ourselves. The fact is the most South Asian Muslims have come to know Islam by way of Urdu, the children's alienation from the language that connects them the heritage of their parents and grandparents is disturbing. As a matter of fact, one has to get to know his mother tongue well if one is to master any other language.
    IA
    London School of Islamics Trust

  2. The problem is not only use of mother tongue as medium of teaching, it is much more. We do not have teachers who are proficient to teach in our own languages. I have interviewed thousand of professionals including teachers and teachers of English; they are bi-lingual. Even in teaching they are so. This confuses the students and gradually they adopt the same practice.

    Two days ago I interviewed a medical professional and in her cv she wrote "I runned a clinic" If this is the state of education for those who were taught their profession in English, how can we educate our future generation.

    I must admire one gentleman who is fluent in both English and Urdu and when he speaks either language there are no foreign words. Well done Javed Jabbar.

  3. "——— uniform high grade curricula bridge the chasm between the haves and have-nots and that is where the focus should be. – .."

    UNIFORM High grade curricula >>>>>>> one needs more details of this. Is there going to be more than ONE such* national
    Curriculum * .

    According to my thinking there should be ONE national curriculum. From this ideal curriculum, each province is free to adopt a syllabus . The syllabi so extracted maybe different for each province, depending on local conditions. Ultimately all the syllabi have to upgrade themselves to conform to the NATIONAL CURRICULUM taken as the ideal.

    To follow this logic, what would be called a HIGH GRADE syllabus?

    The trouble is , that the best syllabus has to go hand in hand with easily available textbooks which reflect the scheme of the syllabus. Lets remember that it is a TRIANGULAR relationship. This has 3 vertices , namely the student, the textbook and the teacher. One wants an ideal set of pupils, creative teaching and well designed textbooks.

    Having said all this, the reality is that in a class with a teacher student ratio of 1 :25 , about 6 students will be brilliant in studies. They can manage the difficult features of any text-book and any syllabus. From the rest 15 or so pupils may be average learners. Some will be below average. The agonizing question is how will the non-brillant student cope with a high grade syllabus ???

    What about weeding out trained ,educated "teachers" , who are very often well qualified but can not get across to their students in class, for the simple reason that they have no flair for teaching.

  4. I read you article in the Dawn, Zubeida. Very good, as usual; highlighting a very important issue. Entirely agree with you. Was glad to learn about Dr, Tariq Rehman's well deserved award.

  5. ch impressed with the ability, dedication and hard work of Dr. Tariq Rehman. He deserves much appreciations
    for this prestigious award. This is of course an honor for Pakistan .
    Please convey my congratulations to Dr. Tariq Rehaman.

  6. very well researched article. and well timed.though the PTI government is trying to bridge the gap and give the "have nots' an equal opportunity to bring them at par with their affluent counterparts. the lack of capacity, trained teachers, teaching tools and material and above all "security" where half the schools have been bombed out and the little children are forced to study under harsh elements. hot sun during the summers and chilling snows during the winters. there are many published photos of poor kids in upper dir, lower dir, swat and other regions who do not have a shelter and a roof , neither toilets or wash rooms. bring "change" through reform without adequate infrastructure, capacity and trained staff is like making even the most well intentioned reforms backfire. PTI should learn from punjab reforms and its outcomes and prevail on the military to let build the destroyed schools during insurgency in 2009 and floods in 2010

  7. Greetings to my senior in the military and a friend now,Dr Tariq Rehman.Last December I had an opportunity to "warn"(yes,i used the word to highlight the seriousness of replacing mother tongue with a foreign language at the elementary level) KPK's young minister for education Mr Atif,who is exuberant about his job.Primary education in mother tongue is irreplaceable for learning systems of a human brain.This does not be-little another language which can be introduced at level3.Education seem's to be in the hands of novices.

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