Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Question of Language

I came across a story in Dawn today talking about which language(s) should be used in schools. This is a subject that is of course more than just about schools and education - it is also about Center/Province relations and cultural plurality. I recently wrote a paper on language policy in Pakistan and had a couple of recommendations, one of which dealt with language(s) in schools. I won't bore you with the entire paper, I'll just reproduce the relevant section here.
It is difficult to have a meaningful discussion on education in Pakistan because the country lacks a standard syllabus and curriculum. Be that as it may, I call for a greater freedom in selecting languages at school by allowing parents to choose two out of three of English, Urdu and a regional language to be taught to their children until the age of 7, or the end of Class 2, whichever comes first. From that point onwards, parents must choose one of English or Urdu as language of instruction for subjects like History and Geography and must choose another language – which is not the medium of instruction – to learn. Under this system, students will be fluent in two languages but will not have any one particular language forced upon them. For instance, until the cutoff point, a set of Sindhi parents may decide to have their child learn English and Sindhi. After the cutoff point, the parents may decide to use English as the language of instruction and Sindhi as a ‘second’ language, which the child will study as any other subject like Mathematics. This system would allow the parents to prioritize employability in urban areas, an affinity for national unity, or cultural heritage, while also ensuring that the child learns at least one ‘practical’ language – English or Urdu. This arrangement would not be entirely dissimilar to India’s 3+1 formula, where English, Hindi and the state language are required, along with the option for minority students to study their language.

Now what does the story in Dawn say? This:
It recommends that the medium of instruction up to Class-V be left to the provincial governments. But it categorically states that “the medium of instruction for the first three years of the child’s education should be the mother tongue wherever possible.” Where Urdu is not the medium of instruction it should be taught as a compulsory subject from Class-I. English should be introduced as a compulsory subject in all schools from Class-III starting with the year 2008 by when sufficient number of qualified and trained teachers be prepared.

From Class-VI onwards the medium of instruction should be Urdu for social sciences and English for mathematics and the natural sciences. The regional languages where desired by the provincial governments should be taught as a compulsory subject up to Class-VIII. The medium of instruction in higher education may be English.

Tolerance of regional languages? A division of labour between Urdu and English? Surely, surely, there cannot be someone in the Pakistan government who actually thinks like me. This obviously means that we must brace ourselves for one of the following three possibilities: (a) the apocalypse, (b) Imran Farhat holding on to a catch, or (c) Farooq not responding with an inane comment to this post. Let's see what happens.

1 comment:

Farooq said...