Category Archives: Language

Get issues right

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE discourse on language in education has taken the intelligentsia by storm in the wake of the Single National Curriculum (SNC). The polarisation between various points of view is so intense that a meaningful debate is impossible. It is intriguing why the supporters of English distort some issues beyond recognition. Hence here is another attempt to clarify issues.

First it must be restated that the discussion is not whether children should learn English or a local language. Those who support the local languages as the medium of instruction have always added ‘and English must be taught as a foreign language’. I have yet to figure out why we are accused of pushing out English from our education system to make our children backward and incapable of handling technology. It seems to imply that even if we are failing to teach English correctly it is fine so long as we stick to our mantra of English and English alone.

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Which language?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ONE aspect of the Single National Curriculum that has yet to be resolved is the medium of instruction. It came under the spotlight when the National Curriculum Council announced in March its outlandish idea of making English the medium of instruction from preschool to Grade 5. Strangely, many in Pakistan have argued endlessly in support of English. They believe that without fluency in English one cannot get a job.

On the other hand, there are some who want Urdu, the national language, as the medium of instruction. But Urdu is not the mother tongue of 90 per cent of the people even though it is the language of wider communication. That leaves the mother tongue (a native language) as the only feasible option for the medium of instruction. A decision has to be taken. For six months, the government has been wavering and the consultations are becoming endless. Yet another conference was held on Wednesday. Here it was decided to set up a committee to take a ‘final’ decision on the medium issue.

Not having conducted any research/ surveys on the matter, the government has no firm ground to stand on. It would help if the education ministry would look up its own archives and dig out Javed Hasan Aly’s massive White Paper on Education (2006). It is the only thoroughly deliberated official policy document on education that I have read in Pakistan. It is a pity that the education minister at the time (an ex-army general) rejected it because Aly had proposed that the mother tongue be used as the medium of instruction.

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Art and peace

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN her poem Children Learn What They Live, Dorothy Nolte writes that if children live with hostility they learn to fight and if they live with acceptance they learn to love. What parents, teachers and all in a position of power need to know is that they must protect children from exposure to violence and trauma if they are to be peace-loving and tolerant.

Are we doing that? Not really. Look at what television shows its viewers, or worse still what is circulated on WhatsApp or posted on social media, and you will understand why we are becoming so belligerent. Even the much-touted Single National Curriculum prefers silence on this issue and the words ‘peace’, ‘love’, ‘rawadari’ or ‘amn’ figure nowhere in the eight files posted on the federal education ministry’s website.

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An opportunity?

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN tandem with Islamabad, the Sindh government has announced that the students who were scheduled to sit for their Grades IX to XII Board examinations this summer will be promoted to the next class without being tested.

In the absence of an alternative, this can be deemed to have been a sensible step. Moreover, the fact is that the exams we have been holding for the last several decades are no less than an ‘immaculate deception’. They are rife with corruption, and candidates resort to unfair means while massive sums change hands to manipulate results.

As a consequence, the real learning outcome of the students is appalling. Education in Pakistan is exam-oriented and these exams are a farce, leaving no incentive for the students to study. For them, it is a paper chase for the certificate/degree.

Now is also the time for the government to come clean on its failure to educate the children of this country as it is required to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. The pandemic lockdown and the disruption it has caused are a blessing in disguise. The government should now rise to the occasion to bring about radical changes in our education system.

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Posthumous works

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE world would have been denied the richness and scholarship of some of Franz Kafka’s literary work — especially The Metamorphosis — had his friend and executor, Max Brod, not decided to ignore Kafka’s instruction in his will to destroy the unpublished manuscripts he left behind. Kafka died young in 1924.

Other writers have generally been pragmatic by not leaving a will. There are quite a number of them though we hardly note it. Albert Camus’ A Happy Death as well as Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder saw the light of day when the authors were no more.

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Time to ponder

By Zubeida Mustafa

HERE is something to take your mind off the novel coronavirus pandemic that has overwhelmed the globe. I would like to take you to another world — the world of education. It is too early to speculate about the post-virus age. We can, however, use the opportunity provided by the lockdown to ponder issues pertaining to education. The fact is that they have never received much thought.

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Which language?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE medium of instruction in school is once again being hotly debated, not that the issue had ever been resolved. But now that the pro-mother language lobby has gained more leverage over the years, its voice is being heard. That is why passions generated by the language issue cannot be slapped down.

What provoked the controversy this time? It was a report prepared by a subcommittee of the National Curriculum Council on the medium of instruction that caused the ruckus. Later, a member of the NCC described the report as a piece of ‘misreporting’. The so-called wrong report had prescribed English as the medium for quite a few subjects from primary to Grade XII. The regional languages had been omitted totally. It was the latter omission that had led to the deafening furore on social media — and quite understandably so. Mercifully, a clarification was later issued by the government explaining that the question of the languages to be used as the medium had been left to the provincial governments to decide.

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The miseducation of Pakistan

By Zubeida Mustafa

Seldom does one come across any good news about the state of education in Pakistan. In July this year, a UNESCO report stated that one out of every four children in the country do not complete their primary education. Additionally, the government revealed that 23 million out of 55 million children (40 per cent) are out of school.

Unfortunately, those who do attend school are not much better off, for the quality of education imparted at institutions is abysmal.

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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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