Chinese in Sindh schools

by Zubeida Mustafa

STILL mired in its indecisiveness about an effective language in education policy and its implementation, the Sindh government has decided to move a step further into the realm of mass confusion on the education front.

It has now announced that children in the province will have to learn the Chinese language (does it mean Mandarin?) as a compulsory subject from Class 6 onwards. This policy is to take effect from 2013.

Why the government is so overly keen about this policy, described by critics as ‘stupid’, is not known. As an incentive, it has even promised to offer foreign scholarships to students studying Chinese. As is our wont, a handful of unqualified policymakers have taken the hasty decision with no planning having gone into it. We have been assured that the issue will be taken up on a priority basis. In effect it means that the curriculum will have to be drawn up, textbooks printed and teachers trained in the next 18 months.

The motive? Ostensibly to win the goodwill of an “all-weather friend and neighbour with whom trade relations are growing with every passing day”. But few are convinced of the need to thrust another foreign language on children.

Expectedly, the decision has caused quite a ruckus. But unfortunately, the online chatter, bordering on hysteria, has not taken this as an occasion to demand that the government revisit its language in education policy that can be described as equally ‘crazy’ as making Mandarin compulsory. Our present language policy poses as many challenges as the teaching of Mandarin would.

This is a pity because we have already made quite a mess of education in the country. Sindh has been the worst off and a recent report on the knowledge of rural schoolchildren tested nationally in 2008 places Sindh at the bottom of the heap.

Without going into all the causes of this failure, one can confidently identify the key ones — the poor quality of teachers who are selected on grounds of political loyalty and not academic merit. The teachers lack proficiency in the mother tongue of the child. There is the misplaced overemphasis on teaching English as the panacea of all ills. Wouldn’t it make sense if efforts are first directed towards revamping the school system, focusing on the home language of the child as the medium of instruction, improving textbooks and using the modern methodology of language teaching?

If we have to follow the Chinese example, we would gain by studying China’s education system instead, which is rated quite high internationally. A big poster that greets incoming passengers at Pearson International Airport (Toronto) announces: “The number of Chinese currently learning English is five times the population of the United Kingdom.”

Teachers who have lived and taught in China confirm that learning English is a high priority area in many schools in that country. But before our champions of English jump to the conclusion that I am advocating a switchover to English in our schools, some more information about the Chinese education system would be helpful.

True, English teaching is highly coveted in China, but all schools up to grade 10 are required to teach in their own language.
Sarah Siddiqi who taught science in Souzhou for a year found the level of knowledge of the schoolchildren in the basic sciences equivalent to world standards. International assessment tests confirm this.

In its eagerness to compete with the industrialised world, China has introduced a parallel three-year international curriculum taught at the high school level in English. But the condition is that the child must have completed high school in the Chinese system in his own language. A-level comes another two years later. .

Only a handful of schools offer these international courses, mostly, Cambridge/International Baccalaureate/American Advance Placement. Thus Souzhou, a city of six million, has only four schools offering the international exams for which they hire education agencies mainly from Britain. Since the Chinese are focused in their planning, they concentrate on subjects that do not require as much language skills as the social sciences.

Physics, chemistry, mathematics, accounting business studies are generally the subjects offered. Of course the students’ proficiency in English — especially the spoken language — is not at all adequate, but they rote learn to success. But I feel what must be noted is that they have already acquired their basic knowledge in various subjects in the 10 years of schooling in Mandarin.

English has been introduced as a subject in many schools in the major cities of China from the primary level. But Siddiqi did not find the children very fluent in the language. According to her most children carry an electronic English-Chinese dictionary with them and refer to it throughout the lessons. She describes this as being “helpful and distracting” at the same time.

Foreign teachers in the universities are provided the help of interpreters in the classroom. Lack of English language skills is compensated by the amazingly large number of Chinese books translated from foreign languages that are freely available. This handicap in English notwithstanding can one say that China is not doing well on the world stage?

Have the Chinese been consulted about this brainwave of the Sindh government? Do they think it is feasible? But the Chinese are famous for maintaining a discreet silence when necessary.

The writer is the author of Tyranny of Language in Education: The Problem and its Solution.

Source: Dawn

47 thoughts on “Chinese in Sindh schools”

  1. Madam, you have rightly defined the prose and cons regarding introduction of chines language in schools. No one is ready to take initiatives to improve the rapidly declining standard of education in Sindh especially in rural areas, but when it comes to win political support of people then such stupid decisions are made to impress them without any proper long term planning to achieve the desired impacts. What people of province need in education is quality and access to institutions of higher education.

  2. If this is correct : _—_—” will be taken up on a priority basis. In effect it means that the curriculum will have to be drawn up, textbooks printed and teachers trained in the next 18 months. ”

    18 months ! to learn how to teach ” Chinese ” ?

    Every morning while preparing breakfast , i listen to CRI ( China radio International) ,

    which is broadcast in English just ahead of BBC Urdu. One can listen on that CRI short wave broadcast to a very short , 5 min. , programme : ” Lets Learn Chinese ”

    How much Chinese have i picked up ? *ZERO* !!!

    第五课:今天几号?

    Lesson 5: What is the date today?

    Background

    On a Sunday morning, Dachuan asks about the day and time, because he has a date with Li Mei.

    Dialogue One

    Roles

    jīn tiān xīnɡ qī  jǐ

    今 天  星 期 几?

    What day is it today?

    jīn tiān xīnɡ qī  rì

    今 天  星 期 日。

    It’s Sunday.

    xīnɡ qī  rì   jīn tiān  wǒ hé lǐ méi yǒu yuē huì 

    星 期 日?!今 天  我  和 李 梅  有  约  会!

    xiàn zài jǐ diǎn le

    现 在 几  点  了?

    Sunday?! I have a date with Li Mei! What time is it now?

    bā diǎn èr shí sì fēn

    八  点  二 十  四 分。

    Eight twenty four.

    洪恩教育科技有限公司 协助开发

    Produced by

    Human Education & Technology Company Ltd.

    Any educationist will tell you that imposing a language syllabus on to young, unprepared minds , is the best way of killing their zeal.

    This is the very reason that very few kids like *maths*____because it is compulsory.

    In my opinion, maths should be taught so that the learner does not begin fear & hate it.

    The same is true about foreign language learning. Such adventures of the mind & imagination are best absorbed when the mind of the learner is a bit more *mature*.

    Not every one likes maths and many kids are hopeless at language skills.

    May one share a joke ?

    ” Once the Chinese PM was due to visit President Clinton . For some reason he was very reluctant to go to Washington. He made the genuine excuse : ” But i do not speak any English “. The advice he got was : ” Do not worry , when you meet the US President , he will say : ” Hello Mr. PM , I’m glad to meet you ” . So all you have to say in English is : ” Me too* .

    After that the interpreters will take over to help you.

    So the Chinese PM caught a jet plane for Washington. President Clinton was at the airport to greet him.

    Clinton : ” Hello PM , i am Hilary’s husband .”

    Chinese PM : ” *Me too*

    1. My dear friend, if you would show your comments (including chinese) written on a piece of paper to a primary student in Sindh, who has not been exposed to any foreign language, he/she would be equally confused by both the languages. So i dont agree with you when you say that learning Chinese is hard. If we can teach our children English, we can also teach them chinese.

      BTW, there are anumber of studies that show that multi-lingual children are much smarter than those who learn/speak just one language.

      We should also learn from the history. As the world leanred english (and still doing it) to do business with the previous/current? superpowers so should we learn chinese and hindi to do business with the emerging superpowers.

  3. In a province where eduction is perhaps at all time low, where children were hardly taught correct Urdu or Sindhi, what to talk of english i wonder the idea of introducting Chinese as language may succeed. Eduction standard in Sindh is alarming whether public or private. The ministry of eduction is minting money and now even the school buildings are on "sale." God help this country. mazhar

  4. It sounds like you are advocating English language over Chinese. Our national language is Urdu, our medium(including state level) of communication is English; and we want to learn Mandarin.

    Rather than making Sindhi language compulsory in Sindh, it should made compulsory in rest of the provinces. Similarly, in Sindh, Punjabi, Balochi and Pushto should be made compulsory.

    1. Hello *univited guest ji*,

      you are welcome !!! About this : ” Rather than making Sindhi language compulsory in Sindh, it should made compulsory in rest of the provinces. Similarly, in Sindh, Punjabi, Balochi and Pushto should be made compulsory. ”

      I would agree with this suggestion wholeheartedly, except the * compulsory *

      concept. Certainly the people ( is-kool kids)of every province in the country should be familiar with (a) the mother tongue (b) Urdu (c) English and (d) at least one

      other provincial language of the neighbouring area.

      That makes 4 languages to study. Actually 5 if you include Chinese.

      Instead of *compulsion* would any kind educationist , please suggest some methods that provide incentives and motivation for language learning.

      I hope *compulsory* does not mean the horrible old method of using the stick.

      Look, if compulsory means that i *must* get 35% marks in a paper exam, then

      any modern students will show you the various strategies to *pass* the written tests. Getting pass marks can never mean proficiency. Expertise comes from

      enthusiasm, parental support and encouragement, from reading general books in that language and knowing the end-use advantages of that proficiency.

      An enthusiastic teacher is a must !!!!!

      People in South Asia study English not out of a love for Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy , but because it is a ** ROZI-ROTI ka sawaal **

    2. …and kill the students! Why are we so Obsessed with Language? We don't know science, we don't know where the world's going but we should know sindhi/punjabi etc. Utter nonsense!

  5. I cannot disagree more with your cooments here. Its really short sightedness on your part. You have not probably realised that China would have the largest economy, overtaking US, in a few years time. If we want our kids to be successful in this growing global village, learning Chinese would place them miles ahead from the rest.

    Bill Gates said a few years ago that if an international business want to survive, it should train its staff into learning two langauges – Chines and Hindi. The MD of the worlds largest miner BHP, sends his kids to a speacial chinese classes as he firmly believes the value of this education. Cont'd

  6. The action by the Sindh Govt is highly commendable. It will produce a cadre of chinese speaking/understanding kids who will not only have the potential to lead businesses in the chinese markets but can also act as representatives for thousands of multinational businesses that want to set-up business in China.

    I appreciate your concern with the general state of education in our school systems but this opportunity to lead the world in pursuing the chinese language education should not be missed.

    I live oversees and i have every intention to train my kids in the chinese language as i strongly believe that this will give them an edge in a highly competetive world that lies ahead for them.

    You never know, in a few years time, when things settle down in Pakistan, people from oversees start sending their kids to learn chinese in Pakistan!! (maybe i am a bit too ambitious here)

    1. If you are really acquainted with the standard of education in Pakistan (and in Sindh specially) you will realise that teaching children Chinese (obviously of an appalling standard as that is what it would be) is not going to help.

      Bill Gates sends his children to Chinese classes. Even you plan to do that. But neither of you has demanded that the language be made compulsory in all state schools.

      Why do we want to neglect the basics while diverting our resources to thrust another language, that we know we do not have the capacity to teach, on the children in our schools

      1. I am sure we would have had similar discussion when we started teaching English in our schools. Look what has happened since. Not only our government schools teach english but there are numerous schools in the private sector that do this job pretty efficiently.

        If we were to follow your argument and those of some of the commentators here, we should disband all education in english in the country, change our official language to urdu and start imparting knowledge in local languages. But the reality is that we can not simply do this as english is required to survive in this world.

        We need to understand that Chinese is going to be the new 'english' for the future generations. Somebody has to take this step and get the ball rolling. I understand that the quality of basic education is poor in most government schools but i can not but appreciate at least the initiative and understanding of the goverment in this regard.

        1. You say English is needed to survive in this world. Even bad English? And even English that is taught at the expense of good education that should help develop cognitive develpment of a child and promote critical thinking? Clearly something is missing in this argument. Moreover can you neglect millions so that a few may benefit?

          1. Its not a matter of good or bad english. It is the realisation in the society that english is necessary is important. I am sure, parents, even in remote sindh, would like their kids to learn english.

            Introducing chinese to our kids should be seen in the same vein. Not everybody is going to be master of the language (as is the case with the english language) but there would be enough to start reaping the benefit for themselves and the country.

            Okay, i agree, perhaps, making chinese mandatory in schools is not the best way to coax the society in this direction but in Pakistan things only happen by 'executive orders'. I am not sure what is the best way to achieve this objective. But i strongly believe that we will miss the boat if we dont start now!

  7. Furthering you points about the Chinese education system, the education system my father studied under in pre- partition India is quite interesting:

    Primary education in gujrati ( or whatever the local language would be ) History and geography of Maharahtra. English was introduced in class 5. Middle school: maths and sciences in English, History and geography of India in gujrati. Senior school: all subjects in English; history and geography of the world; a choice of modern languages and a choice of classical lnaguages inc latin or arabic or Persian.

    I Imagine this was you do not lose your own culture yet are able to particpate in the larger international scolarly community.

    1. Oh Hoooo ! durriya maharaj,

      Aap nay bari purani yadeiN tazaa kar deeN . Jab to Bombay Presidency maiN

      Maharashtra, Gujrath aur Goa shamil thay. Bombay Unisersity ka juridiction

      Karacji say Hibli tak ka thaa !!!

      وہ دن چلے گئے

      وہ دن چلے گئے،

      وہ اب زمانہ کہاں رہا—-

      جب پسینا عطر گلآب تھا۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔

      1. But the principle that Durriya understnds so well is that a child must begin education in a language he understands that is his language 1.That was so in the days of yore and that is still believed to be the best.

  8. We cannot afford to keep playing havoc with education- we will end up with Children who are illiterate..

  9. I must say I disagree with most parts of the discussion. Chinese are not doing well on world stage…seriously check your acts, if u are talking about economy I don’t need to explain but if u are talking about education than some facts; Of the 26,891 students graduating with a PhD degree in S&E in the United States in 2003, more than 2500 (9.2%) were born in China and The number of PhD holders in China is going through the roof, with some 50,000 people graduating with doctorates across all disciplines in 2009 — and by some counts it now surpasses all other countries.

    Learning English is important (after the local/national languages), but learning Chinese/Mandarin is also becoming ever so popular all over the world. The rise in number of ppl learning this language is the most across for any language. Considering the amount of trade we do with China it doesn’t hurt to learn the language. I can now only wish they thought foreign languages in School at the time I was in these grades, so in any case learning a foreign language be it French, German, Arabic, etc is always useful.

  10. However I will agree since I don’t know much about the program the government is going to implement, so there may be a lot of kinks in the system that may need to be fixed before it is successful.

    But I will ask you this what’s the use of getting ‘the so called’ education if you are going to be like any other person on the streets of Pakistan and be against anything productive that any government here wants to do and instead of writing about how they can improve/modify the system, you like everyone else manage to find flaws in the system (which any person can) and indicate towards some unknown hand behind everything that goes on in Pakistan.

    1. If you read the articles on education on this site you will find the solutions suggested. Why should one suggest a change if one finds the existing system satisfactory. Don't who do not want to change get upset by criticism. If you think "the so-called education" which also implies criticism, will improve by teaching Chinese you will be disappointed.

  11. The Al-Ansar Education and Welfare Trust has just adopted a govt school in Orangi Town where 6 different languages are claimed by at least 10% of the children as their mother tongue making Urdu not even a mother tongue for the majority – at least with Urdu there is some comprehension – English! can't find a teacher competent to teach even the basics, govt teachers can't hold even a simple conversation in English how on earth will they cope with Chinese? Already Arabic, Urdu, Sindhi and English have staked a claim on the already limited teaching time.

  12. Crazy idea in a country that has so many problems needing to be tackled straightaway. But I agree with you Zubeida in that a child needs to have a thorough grounding of his/her basic language first and a firm grasp of at least the 3 R's before moving onto something else – and the Chinese language seems to be a hugely over ambitious leap for a place where many rural educationists aren't proficient even in English

  13. AOA,

    I have read your article and would like to point out some of my experiences, i am in no form opposed to your POV but i think its very harsh to the polic makers. I am an hec scholar proficient in urdu , english and french these are the three languages i have to use every day, urdu to communicate with pakistanis , english to communicate with international research community and international engineering community and french to communicate with my french professor of engineering.

    We all know the pethatic condition of paksitani promary school system, we all know that the curriculum is outmoded and defunct in the current environment. But based on my life experience which includes getting Engineering degree from nust and then giving tofel , gre exams and in the end doing phd from france i think if we want to improve future employment prospects of pakistani its to teach them as many languages as possible in the primary years.

    Lets face the facts that a predominate number of pakistani are in labour market and in this market proficiency in communication skills is much more important.

    Its my POV and i write this article just for your info i intend not to offend any one. Just sharing my experience.

    1. I agree with you that languages can help — but there are so many conditions attached. From your own experience it seems your basic education was thorough (I don't know in which language) But French definitely came later. People can learn as many languages as they want but only after having mastered the basics of education in their own language.

  14. I believe that Mandarin is already being taught in a few Pakistani educational institutions including NUST and NUML. However, it will be interesting to see how the decision about teaching of Chinese in Sindh unfolds in the next two years as there is a huge gap between pronouncements and implementations. Given the pathetic track record of the education sector in Pakistan in general, and the lack of trained and devoted teachers in particular, this idea will perhaps die its own death.
    However, according to a report that had appeared last year in New York Times, teaching of all foreign languages, except Chinese, was on the decline in American schools for the last decade. Apparently, hundreds of schools in the US are getting help from the Chinese government, whereby teachers are being sent to schools from China and part of their salaries are also being funded by China.
    But that’s about the US of A. Will the Chinese teachers imported from China to the province of Sindh be able to put up with the bureaucracy, corruption, lethargy, lack of basic facilities and infrastructure in our schools? It may be a tall order and a serious strain on the Pak-Chinee dosti.

    1. You end with an excellent question Rumana. As for the institutions in Pakistan teaching Chinese — the ones named by you — are elitist. Can you compare them with a government "school" in Tharparker? Your last question gives the answer..

  15. dear Zubeida,
    you are of course absolutely right on grounds of objectivity and idealism; i suspect that the ruling class in Pakistan is very aware that by 2020 or thereabout, China, by all accounts, it set to finally dethrone the American empire in most ways;
    i would see this as a very canny preparation for that eventuality, so that the next generation of pakistanis become first among contenders for the fruits of the Chinese empire to come.
    badri raina
    delhi

  16. yes, I was wondering whose idea this was. We can't speak correct urdu, we can't speak good English, we cannot speak Arabic maybe could try Chinese eh?

    1. Masooma ,

      ” —–We can’t speak correct urdu, ___” How sad !!!! Why so ?

      Surely at least this problem can be tackled.

      چند تجاوز تو پیش کیجئے گا ؟

  17. Thanks Zubaida. Can you supply the reference to the study of school achievement in which Sindh came last?

  18. Dear Zubeida,

    You are absolutely correct, one of the sanest voices. Your arguments are as applicable to any part of the world.

    I believe the decision to roll out chinese in sindh schools is a military alliance decision not an academic policy decision. A very unfortunate way to make policy.

    Some readers are picking bones at your arguments. I guess they are missing the point. All I see is, you are arguing for primary education in mother tongue. As kids grow older they can always have a choice of choosing any foreign language of their choice in high school or college. A basic fact is, mothers help a lot in children's homework at the primary stage. If a mother cannot read chinese, fat chance that the kid will enjoy learning chinese.

    Another factor is, if there are no teachers that can speak/teach chinese, providing scholarships for kids is like putting a cart before the horse.

    A question though – My chinese friends in US say that Indian educational system is better and chinese are catching up, especially in English language. Why not put aside the nationalism and look up to the Indian model, which is equally successful?

  19. The minister and the bureaucrats coming up with this harebrained idea have no idea of child development and neurobiology of learning.
    This forum is not the place for detailed discussion but long and short of it is that children need to have strong foundation in their "mother tongues."
    Children develop abstract thinking in their primary language. Knowing another language does not necessarily mean more knowledge, wisdom or enhanced skills.
    I'm not opposed to additional languages but putting cart before the horse is not going to get to your destination.
    If language had any special power then all German speakers should be Einsteins and all English speakers should be Shakespeares.
    Right Mr. Minister!

  20. I very much liked the way this subject was dealt in the write up. English (because very desirable), Urdu (because the national language), Sindhi (because provincial language), Arabic (because language of our religion) and to crown it all Chinese (because? God knows why).
    We have proved ourselves to be adept in complicating matters. And now proved ourselves more adept in complicating an already messy matter into a complete mess.
    Best of luck to you poor guys who have to put up with studying Chinese after a year and a half.

  21. My dear friend, if you would show your comments (including chinese) written on a piece of paper to a primary student in Sindh, who has not been exposed to any foreign language, he/she would be equally confused by both the languages. So i dont agree with you when you say that learning Chinese is hard. If we can teach our children English, we can also teach them chinese. BTW, there are anumber of studies that show that multi-lingual children are much smarter than those who learn/speak just one language. We should also learn from the history. As the world leanred english (and still doing it) to do business with the previous/current? superpowers so should we learn chinese and hindi to do business with the emerging superpowers.

    1. True Sir, the children would not understand a word in either language — Sindhi or Chinese. But some policymakers will understand English. Most would not understand Chinese.

      You are correct about multilingual people being smarter. But will they be smarter if they aren't good in any of the languages they are supposed to have learnt? And can a teacher who doesn't know a language teach it to the children?

  22. we as a nation are confused …we are spoiling our talented generations by inducing first english and now chinese language in our basic cuuriculum…Fundamental essence and concept of education is not to make someone affluent in languages like english or chinese …we can produce good doctors and engineers in our own language or to some extent with basic understanding of english….and afterward they can learn chinese , japanese whatsoever languages through separate simple language course..but introducing the chinese at school level is simply suicidal with the future of our generation and country…

  23. I have heard that chinese language has 2500 alphabets, it may be wrong I don't kow. However pakistanis have problem with learning english which has 26 alphabets. They will fail and fail miseraly. We need a focus on regional and national languages.

  24. I am sure we would have had similar discussion when we started teaching English in our schools. Look what has happened since. Not only our government schools teach english but there are numerous schools in the private sector that do this job pretty efficiently. If we were to follow your argument and those of some of the commentators here, we should disband all education in english in the country, change our official language to urdu and start imparting knowledge in local languages. But the reality is that we can not simply do this as english is required to survive in this world. We need to understand that Chinese is going to be the new 'english' for the future generations. Somebody has to take this step and get the ball rolling. I understand that the quality of basic education is poor in most government schools but i can not but appreciate at least the initiative and understanding of the goverment in this regard.

  25. my secretary went to china with a businessman recently-when they
    arrived in shanghai
    they asked some one to phone their hosts when they phoned they
    said'we are standing in
    front of you-so as he was impressed by china's progress he is now
    learning chinese.
    i think we should devise some method to learn chinese.
    when i went to germany during my stay as a student in uk i went to the
    continent-the first country was germany-so i bought a small book of
    speaking german-i soon realized that they were
    learning english from me-but those days are gone now.
    read ibn batuta's safarnammma-he used to get married in the country
    and become the local official qazi-he even went to the islands near
    sri lanka but promptly got married there.

  26. A very common Urdu proverb aptly applies to the government's plans to force children in Sindh to learn Chinese language. I am referring to "Kawa Chala Huns Ki Chaal, Apni Gaya Bhool". Our children, most unfortunately, are imparted the kind of education, which at best can be described only as rudimentary, including the teaching of languages. I am talking about the majority of our children whose parents have no option but to have them enrolled in government-run schools which lack almost everything that can be even remotely associated with meaningful education. However, there can be a good argument for our highly educated cadres to learn Chinese to enable them to get involved with the high level scientific and technical research being conducted in China. I am sure that this is the only door of sensitive research institutes and installations open to Muslims and Pakistanis following 9/11.

  27. Irrespective of the pros and cons of this idea, do we have enough teachers who can teach Mandrian?
    I would be surprised if there are 100 people in whole of Pakistan who can speak Chinese. Where is the Govt. of Sindh going to get teachers in thousands of schools in the province who can teach Mandrian?

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