Consensus at Harvard

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

OF late, the education sector in Pakistan has come under intense scrutiny abroad. Aid-givers and the so-called partners in the war on terror have belatedly reached the conclusion that at the root of Pakistan’s ills lies the country’s failure to educate its citizens.

Hence the sudden flood of foreign-funded reports and studies on education. It is a different matter that many of their assumptions are wide off the mark and the strategies they suggest display gross ignorance about the conditions on the ground and the local needs of the people. The latest to hit the Web is the consensus statement produced by Harvard University’s South Asia Initiative (SAI). In July the SAI convened a dialogue on education reforms in Pakistan that brought together some 30 high-profile personalities — party representatives, bureaucrats, journalists and academics — to the Kennedy School to work out a reform strategy.

The statement issued spells out the overwhelming consensus that the group arrived at. It defined the foremost goal for education as endowing all Pakistani children with a minimum standard of reading, writing and arithmetic skills. This is to be achieved by introducing standardised testing, measuring and dissemination of learning achievements. Teachers must be recognised as being central to the education system and must be supported and held accountable. The private sector must be acknowledged as an ally in the quest to educate Pakistan and it must be facilitated, provided it meets minimum standards.

The statement also highlighted the problem of parents operating in an information vacuum and the need to empower them by providing them information about school performance, school and teachers’ accountability and learning achievements.

All this sounds very impressive but there are some caveats that can be disregarded at our own peril. Baela Raza Jamil, director, programmes, at a number of education-related NGOs and managing trustee of Sanjan Nagar, who brought this document to my notice, wrote in a note that the recommendations of the Harvard group are “universal recipes for action anywhere in the developed and developing world alike. What distinguishes these for Pakistan specifically?” She noted that the issue of language acquisition as the core for literacy and numeracy competencies did not feature in the Harvard Consensus at all. Jamil called for “indigenous dialogues and activism for serious prioritised education reform”. A very valid comment.

These recipes cannot work in our context even though one cannot fault their underlying principles — making teachers accountable and empowering parents to monitor their children’s education. Let the final arbiter be the results of standardised testing.

Blogger Irfan Muzaffar points to the pitfalls in standardised testing in our context to judge teachers. “Pakistan is afflicted by the worst of inequities in the distribution of capabilities across its population. The contextual factors (both inside and outside the school) that have an effect on learning vary significantly across different groups. So the same test being given to people located at different points on any interpersonal comparison of well-being can potentially produce very different results…. It seems absurd to rely on the test scores to make judgments about accountability and performance of teachers.”

The overarching problem I foresee is in the context of language. It impinges on each and every aspect identified by the Harvard Consensus. Although we have yet to realise it, the fact is that the language in education will determine our success or failure in achieving the goals of education. Reading, writing and numeracy competencies can be achieved faster if children learn in their home language. Attempts to foist on them a language they are not familiar with — be it English or a language they don’t speak at home — only stunts their cognitive development and causes a setback in their natural process of learning as they have to concentrate first on learning a language they do not understand.

To expect teachers who do not know that language very well themselves to create reading and writing competencies in these children is a tall order and very unfair to the teacher. It does not work.

Then there are the parents whose monitoring and supervisory role is now being given some importance, probably for the first time. It is a farce to empower parents with information of a system that is geared to a language they may not be fully familiar with. Would such parents really be able to understand what the child is learning in school? Would they be able to hold the school accountable?

The feasible solution would be to start the child’s education in his own language so that he understands what he is being taught. Gradually, English can be introduced as a subject to equip the child with a tool for the business world.

But can one hope for this approach from the Harvard group? Will the private sector (which was represented by the elitist section at the meeting) agree to drop English as the medium of instruction at the primary level? After all, it is the language of its rich clients.

If English is to be imposed as the medium, the children of the poor will never be able to compete for jobs. According to the British Council’s Euromonitor report The Benefits of the English Language for Individuals and Societies big businesses admit their preference for English-speaking candidates and those who have studied in private institutions.

Does education for the poor stand any chance, trapped as they are between the devil and the deep sea?

25 thoughts on “Consensus at Harvard

  1. The Harvard report is valuable in its essentials. i.e. that the education of the nation's children is of paramount importance. However everybody with the minimum knowledge about teaching knows that the children must be taught in the language they understand.
    It is well known in Pakistan that the "rich" have distorted values and are fundamentally incapable of understanding the basic principles of education. So that is a big job which a civilised government must undertake.
    There are a lot of things amiss with that report (my knowledge of the report is limited to what you have mentioned) some of those you have mentioned and others you have, I dare say unintentionally , misstated and overlooked.
    There is no doubt about the language medium for teaching the young. the mother tongue. Period.

    There are situation where clever educational judgement have to be made. (I am a punjabi,) I learnt to read and write in Urdu. Only because for Muslims the Punjabi writing(Gurmukhi) was not available and a degree of understanding of Urdu was/is ubiquitous in most of the Punjab. So though technically Urdu was a different language but the young learners could fathom the divide. Our education used Punjabi for all communications in the classroom and still nominally was considered Urdu medium. Just pragmatic compromise. However it was not the case for Sindhis, Pushtoons, Bengalis and some others. They must be taught to understand their immediate environment in their mother language. Those who (rich Pakistani parents mostly from Punjab) consider teaching English to start of with even if the children have no idea of the contents , are misguided and have values which are at odds with the education principles.
    In the world we live in the English Language / literature has become important. So for those who wish to pursue studies in English must be provided for, however not for a substantial proportion of the population. There is no concept of teaching English as a Foreign Language, that should be addressed. It is primarily a question of pedagogy and teacher training.
    The question of parent participation is of utmost importance. You ,I feel have not given a fair treatment to this issue. My apologies. The parents participation should be at the heart of the child's education. It does not mean that parents must be educated to a certain level. It is good if they are, but must never be confused with being a good parent and an expert on every thing under the sun. Education standard of a parent is not a part of the equation.
    The or an education system, if it is going to be of any value in a democracy, must start with a child's entitlement to a certain level of education. Like police service, a justice system and other human rights must be the duty of the state to deliver it.
    Two things are basic to education:
    The national budget for education must reflect the duty of the government. The total sum available to be divided by the number of scholars. (in lower level of education) . The sum per child must be the given to the schools depending on the number of scholars. An elected parents body of the school children by the parents should have the total control of this budget although professional advice should be available to them. This school parents' body should be in charge of the teacher employment and the maintenance of the school ,of course, with advice of the headteacher.
    This is prevalent in most of the civilised countries of the world. Never undermine the parents' authority by giving power to bureaucracy to decide things about a school. There should be education adviser helping the headteacher but only and only the parents body must have the powers of making decisions.
    The second point worth adding is. The scholars attainment and the teachers efficacy must be left to the Parents' body. For those who new to this issue ,please note the rules and regulation for the maintenance of the schools the methods and training of the parent governors remain the responsibility of the local government, be it city government or the provincial government. Once those rules are passed the officialdom must get off the backs of the Parents. Let the courts decide , if there are any disputes worth courts consideration.
    It will be naive to think that it will solve all ills , no, it would not. It will make education important and the access to it will become possible given the central government alloted enough funds.
    In a democracy it is important that the legislation on the common assault must be strengthened so that any teacher who assault's a pupil is adequately punished. There should be no leniency in this regard.
    Unless children are shown respect they will never learn it.

  2. The international community should be concerned about the content of the Pakistani Hate inspired curricula.

    1. This is 100% true. Mother tongue is necessary but one must learn one international language too. Urdu is not going to help outside Pakistan.

      Pakistan should see the model of and Pratham working in India, how urbanites and remote village kids/parents are being educated. These are citizen initiated program and no government involvment is there.
      Pakistan elites should their fair share of contribution as they are avoiding all taxes and making country poor.

    2. That is true. It is an irony that if the language is one the child cannot understand, this curriculum passes above his head. But I agree along with the language the curriculum issue must also be addressed.

  3. you have touched upon an important but difficult issue.
    I feel that:

    1. Introducing English right from the beginning of schooling is
    impracticable because not only that you cannot find English teachers
    in rural areas but also because it is unnecessary.

    2. However, some English medium schools in private sector should exist
    to cater for a category who wishes it.

    3. The above two points are not contradictory. My personal experience
    is that in old times we were educated with a good grounding in Urdu up
    to the 5th grade when English was introduced. We picked up good
    grammatical English up to the end of 10th grade, and that is the end
    of the story. That English would suffice you for the rest of your
    life. And the even those who studied at English medium schools were no
    better , except in their English accent.

    4. You do require English for today’s curricula where math and science
    occupy a central place.

    5. There is a lot of confusion at the policy making in the government
    – nobody knows what is good and what is bad for the children as for as
    the medium of instruction is concerned.

    1. How you describe your schooling to be is the best one and if we could follow that pattern it would be fine. The problem with having two sets of schools as you suggest ensures the division of society between the rich and the poor, That is something unacceptable to me.

  4. Dear Ms. Mustafa,
    Thank you very much for the article…it highlights out some aspects that were not a part of the Consensus statement.
    Just to add to the debates, I was one of the participants and organizers of the dialogue that led to the statement that you referred to, the statement dwelled only on issues where there was agreement across the group. There were a lot of issues, including language, financing issues, role of private schools and so on, that were discussed but we felt that there was not enough of a consensus to get that into a statement. But we are hoping that the conversations will continue and these issues will be discussed and debated in Pakistan so that we can explore better policy options.
    I have written on some of the issues, inspired by the dialogue, including language and standardized testing. These articles have come in Daily Times and Pakistan Today, but they are on my blog too. Reference to these are below:
    On standardized tests:

    On language issues:

    On public demand for for reform in education

    The opinions in these articles are of course not attributable to the group…these articles were inspired by some of the issues that were raised at the dialogue.

    I also just saw you have a book in the area of language and education. I look forward to reading it.
    Thank you again
    Warm regards,

    1. Thank you for writing and clarifying this. Thanks also for sending the url to what you have written. It is all very enlightening.
      In such meetings you should insist that the other issues that were discussed but no consensus could be reached should be enumerated with the note that no agreement could be reached on them. In the form the statement is at present one gets the impression that you went to Harvard to only discuss the three or four issues mentioned. Such a clarification would have been fair to you too.

  5. "If English is to be imposed as the medium, the children of the poor will never be able to compete for jobs. According to the British Council’s Euromonitor report The Benefits of the English Language for Individuals and Societies big businesses admit their preference for English-speaking candidates and those who have studied in private institutions."

    Really? Have you looked at India? What tyranny has English learning leashed on their children? Or do you think progress, jobs and becoming a proud partner in the global economy is a tyranny? If our "jugnoos" are like you, forget "rah mein roshni."
    Nice, self-promotion website though….

    1. I sort of agree with Taj: I was sent to a private English medium school in Punjab even though my mother didn't speak a word of English and my father………broken at best. It didn't create much of a problem for me, on the contrary I am grateful. That education helped me hit the ground running when I landed in the USA (even if I had remained in Pakistan it'd have helped me tremendously).
      I think Ms. Mustafa is putting too much emphasis on language and not nearly enough on content (syllabus) and teacher training. Also she forgets the fact that children learn foreign languages far quicker than adults.
      Additionally, India successfully demonstrated that you can have a foreign language (English) as lingua franca. I think we can and should do the same.

      1. Hi AKD…..It is a classic case of poor country's human resources being used to further develop a developed country's economy. It is true that English education helps groups to move forward in life, but it creates an elite class which look down upon people who are educated in local languages.

        Education in local language helps because there is less burden of learning a foriegn language and makes it easier for a larger percentage of students get thro' school education successfully. Also training people to become teachers in local language is far easier than in english.

        Our craze for English education leaves us with people largely mediocre educated in English….They neither fit in English speaking socieites nor can successfully do anything well to contribute to the local societies. As we say in Hindi " Na ghar ka na ghat ka"

        I have seen graduates in India with double Masters of Arts in English & Education, but can hardly speak a well constructed sentence in English…This is a shear waste of meagre resources that are available in our societies.

  6. Such suggestions were inevitable. Of course when we fail to take the initiative and change things on our own, delaying it for decades so that the problem enters a malignant phase; people from other continents take up the initiative and put forth suggestions that they deem fit. I completely agree that urdu should be as a tool to educate kids to develop better understanding of things. Or maybe a middle course where words such as "decimal" "division" can be used in english so that it's not extremely hard for a child to later continue their education in english.

  7. This is a layman’s suggestion, but a curriculum infested with hate and biases, and the absence of critical thinking as a feature of learning experiences can hardly contribute to a meaningful change in the way our children are taught.
    Also, in terms of learning, if the standard of excellence remains tied with the scores obtained rather than the level of independent thinking developed, then the malice of mediocrity will continue to plague an already poor quality of human resource participating in the economy.

  8. The analysis is good, agree with the author completely that children should be thought in mother tongue elementary through middle school. English or Urdu could be introduced in High school. If Koran could be read in a foreign language (Arabic), why not education?

    However, the Harvard analysis are not completely wrong and aid givers have a complete right to get a report on the current status.

    The primary education in Pakistan has more basic problems. How many kids go to school vs. madrasas or no school at all? Did the education spending keep up with the growing population or does your army consume all the budget? Is it safe for women teachers in the areas of need ? (Through out the world, 80% of the teachers are women.) Early childhood education comes from mothers. What was done to promote higher literacy rate amongst women? Do these mothers have basic health care and sufficient time to spend for their children? Or, is the religious view dominant that women are not allowed to practice birth control and are burdened with childbirth year after year?

    This is a solvable problem, look at the example in India, a country not different from Pakistan.

  9. One has to think ! Lets do so one item at a time and then integrate some of the possibilities.

    The initial education of a child should be in the mother tongue. Every one agrees .

    Now this is fine as long as the child is an Urdu walla, a Sindhi-speaker, one whose

    family language is Punjabi or say, Pashtu. These are standard situations.

    Baluchistan has broadly, an eastern Baloch dialect , a western Baloch dialect,

    and there are Balochi dialect groups of isolated Baloch communities.

    Are these all written dialects. Doubtful !! ? So, schools in Balochistan are going to be helpless. If the mother-tongue is to be taught in such schools, at the most you will

    have an approximate standard Balochi . So the child with a dialect-background will

    always be studying through a synthetic medium of instruction___which is not

    his/her mother-dialect. I am sure that there are dialects in Balochistan so varied, that one Baloch can not understand another Baloch.

    In the sub-district of Lahoul-Spitti , there are various dialects of Lahouli.

    Lahouli and Spitti are Tibeto-mongolian languages____as are the people.

    The dialect of one teheseel is not understood by the folk of the next teheseel.

    In all their schools the medium of instruction is Hindi. Hindi is as far away from Lahouli as Latin from Tamil. Lahouli is NOT a written language !!

    So this idea of mother-tongue based medium of education up to primary school

    level is as best applicable only in the big cities and in the homogenous-language areas

    of Pakistan.

    Are we talking of having Hazara and Saraiki, Hindko, Kashmiri etc being taught

    in schools as media-of-instructions. Not possible !!! There are 300 dialects spoken

    in Pakistan.

  10. i have studied at lincoln's inn where mr.jinnah studied-when dean storey thrust a fellowship for smu-dallas texas and incidentally i came first dean storey called me to his office-he said there are 3 fellowships available where we can recommend you-harvvard where you will assist a professor,flecher school of law and diplomacy and university of michigan-i askeed which has the most money and he said michigan as it is a ford foundation fellowship- i wrote to obama why did you not accept harvard -i said after lincoln's inn -harvard is nothing so ingrid wrote thank god you rejected harvard otherwise i would have missed you.

  11. Folk,

    This is a bit lengthy, but it has some extensions of the standard ideas :


    Why Bilingual Elementary Education?

    The child who enters school for formal education comes with competence in a variety of language. That variety has the same complexity and potential for expression and communication as any other variety of language. If that variety marks a social group, is not acceptable to the school and is not adequate to meet all the current needs, then child is to be based on already acquired competences, not on their rejection.

    Educationists, Linguists and Psychologists are of the view that mother tongue is best suited as medium of early education as it aids concept formation and promotes creativity. In a multilingual country like India, where the notion of mother tongue is mixed up with region, religion, ethnicity, etc., and where children are equally at home with two or more languages/dialects, it is more appropriate to use the term ‘the early language experience of the child’ in the context of elementary education than merely use the term ‘mother tongue’. In this context, however, it is the bilinguality or trilinguality at the home surrounding that is to be taken into consideration and not the adult bilinguality of the larger community.

    In India, the scheduled languages are spoken by 10 to 80 millions of people. Each of the scheduled languages has about 10 to 97 recognizable dialects. The number of mother tongues in States varies between 58 (Orissa) and 454 (Maharashtra), and in Union Territories beween 14 (Laccadive, Minicoy and Aminidivi islands) and 210 (Himachal Pradesh). Out of the 1,652 mother tongues approximately 400 are tribal mother tongues, most of which are unwritten. Among these 21 languages are spoken by 1,00,000 and above, 4 languages spoken by 50,000 to 99,999; 5 languages by 40,000 to 49,999; 5 languages by 30,000 to 39,999, 6 languages by 20,000 to 29,999; 12 languages by 10,000 to 19,999, and 15 languages by 5,000 to 9,999 to the population (source: 1961 Census). Higher education is available in the medium of English and through the scheduled languages. Therefore, in designing elementary education all these factors have to be taken into account; and the language or dialect of early childhood experience of the learners would have to be determined for the purpose of elementary education.

    Interaction central to learning-centred education

    Indian education is essentially teaching Centred. The teacher consider the child’s mind to be an empty container to be filled with his wisdom and with the wisdom contained in the textbook. This explains the lecture technique of teaching at all stages and the textbook being the master of class room. This also explains the teacher’s insensitivity to the child’s early experience with language. This lack of interaction inhibits learning, results in large scale failure and low achievement.

    Numerical superiority and Imposed minority status

    The number of speakers of a language seems to have nothing to do with the phenomenon of their being branded as linguistic minority. Even if 40 million people speak Tamil in Tamilnadu, the Tamil children in other parts of the country confront the above situation. Even within Tamilnadu a Brahmin, a Padayacci or a child from North Arcot meets with the same fate, not to speak of other language settlers. This is one kind of situation. A different kind of situation prevails in Tribal language areas, where even if 90 or even 100 per cent of children belong to a tribal community, the education policy imposes minority status on them. These children are confronted with an educational scene, wherein the content, method and medium, all are alien and consequently there is little interaction between the teacher and the taught.

    Language as cause vs. Language as excuse for discrimination against the socially deprived

    Language is both the cause and symptom of an inefficient education system. In this sense language is only an indirect cause of lower opportunity, low social status and therefore, discrimination. But is must be understood that a poor, a scheduled caste, a person from a specific area or social group is hated and discriminated against for a host of socio-economic reasons. In such cases language difference is used as an excuse. Even if the language barrier was removed, the persons would still be discriminated against. Where language difference is used as an excuse for discrimination, societal planning must get priority. But when language difference is the cause of educational discrimination, educational planning must get priority. Both, however, require an understanding of the societal problems involved.

    Bilingualism models and muddles

    Scholars have talked about Assimilation and Pluralistic models of bilingual schooling. The underlying assumption that bilingual schooling in itself fosters either maintenance or loss of language is erroneous. There are a large number of socio-economic reasons which are responsible for both. In India teaching of standard Hindi has not resulted in the loss of Bhojpuri, Maithili, Megahi, Braj and Rajasthani. Acceptance of Kannada by Tulu speakers and Marathi/Kannada by Konkani speakers as culture languages has not led to the assimilation of this language. Even Tanjore Marathi, Mysore Tamil, Kacchi, Sindhi and Urdu have not yet been assimilated in spite of teaching which either did not recognize them or gave only nodding recognition at one time or other.

    Scholars have spoken of dual and Transfer models. In most such cases there is a great deal of confusion. Take for instance the Indian scene. Language medium schools, where invariably English is taught as a second/foreign language are claimed by some as bilingual schooling. Teaching two languages as subjects certainly does not make a school bilingual. The Central school system, where the 200 schools in which Social Sciences and Humanities are taught in Hindi and Physical Sciences are taught in English present the picture of one kind of bilingual schooling. This may be called the dual bilingual schooling in some sense. But it must be remembered that even in this system, for most students the mother tongue is neither Hindi nor English. The kind of bilingual school suggested by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, and proposed to be experimented among the Kuvi, Tripuri, Muria, Kolami, Warli and the Abujh Maria alone merits to be considered seriously under this rubric. This is in some sense may be called the transfer model. But the societal goal underlying the proposal does neither support shift, and assimilation no maintenance. On the positive side it aims at devising an educational strategy which shall bring the children from the linguistic tributaries to the mainstream of education at least cost to the system. This leaves the choice of studying the language as a subject at large stage open, and therefore, is not transfer in the sense of assimilation. The suggested scheme is to start teaching reading and writing of the mother tongue (using the script of the mainstream language is the mother tongue is unrecorded or inadequately recorded) while introducing the child to the spoken mainstream language. In the second phase reading and writing of the mainstream language is to be taught along with the mother tongue. In the third phase the emphasis on the mainstream language needs to be more and there will be the reverse of the relation between the mother tongue and the mainstream language in the first phase. Thus at the end of the elementary education the child would be ready to take full advantage of the division is 4+3+3 or 5+2+3 the scheme can be adjusted according to local needs.

    Here, one should bear in mind the difference between the Indian and the Western situation. In the West, the problem of education is that of the immigrant minority in the context of a dominant monolingual majority with an accepted standard. In the multilingual Indian scene where a child is called upon to learn at least three languages to cater to enlarging concentric circles of communication, the problem is one of planned bilingualism at successive stage to ensure balanced multilingualism. Viewed in this perspective, the bilingual elementary education proposed by the Central Institute of Indian Languages in neutral between maintenance and loss of the mother tongue. It may result in either, but will promote neither. It is the only viable educational strategy that can meet the demands of competing languages and dialects, avoid stagnation and wastage at the elementary stage and lay the foundation for a good continuing education.

  12. Harvard can not give us educational system, where the entire system is based on "Logical Positivism", making the person a "thief" instead of a "manager" of universe. Go to Holy Quran, last three vrses of Sua-Al-Ahzab to see the responsibilities of muslims and how to cope with them thorough an education sysyem.

    To elaborate further, what I am saying go to my key note lecture on Intergrated Education System:


  13. One does not know how South Asia is eventually going to solve this problem of a suitable

    medium of education in primary schools, middle schools and high schools.

    As a teacher i can bring umpteen instances of ” english medium ” having back-fired.

    One famous politician has said of the elite school : ” We are medium English ; you are

    English Medium ! ”

    Last year i taught Std 12 level Maths to 3 girl-students. One is a Tibetan, the others are

    Lahauli girls who finished Std 10 at Hindi-medium High Schools in the district of

    Lahaul & Spitti.

    All the education at our Senior Secondary level is in the medium of English.

    All three did very well in maths._______but they did not get passing marks in

    Chemistry. Why so ?

    That’s because no student from a Hindi-medium background has the linguist base

    to understand the text-book ” English ” of the Physics and Chemistry Std 12 texts.

    Even if the concepts of Physics and Chemistry are taught to them properly, they do not have the ability to explain and to write an examination paper in English.

    English is taught in all Hindi-medium schools, but it is a difficult language which can best be picked up by kids whose parents and teachers , themselves, are well versed in English. Non of these kids ever read a English-language newspaper ; they have no

    library-system to read simple story-books in English ( or even Hindi )

    Such a waste of talent___its demoralizing, for the kids. Any child who gets 65 + marks in Std 12 Mathematics, has the intelligence to do reasonably well in other subjects. Fortunately, learning ( & teaching ) of Maths is language-neutral.

    The problem lies in mastering English !

  14. Very valued comments on Consensus at Harvard but as pointed out by your good self the prescription offered ignores our conditions. The purpose of education is empowerment of the people – maximum good for maximum people within minimum time and that is possible only if the medium of instruction is mother tongue.

  15. Hi AKD…..It is a classic case of poor country's human resources being used to further develop a developed country's economy. It is true that English education helps groups to move forward in life, but it creates an elite class which look down upon people who are educated in local languages.

    Education in local language helps because there is less burden of learning a foriegn language and makes it easier for a larger percentage of students get thro' school education successfully. Also training people to become teachers in local language is far easier than in english.

    Our craze for English education leaves us with people largely mediocre educated in English….They neither fit in English speaking socieites nor can successfully do anything well to contribute to the local societies. As we say in Hindi " Na ghar ka na ghat ka"

    I have seen graduates in India with double Masters of Arts in English & Education, but can hardly speak a well constructed sentence in English…This is a shear waste of meagre resources that are available in our societies.

  16. This is 100% true. Mother tongue is necessary but one must learn one international language too. Urdu is not going to help outside Pakistan. Pakistan should see the model of and Pratham working in India, how urbanites and remote village kids/parents are being educated. These are citizen initiated program and no government involvment is there. Pakistan elites should their fair share of contribution as they are avoiding all taxes and making country poor.

  17. This is from the DAILY TIMES 12/8/2011

    Mother tongue or English: it is not a zero-sum game —Abbas Rashid

    The discussion has to be about the role of a given language, the methodology used to teach it and the stage at which it needs to be taught

    Among other things, the recent deliberations on education reform in Pakistan at Harvard University have again underscored the need for a dialogue on language and learning in Pakistan. Dr Faisal Bari recently observed that the very different points of view on this issue meant that it did not figure in the ‘consensus document’ issued at the end of the deliberations. This is understandable. But, while consensus is obviously difficult, it would be fair to say that a serious nation-wide dialogue on language and learning has become an urgent requirement.

    As a point of departure, let us take note of the fact that there is widespread demand for proficiency in English. And, of course, there is no particularly good reason to doubt the usefulness of learning the language. Even more than most countries, in Pakistan it is the language of social mobility and of power. More generally, it is the global lingua franca, the language of choice on the internet as well as the repository of advanced knowledge in many fields. So when it comes to schooling, is it any wonder that it is in such great demand, not least by parents whose priority is a better future for their children?

    The fast-growing private sector in education in Pakistan has been quick to respond to this huge demand for English by projecting and magnifying its ‘English-medium’ credentials practically over all other aspects of education delivery, even at the earliest stages of school. Not to be left behind in this race, the public sector has increasingly emphasised English as well virtually from the start of the primary cycle. The Punjab government, for instance, has now instituted a policy whereby the subjects of Math and Science will be taught in English starting with Grade-2 in public sector schools. (In Grade-1, the medium can be either English or Urdu for Math and General Knowledge.) Two assumptions appear to inform this policy: one, it will bring the public sector schools at par with the often better-regarded private sector schools and two, the earlier you make English the medium of instruction the easier it will be for the child to become proficient in the language.

    Three points need to be made with regard to the issue of school performance across the public-private sector divide: first, public sector schools cater for children coming from the lowest income bracket households and while some of the households sending their children to low fee private schools may also be categorised as poor, there is little doubt that the children of the poorest congregate in public sector schools. There is, accordingly, a significant difference in the support systems available to children going to public sector schools as compared to those who go to private schools. Second, the private school is free to turn away children likely not to do well in the examinations; the public sector school is usually not in a position to do so. Neither, of course, should it. Third, how good a job mainstream low fee private sector schools are actually doing in term of teaching children English or other subjects remains a subject for serious investigation. As often as not, the result of intensive rote learning is marketed by many private schools as proficiency. Right now all we can really say is that they are doing somewhat better than public sector schools; which given the state of most public sector schools may not be saying very much.

    As to the ‘earlier the better’ assumption, the following points need to be kept in mind: first, even if a very early and concentrated start entailing the use of English as a medium of instruction were the preferred strategy for reaching the goal of proficiency in English in the quickest time possible, we simply do not have qualified and trained teachers in anything remotely approaching the numbers needed to make this practicable. At this point, it would be a formidable enterprise for us to teach English as a subject at the primary level, let alone employ it as a medium of instruction. Second, this may not be the best strategy, in any case. There are numerous studies indicating that a child’s cognitive ability is best developed at the earliest stages of schooling by the use of the home language or the mother tongue. According to experts in the field, a child of around five years of age, at the time of starting school, has a vocabulary of approximately 3,000 words in his home language. To build upon this resource in the initial stages of schooling means enhancing the child’s capacity to learn. Far from being a zero-sum game between say the home language, the national language and the global lingua franca, a start in school with the home language will subsequently enable the child — as a better learner — to pick up the latter two with greater ease. There are exceptions to this route, particularly where children are exposed to what constitutes the immersion method. Children from elite households, for instance, have far less of a problem learning English, not because they go to English medium schools (that is a part of the equation) but because outside the school they are immersed in an environment where English is effectively rendered the first language. But, we can well imagine how limited this number is.

    Our attention is often drawn by those who want no delay in English language schooling to countries such as China and Japan whose spectacular success is attributed to different development models but who are one in their current enthusiastic embrace of English. For reasons mentioned earlier, this is entirely understandable. But the point to be stressed here is that in building the strong foundations of their human and social capital, their primary reliance was not on English.

    What we are positing, then, is not a choice between English and other languages. The discussion has to be about the role of a given language, the methodology used to teach it and the stage at which it needs to be taught. In Pakistan, it may be more appropriate to teach in the home language in the initial stages of the primary cycle, switch to Urdu in the next phase and subsequently to English. When switching to Urdu the home language could be retained as a subject and Urdu can continue as a subject when English becomes the medium of instruction.

    In conclusion, this discussion is not about preserving language or enriching culture. Those aims, for other reasons, are well worth pursuing in their own right. There may even be points of overlap between the cultural and the pedagogical contexts. But, for the sake of analytical clarity, we may want to keep the distinction in mind.

    The writer lives in Lahore and can be reached at

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  18. As one who had been to lincoln's in first where mr.jinnah studied and created pakistan i as one who refused a harvard fellowship and accepted a michigan fellowship and even gone and met the professor in harvard who regretted my decline of a harvard fellowship-i am not much impressed byy these foreiggn reports.
    ley us look at china-they are the next super power and you have to realize that if china does not indirectly support usa -the usa shall be broke.yes i went to meet the harvard professor later and he said 'i sincerely regret that i missed you and did not accept the harvard let us not be too worried about harvard and a power on the decline.let us now analyse why every pakistani businessman even my own secretary has been 3 times to china-usa would crash economically if china does not support it you get me.

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