Language in Sindh schools

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE language dilemma in education remains unresolved in Pakistan because educationists fail to understand how basic language is to the child’s learning process, as also to the psyche of the speakers.

Those who ignore this fundamental truth can undermine national integrity. If they are running schools they cannot maximise the learning advantage of their students. Language has a political dimension as well. When our leaders fail to understand that imposing a language on a people amounts to linguistic imperialism, the consequences can be grave. We know what happened in 1971.

In this context, Sindh should be the last province to pose a problem. It has speakers of mainly two languages — Sindhi and Urdu. Geographically they are broadly divided between the rural and urban areas. Public-sector education follows this demographic feature in the medium of instruction policy. Unsurprisingly, from ASER 2012 (the annual report on the status of education) to be released in January it emerges that 90 per cent of the parents in Sindh want their children to be taught in Sindhi (presuming that is the language of their choice when they said no to Urdu and English and opted for “other” in a survey conducted there).

Then one wonders why schools run by NGOs otherwise doing an excellent job of educating the underprivileged children of the province are reluctant to teach them in their home language.

Last week I received an email from a friend who is doing wonderful work in her ancestral village of Khairo Dero where she has set up the Ali Hasan Mangi memorial trust to honour the memory of her grandfather. Naween Mangi’s commitment to serving her community is impeccable. There are few who have made it big, and have still taken the trouble to return to their roots to uplift their people.

One of Naween’s ambitions is to educate the children of Khairo Dero. She joined hands with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) that has done a phenomenal job of opening 830 schools all over Pakistan in the last decade or so. TCF has been cited as a model and has many success stories to its credit. Naween raised the required amount from philanthropists to enable TCF to open a primary school in her village which she visits regularly to keep track of the progress of the children.

Naween is, however, having a problem with TCF’s language policy. Adopting a uniform approach vis-à-vis language in all their schools, TCF policymakers understood early in the day that it would be futile to try to educate their students in English. That was a very sensible decision though English is recognised as being the ‘language of power’. TCF seemed to understand how a child is at a disadvantage when he has to learn in an unfamiliar language (English) from a teacher who is not proficient in it either.

Hence TCF adopted Urdu as the medium of instruction in all its schools. Some objected to that. But not Naween, a broadminded, liberal and highly educated journalist. She says she doesn’t mind if the children in her village are taught in Urdu and also learn Sindhi as well as English. She cites her own case. She is trilingual and feels she has benefited from her diverse language competencies.

The problem that has dismayed her is that in the process of learning Urdu the children are getting alienated from the Sindhi speakers who they bully and look down upon. This should not really happen if the teachers are briefed on how to handle the challenges of bilingualism. Naween’s letter to TCF (forwarded to me) summed up her concerns.

“As earlier, I found children speaking to each other in Urdu and replying to my persistently Sindhi questions in Urdu. Worse, the teachers and staff all speak to each other in Urdu … and replied to all my Sindhi questions in Urdu,” she wrote. “Are the children and the teachers this brainwashed that they cannot … respond in the same language they are being spoken to?” she asked. They believe “they must not speak their native language”. This she termed “as a great disservice to the children themselves, to the rich tradition of our language and to the community you aim to serve”, she added.

TCF has promised to respond.

This news saddened me. It meant that the dialogue we have been attempting to have with the high-ups of TCF for the last two years has not impressed upon them the significance of language. Their argument in support of their policy — mainly lack of resources — is not convincing.

This doesn’t answer the question why the pre-primary classes, where written text is minimal and there is more emphasis on the spoken language, should not use Sindhi and also let this period be treated as a transitional phase to introduce Urdu. Also intriguing is the failure of the teachers to inculcate love and respect for a language — in this case Sindhi — which is after all the language of all TCF teachers in rural Sindh.

Language cannot be equated with quality. Quality is determined by pedagogy and textbooks. Take the case of the Indus Resource Centre schools which use Sindhi as the medium of instruction. They have produced excellent results in the latest school-leaving examination. Sadiqa Salahuddin, the executive director, tells me that of the 41 students of her schools who appeared for their Matriculation exam this year 24 got A-plus or A.

Source: Dawn

11 thoughts on “Language in Sindh schools

  1. Hi Zubeida: I am Urdu speaking from Karachi who fully supports school instruction and propagation of Sindhi language. sindhi is a developed language and was the official language of sindh and the courts. I have many Sindhi colleagues who I respect and understand their grievances. I don't suffer the typical "Mohajir" complex. Sindhi as medium of instructions was discontinued by a verbal order issued by Maj. Gen. Tikka Khan during Ayub's Martial Law. It was part of Ayub's policy of destruction of minority provinces' identify, language and culture. It culminated in the separation of East Pakistan. The same process is simmering in Sindh and unless a lesson from the past is learnt, simmering Sindhi nationalism will soon explode. I support the quest of the people of Sindh to retain their language, culture and national pride within Pakistan.

  2. There is no controversy on the value of mother tongue at the elementary level,even higher levels if we take the trouble of developing our curriculums.I think we are too lazy to work seriously to resolve this.The follower mentality is 'convenient' for a large majority;"Learned Helplessness",i would suggest

  3. It is your old and favorite topic and reader can best understand your concern about Education vis-a-vis Language. As you have been recognized world wide so you should have advocated your ideas about Sindh in an ironical way by referring this (Language) problem a world wide.

    Your intent is very clear and right in approach: Education to all if not free then with the little cost, Mother Language be medium of education, National language be respected, respect other languages.

    But the most important and vital point is about 'method'. Method to achieve the target. A combination of Govt., Education institutions, parents and students can resolve to achieve it.

  4. Your articles on education and language have always been most enlightening and educative. Your consistency and perseverance truly is inspiring.
    Sadly even organizations like TCF haven't yet grasped the essence of the issue. Hopefully your erudite pieces will help bring about the change.
    Thank you for your writings.
    With Very Best

  5. Thanks for regularly sharing your articles through email. Today's article was particularly very touching as the issue of mother tongue is very important both politically and academically. Need for providing primary education in mother tongue is widely acknowledged by academicians and scholars. Politically we should learn from Bangladesh experience; separation of which actually started from the day their language was denied its due right. Cultural diversity is globally respected and we should handle this issue rationally. Having more than one national languages will actually strengthen the country. Wish your writing on this issue bring a tad of realization in TCF management.

  6. Madam, I always appreciate your cause about education and support your ideas. Mother language and only mother language should be made medium of instruction at elementary level, Bilingual or trilingual system is not applicable and people like you should discourage that approach at any level.

  7. I just read your article and pleased to know that 90 percent Sindhis
    want their children to get education in Sindhi.

    The NGOs usually tread the conventional way of lietracy hence TCF is
    not listening. We however convince donors like USAID to fund a project
    on mother tongue based bilingual literacy program for adult women in
    our area by our org IBT. In this regard I ma sharing my recent piece
    in The News on Dec 21. Please read and feel free to present an
    enlightened critique. You can share it with your contacts as well.
    Women, language and literacy

  8. I am highly impressed with the theme of your article.

    Today I had a detailed meeting with Sindhi Language Authority (SLA) Chairperson Dr. Fahmida Hussain on more or less the similar issue, what a coincidence that she briefly shared with me the content of your article.

    The reason I met SLA Chairperson today was to discuss with her on erosion of spoken languages in Pakistan, especially in Sindh. Let me tell you the background of this particular issue, which was highlighted by a couple of friends and me after observing heavy influx of too many foreign words in our colloquial languages. We observed that be that government office, or an NGO working in rural areas of Pakistan, an academic institute or a home, we could not find any single person speaking without using 7-8 words of English in ten-word long Urdu/Sindhi/ or Punjabi sentence. We realized that this inundation of too many foreign words is eroding original beauty of our languages instead of enriching them. We concluded that media (TV channels and internet, and NGOs are heavily contributing to this erosion.

    You will really wonder how the newscasters and anchorpersons of Urdu and Sindhi TV channels are conveying news, or conducting talk shows! It is really shocking that they prefer using English words in spite of the fact those words have very nice native terminologies that are generally commonly used in routine. So do the NGOs/INGOs also that deliver relief goods, and provide services to rural and urban population without translating those in local languages. Being an End of Project Evaluator (national/international consultant) I was shocked to see the villagers using the terms "goats", "chickens", "rice", "wheat" and many more like these in English instead of their native languages. I observed this in Sindh and Punjab more as compared to Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and I observed Sindhi, Punjabi, Siraiky and Urdu were more affected, I would say perhaps Urdu is in double jeopardy as it is language of communication and everyone speaks it. See the words below, which were used by the illiterate and literate people used frequently:

    [Project, Proposal, Program, deliverables, service delivery, parents, children, institutions, government, law, floods, rains, shelter, tent, goats, rice, wheat, agricultural tools, evaluation, monitoring, disaster, financial management, human resource, report final, caring, project start and end, change, ultimately, goods, food items, non-food items. Child friendly spaces, mother care center, early recovery, rehabilitation, mitigation. assessment, organization, location, participate, issues, equality, efficient, supportive, environment, sustainable, health, vegetables, awareness, rights, movements, Words, Guest Speakers, talk shows, host].


    Look forward to hearing from you

  9. I hope you are fine and doing well; I went through your article that appeared in Dawn yesterday "Language in Sindh Schools"; it was really appreciable on your part to take up this pertinent issue. I think there must be a widespread debate on this subject across the country.
    Just a little humble indication about a conceptual error I noted in your article, i.e. "has speakers of mainly two languages — Sindhi and Urdu. Geographically they are broadly divided between the rural and urban areas." Zubeida Sahiba, I do not think Sindhis are totally rural, and Urdu speaking population is totally urban. None of the nations/societies/communities in world could be termed exclusively urban or rural, the same applies to Sindh as well. Huge sections of Sindhi population are urban since centuries, and larger section of Urdu speaking population lives in small towns across the province. Hence terming Sindhis only rural population and Urdu speaking as urban population would be factual and conceptual error. or as I call error of perception.
    Being an urban Sindhi speaking I find this segregation as offending as "Karachi and Sindh" perception is. It may interest you to know that even great Philosopher Karl Marx in 19th Century considered Shikarpur as one of the highly developed urban centres in the Sub-Continent, in his famous book, "Indian Colonization". Before partition when Karachi did not have 0.1% Urdu-speaking population, Karachi was considered as Paris of Asia and a highly developed urban centre. You must be aware that in 1943 census Sindh was the only province in the Sub-Continent where 97% of the population was homogeneous (i.e. Sindhi speaking.)
    I hope you understand it,

    1. Thanks for your comprehensive reply. I entirely agree with you. Perhaps you missed the words BROADLY DIVIDED. The advantage of writing for a newspaper is that it reaches a huge number of people in one go. But it has a disadvantage too. You have a very limited number of words at your diposal Most newspaper readers undersand that and look for the essence.
      There are indications that the TCF will respond and we will be thankful to them for that.
      Of course the language issue must be taken up and I will do it in a journal where I would be allowed several thousand words. Nevertheless thank you for taking an interest in the issue.

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