Tyranny of Language in Education

Book Announcement:
Tyranny of Language in Education: The Problem and its Solution
by Zubeida Mustafa
ISBN: 978-969-9154-22-5
Rs. 200.00
£ 10.00
Publisher: Ushba Books

About the Book

Language is closely linked with a person’s socialisation. It is something that develops in a community. The culture, political thought and sociological dimension of people living in a group have a direct bearing on the language they speak. That is why language is never regarded as something neutral and the medium of instruction used in school has far-reaching implications for the people. It can facilitate their social, cultural and intellectual development or it can hurt their capacity to learn. Unfortunately, factors other than these obvious ones have determined the language to be used to teach a young child in Pakistan. The failure to look at language as a crucial component of education per se has resulted in our failure to spread literacy and learning in the country.

Can we reform education in Pakistan using any language? No, says the author, who makes an attempt to look at the issue from a young child’s perspective. She makes suggestions based on biological, social, historical, political and, above all, pragmatic imperatives that could give a boost to education in Pakistan. She sheds light on the roles to be assigned to the mother tongue, the national language and English, the international language of the day.

About the Author

ZUBEIDA MUSTAFA is a Karachi-based journalist who worked with the English language daily, Dawn, as Assistant Editor from 1975 till her retirement in 2009. She wrote editorials and articles on the social sector after extensive research on education, health, women, children and population. Earlier Ms Mustafa worked as a Research Officer in the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi in 1962-69.

She contributes a weekly column to Dawn and her writings are reproduced worldwide on the web. She encourages dialogue and discussion on her website, www.ZubeidaMustafa.com.

See also…

INTERVIEW: “Parents want education for their children but feel helpless.”
Book launch: ‘Teach children in their mother language, build their self-confidence
Education facing ‘tyranny of language’

To order this book, please use the contact form.

52 Responses to Tyranny of Language in Education

  1. yasmin abbasey says:

    As salam o alaikum,
    I am new to you. However, have gone through your article ‘English as a barrier’. No doubt the native language is the best way of education, but we can not ignore the importance of english in our every day life. To meet with the world and progress in society a knowledge of english language is important.
    After going through the article I could deduce that you are karachi based, so I have contacted you to seek your help. Through you I want to know some institution in karachi which gives best coaching of english speaking and writing. I am in urgent need of this to improve my english particularly my speaking ability. Though there are many in the city but some of them are not of the mark and are very expensive. I hope that you will help me.

  2. Asad says:


    I've just read your article and I totally agree with you that language barrier has caused limitations on our knowledge. Knowledge that has been built over time with social norms, culture, surrounding environment and religious factors. Ofcourse communicating with the whole world is an advantage of learning English but as we globalize, we are loosing our identities. Our adoption of western culture in the name of moderation has crippled our society from roots and as new generation arise, we can observe a gap growing among parents and kids. I've been expat most of my life and my only regret is that I will not be able to pass on my root knowledge to my kids because of this barrier! Thank you for sharing this article, I am going to buy your book when I visit Pakistan in the summer.

  3. Inam Qazi says:

    Despite the fact that English is an international language; that it's learning is an inescapable fact; that it has, though wrongly, become a symbol of status (for a class that strives to be recognized as 'westernized' –mistaken for modernized) and that having people recognize you as being a writer of English language is a pleasant experience, English, for being a language we are less familiar with, is a barrier so far as the expression of our thoughts and ideas in full spirit is concerned. It obstructs the intellectual development of a child, who, in spite of possessing creative mind, finds it difficult (and a consequent reluctance to learning) to put his thoughts in words only because what he has acquired from his society and observed in his surrounding can be best expressed in a language he is most fluent in.

  4. sher jan says:

    I read most of your articles in daily dawn which is really give me a lot of knowledge and new vision.i have deep respect for you.
    sher jan
    kabul Afghanistan.

  5. Kimie Takahashi says:

    I look forward to reading your book (but I need to figure out how to purchase it through the publisher's website…). In the meantime, I wonder if you've read this blog post introducing your work. http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-migrati

    • Zubeida says:

      Thank you Kimie, I saw this blog post today. You and Ingrid are doing a good job I must say. I like many of the issues you take up. I shall add some comments there. Why don’t you go through some of my columns on language. You will find them interesting.

      Thanks for writing.


      Isn’t it a coincidence that we have identical mastheads

  6. Muhammad Azhar says:

    I have gone through from the reviews published in daily dawn and tribune. I really found very interesting and started thinking in those lines that you have mentioned in your book. Now, I am going to purchase that book and after reading thoroughly, I would like to have a discussion with you, if you allow. I am working on education and its associated fields from last eight years but I have never focused on this aspect of education and learning. All the time we are blaming some supply side factors -whether public or private schools and to some extent it is fair to say but the learning at home is also crucial in this respect. For instance, I am working on the dropout factors at primary level and I am amazed to observe that children feel difficulty in communicating with their peers at school and outside school. This factor is often overlooked in the educational discourse.

    Similarly, people around us who are engaged in any sort of writing are troubled with translating Urdu to English. At the end, it is found that they cannot produce something which is good and worth reading in either language. Taking example of Korea and Japan where the basic medium of instruction at schools is their mother tongue not only have one of the well established education systems but also have a status of largest economies of the world.

    So I would like to be part of that debate that you have raised and similarly raised by Dr. Tariq Rehman who is also working on these themes.

    Muhammad Azhar
    Research Associate SDPI

  7. Shah Faisal says:

    I had written about this a while ago, albeit in a different context, you may like it :)

    I will be interested in reading your viewpoint in your book, whenever I get my hands on it.

  8. Syed Misbah says:

    I first heard about your book in the dawn book review section and i was overwhelmed that at least someone has taken the initiative to address that language really is a major problem in our education system. I have recently completed my A – Levels from Lahore College of Arts and Sciences and during the 2 year period of my A levels i wondered how confused my generation is. They speak a mixture of English and Urdu ( Which you in your book quite articulately coined as "Urlish" ), they try to be western in any way possible and the most annoying factor is that they make fun of students who are not very strong with English. I used to wonder a lot over this issue and i came to the conclusion that the 200 years of British Raj left a scar upon us and this language issue is a part f that scar. When the brits left us, we made no attempt to restructure our administrative system from an imperialist system to a more democratic one. This thought lead me to the belief that in order to restructure our system it was highly necessary that we restructure our education system and teach more of Urdu or the mother tongue rather than English. The use of English in our education has been a menace economically, politically and culturally.
    I used to argue with my friends over this issue but no one would side with me. Everyone seems to think that English is spoken all over the world and that it is highly important that we study it as a first language and Urdu as a second (Trust me when i tell you this, my school registered its students for second language Urdu paper for the GCE o levels examinations instead of first) .
    I'm afraid i can keep on writing about this issue for eternity so i should sum up what i had to say to you in the first place. When i was reading your book i felt like hugging you for raising awareness on this issue. I had planned to write a book over this issue myself for i have truly, in my 13 years English medium education, seen with my eyes the tyranny of language in education.
    I feel that you should write another book over this topic and this time mention the cultural aspects of the use of a foreign language as well and also take a more closer look at the private schools system. Since i have experienced what happens in highly commercial private sector schools i can enlighten you on many issues.
    It is not just the public sector education that is not appropriate but also the private sector education. Some also believe that CIE (Cambridge international examinations) Is actually another form of EIC (East India company) because come to think of it. CIE is a major drain on our economy. A large amount of people belonging to middle class and the elite class pay huge sums of money which are taken out of our economy and into theirs. Culturally i have seen that every year CIE seems to be getting more and more Euro centric. This year they made the Urdu paper a lot more easier and a couple of years ago they removed the history of the Mughals from the world history paper which now consists entirely of European history.
    I have a lot of information and ideas about these and i too would like to join the debate that you have raised and work towards a better society.

    Syed Misbah Uddin

    • Cyrus Howell says:

      English since the end of World War II is the universal world language at this point like it or not. The language of commerce and yes those who know English will go ahead of those who don't. I agree that Urdu should be the first language.
      What did happen under colonialism was a new class of high priests who arose speaking English – the Indian bureaucrats. At that time India had almost 700 different dialects and the English language bought people together in closer communication in the 19th century.
      What seems to have been lost is the fact that children sent to boarding schools with British teachers were forbidden to speak Urdu in school. The Welsh were forbidden to speak Welsh in School. The American Indian boarding schools would not let Native Americans speak their languages. Only English.
      So the British did a pretty fair job of putting their brand on the type of education Indian children received. Indians learned they were part of a "commonwealth of nations" under the British Crown as well as the learning the language.
      One thing I can guarantee you is the Indian Royalty wanted the protection of the English after Delhi was robbed of it's vast wealth by Nadir Shah and his Persian army (along with their Pashtun allies). 1,000 elephants and Nadir Shah's soldiers carried so much of Mogul India's treasure back to Persia no one knows how much there was. This was in 1739, but an English Governor General for India was not appointed until 1773 who assured India's rulers the Persians would not come back to loot Delhi again.
      So after the American Revolution England and India settled down once again to trade with the world and this time speak the King's English.

  9. Irfan Anwer says:

    After a long time, I am reading columns in Daily Dawn specially columns on people and their prospects. your columns are of that kind and are very meaningful. We need such writing for the country because such issues are never taken up. You represent mainly the humanitarian dimension. I like that very much. Please keep briefing us as you are doing….

  10. Irfan Anwer says:

    I feel It's great for us, that we can speak English and also written on web….

    I have a lot of information and ideas about these and i too would like to join the debate that you have raised and work towards a better society.

  11. shafqatkaka says:

    hello dear author

  12. Mehvee says:

    I have started to read your book and it highlights what we experience everyday at our institute. But I would like to further your assertions that even in adult learning it has been seen that unless there are teachers who can communicate in the mother tongue learning is retarted. And that is true for all learning be it functional literacy or skill like learning to stitch or embroider.

  13. Mehveen Quraishi says:

    I have started to read your book and it highlights what we experience everyday at our institute. But I would like to further your assertions that even in adult learning it has been seen that unless there are teachers who can communicate in the mother tongue learning is retarted. And that is true for all learning be it functional literacy or skill like learning to stitch or embroider.

  14. Tahir Ali says:

    excellent work. I eagerly wait for and read your articles on especial social issues. thanks a lot for the insightful writeups.

  15. hammocks uk says:

    It occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts. In its narrow, technical sense, education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another, e.g., instruction in schools.

  16. I don’t even know the way I ended up here, but I thought this publish used to be good. I don’t recognize who you’re however definitely you are going to a well-known blogger in case you are not already. Cheers!

  17. Waqas says:

    I came to this site via the article of this writer.
    can i get a soft copy on internet of this book.?
    it seems very informative

  18. Aliza says:

    Early education should be in one's own language in order to build confidence in one's own culture and to prevent easy uprootedness later on in life. English can be added fairly early as a second language, but not to completely replace the native language. That way a child can be established in his/her native culture, and also become proficient at English, which is the world-round common language and can't be made abstraction of.
    Lots more about children's education and health on my Atlanta pediatrician blog.

  19. Vivek says:

    I am Indian American, grew up in Mumbai studying in native language in school and later in English at college. Our entire generation suffered due to government policy of removing English from education and introduction in Grade 8. I made sure my children studied in best English school of Mumbai. Your writing and the theme is a mirror image of the issue in India. In school we studied four languages – Native language of instruction, classical Sanskrit, common Hindi and English. The problem is quality of teaching in any language, Studying in English is no passport to high quality language, the students leanr neither language well. The primary issue is literacy for the masses than education for a few.

    • zubeida says:

      You are right that the main determinant of the product is the quality of teaching. If everything is equal (good teaching of every subject or poor teaching of every subject, the result will be better if the child is taught in a language s/he understands. The problem is that generally the standards are so poor in Pakistan (I am not speaking of the elite private schools and the teachers don't know English but the public sector schools) and the teachers don't know English that it will be better that they teach in their own language. You are right about imparting literacy to the masses. But that must be in their own language.

  20. albert says:

    The way of life, government considered and sociological measurement of people residing in a group have a immediate maintaining on the language they discuss Thesis help

  21. Helen Morris says:

    I believe in the importance of early years education. Teaching your children to read" especially in their mother toung can have a profound effect on their ability to learn.

  22. Shehla Yousufzai, says:

    Students in sindh are studying Sindhi and those in KPK study Pashto. Regional languages are not taught in Baslochistan and Punjab. Similarly students from Karachi & Hyderabad are forced to study Sindhi while it is not their mother tongue. Why this discepancy? People remain silent because of fear of agitation from Sindhi nationalists

  23. Helen Morris says:

    I was looking for tips for teaching children to read and write
    and came across this useful resource.

  24. zoya saeedy says:

    The first step in fighting the tyranny of English language in Pakistan is to ensure that all schools have names in regional languages or in Urdu. For example, the following names sound ridiculous in a country where the majority speaks languages other than English: The Karachi Grammar School, Aitcheson school, Lyceum, Centre for Advanced Studies, Happy Home School, The Academy. Why do these schools have English names? Why do we send our children to schools which have ridiculous names? –Zoya Saeedy

  25. I should buy your book. You are right about Language in Education

  26. Samie Lowe says:

    I agree 100%. The language barrier can be very difficult when wan to excel ahead in these times. Some educational institutions are doing something about this and others have it on their agenda.

  27. Kevin Anderson says:

    The book seems to be a good one, I'll find a copy to read it. I strongly believe in the importance of language and agree with you on it being linked with a person’s socialization for we individuals use language to express our emotions, inner thoughts and use it to communicate with others.

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  28. Robert Sun says:

    Good article. You are right about language defining one's character. This is very true.

  29. Educator says:

    Inspiring one Zubeida, keep sharing :)

  30. Henry says:

    Tyranny of language in education is a great piece of book. I've read this book twice and really enjoyed myself learning different ways of language learning education. I think everyone should read it for foreign language learning inspiration. Thanks.

  31. Du hoc says:

    Thanks for your short article. My good friends are going to study abroad quickly. I will pass this information to them.
    du hoc nhat ban gia re

  32. Mark Strong says:

    Language is such a powerful medium for everyone. Great read thanks for sharing :O)

  33. ElizaGordone says:

    I'm bewildered i can keep explaining this issue for perpetually so i should total up what i required to say to you regardless. I had needed to make a book over this issue myself for i have point of fact, in my 13 years English medium guideline, seen with my eyes the mistreatment of lingo in preparing.
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  34. Great article. And the book seems to be great. I wish I could read this book.

  35. jhon says:

    Learners in sindh are learning Sindhi and those in KPK research Pashto. Local 'languages' are not trained in Baslochistan and Punjab. In the same way students from Karachi & Hyderabad are compelled to research Sindhi while it is not their native terminology. Why this discepancy? Individuals stay quiet because of worry of frustration from Sindhi nationalists resume service reviews

  36. audio typist says:

    Writing an essay is not an easy job it required the assistance of some professional, top essay writing services review professional provide such a great essay writing services through online.

  37. student says:

    I read all the post and appreciate you very nice and good sharing ideas.

  38. c00lhari1299 says:

    Educations is the future and its really important. Just shared your post. Im eagerly waiting for my Karnataka CET results 2014

  39. great article, and tis is a good book, how to solve any problem in education

  40. Jhon says:

    I made sure my children studied in best English school of Mumbai. Your writing and the theme is a mirror image of the issue in India. In school we studied four languages – Native language of instruction, classical Sanskrit, common Hindi and English. http://educationboardresults.info/

  41. Jhon says:

    I would like to further your assertions that even in adult learning it has been seen that unless there are teachers who can communicate in the mother tongue learning is retarted. And that is true for all learning be it functional literacy or skill like learning to stitch or embroider. EDUCATIONBOARDRESULTS

  42. Michael says:

    After reading you article education myths, I can only think of one Universal Solution.

    The Government should not be involved in the Business of Education.

    Also, Parents should be the ones providing education to our children.

    Hold Them Accountable

  43. Language learning is a universal challenge for language teachers. As a student of English as a second language I understand very well the issues related to learning a language remotely from its use on a daily basis… Resources for the learning or teaching English as second language play a great part in enhancing the learning. Especially if the resources makes the learning pleasurable. Urban Lyrebirds provide fantastic methods of teaching English with the help of songs…

  44. Paisley says:

    I always hated my language lessons way back in high school!

  45. priya says:

    great article it ll helps me lot really thanks for that
    teachers day 2014 wishes

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