Experimenting with languages
Source: The Dawn
THE federal education minister has informed the Sindh education authorities that his ministry is revising the education curricula with a view to introducing changes in the education sector all over the country. Among many measures that minister Javed Ashraf Qazi mentioned, the most significant is the move to introduce English from the primary classes. Even more important is the decision to use English as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics. One wonders if the education minister understands the implications of these decisions which will have far-reaching repercussions for education in Pakistan. It is a well recognized fact that primary education is the foundation on which the entire education superstructure rests. Experts who understand the growth and development of a child’s mind point out that pedagogy, language teaching, medium of instruction and textbook contents in school are key factors that determine the quality and relevance of the education being imparted. A major cause for the poor state of the education sector in Pakistan is the failure of our policy makers to focus on primary education and develop it in line with scientific norms in order to optimize the benefits of schooling for a child.
The language issue, which is basic to any system of education, has never been addressed with a logical and scientific approach. Since so much controversy has surrounded it, the inclination of the authorities has been to avoid taking a clear-cut decision on the matter. What needs to be emphasized is that the medium of instruction — at least at the primary level — must be the mother tongue of the students so that they can fully comprehend what they are being taught and, at the same time, can pick up the literacy skills in the language they are familiar with. This is something so fundamental that one is shocked at our policy-makers and educationists who have failed to understand this basic principle. Hence it is important that a child who speaks Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto or Balochi at home should be taught in the same language at school. To impose another language on him will only alienate him. Besides, he will never be able to understand fully the subject he is taught and this will be reflected in his cognition and verbal skills. By teaching science and maths to a young child in a language that is alien to him, our policy-makers are ensuring that Pakistan which lacks a science culture (Prof Abdus Salam’s constant lament) remains totally backward in technological education.
Our policy-makers seem to be confused about the concepts of the medium of instruction and the teaching of a language. After initiating a child’s primary education in his mother tongue, the school could introduce other languages at the secondary level. In our case the languages that need to be taught compulsorily would be Urdu (for those whose mother tongue it is not) and English because the first is the national language (and also the link language) and the second is the international language without the knowledge of which no nation can progress in the globalized world of today. It is important that teachers are trained to teach these languages using modern methods so that the students become proficient in them. At present we don’t even have teachers who can teach correct English to the students as a language. How will they teach science and maths in English and what kind of English will that be?