Plight of Urdu as a na­tional lan­guage

Southasia - - Book review - Re­viewed by Sabih Mohsin

Ti­tle: Tyranny of Lan­guage in Ed­u­ca­tion: The Prob­lem and its So­lu­tion Au­thor: Zubeida Mustafa Pub­lisher: Ushba Pub­lish­ing In­ter­na­tional, Karachi. (May 2011) Pages: 234 pages, Hard­back Price: PKR. 200 ISBN: 978-969-9154-22-5

Af­ter the se­ces­sion of East Pak­istan in 1971, it was quite log­i­cal to ex­pect that Urdu, which had al­ready been de­clared the na­tional lan­guage of Pak­istan, would get its due place as the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the coun­try. How­ever, that has not hap­pened and English, the lan­guage of our for­mer rulers, con­tin­ues to thrive as the dom­i­nant medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in all walks of life.

Be­sides Urdu, the na­tional lan­guage, there are a num­ber of re­gional lan­guages in Pak­istan. The choice of medium of in­struc­tion at var­i­ous lev­els in schools has be­come a com­plex is­sue due to the plu­ral­ity of lan­guages and also be­cause of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic fac­tors. The book un­der re­view, ‘Tyranny of Lan­guage in Ed­u­ca­tion: The Prob­lem and its So­lu­tion,’ dis­cusses this par­tic­u­lar as­pect of our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems.

At the time of in­de­pen­dence, gov­ern­ment schools were, by and large, con­sid­ered to be the best. Schools which have now come to be known as ‘Elite Schools’ were very few in num­bers at that time. I can say from my per­sonal knowl­edge that in those days, even the sons of min­is­ters and mil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ists at­tended those gov­ern­ment schools along with the chil­dren of mid­dle class fam­i­lies. The medium of in­struc­tion at these schools was English. But a mix­ture of English and the re­gional lan­guage of the re­spec­tive area, was used by the teacher for aca­demic in­struc­tion. And even then, stu­dents were re­quired to an­swer their ex­am­i­na­tion pa­pers in the English lan­guage.

But soon the pri­vate sec­tor elite schools be­gan to grow at a fast pace. They ad­hered strictly to English as the medium of in­struc­tion at all lev­els. Most of them sub­se­quently adopted, at the sec­ondary level, Bri­tain’s Cam­bridge sys­tem while the gov­ern­ment schools con­tin­ued to stick to the in­dige­nous Ma­tric­u­la­tion sys­tem. The class di­vide in the so­ci­ety was thus fur­ther strength­ened.

Dur­ing the Bri­tish Raj, those who pos­sessed pro­fi­ciency in the English lan­guage en­joyed a priv­i­leged po­si­tion. As early as 1837, when In­dia was still gov­erned by the Bri­tish East In­dia Com­pany, the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the law courts was changed from Per­sian to English. It was also de­cided a few years later, that only those In­di­ans would be ap­pointed to ad­min­is­tra­tive posts who knew English. Hin­dus were quick to learn the lan­guage of the new rulers. But Mus­lims were pre­vented by their ego from turn­ing to­wards English, the lan­guage of those to whom they had lost their ter­ri­to­ries. Sub­se­quently, it was through the ef­forts of Sir Syed Ah­mad Khan that Mus­lims be­gan to ac­quire the knowl­edge of English lan­guage and thus of mod­ern learn­ing.

Af­ter In­de­pen­dence, though Urdu was de­clared to be the na­tional lan­guage, it could not be in­tro­duced as the of­fi­cial lan­guage be­cause of the re­sis­tance from the East­ern wing. It was not pos­si­ble to give it that sta­tus even af­ter the se­ces­sion be­cause, by then a priv­i­leged class had al­ready come into ex­is­tence which was and still is us­ing com­pe­tency in English as a tool for gain­ing au­thor­ity.

The cur­rent po­si­tion with re­spect to lan­guage in ed­u­ca­tion is that ev­ery par­ent, ir­re­spec­tive of the class to which he be­longs, is crav­ing to give ed­u­ca­tion to his child in English. That is why there has been a mush­room growth of English medium schools, some real, some fake.

Com­ing back to the book, the au­thor, who is a se­nior jour­nal­ist, has stud­ied the is­sue of medium of in­struc­tion over the years. Dis­cussing the var­i­ous the­o­ries of lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion and cog­ni­tive de­vel­op­ment of a child put for­ward by re­searchers of in­ter­na­tional em­i­nence such as Dr. Maria Montes­sori, she has ar­rived at the con­clu­sion that a child must be taught

in the lan­guage of his en­vi­ron­ment, which is usu­ally his mother tongue, for achiev­ing best re­sults. She be­lieves that a sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion based en­tirely on English re­stricts the men­tal and in­tel­lec­tual hori­zons of chil­dren who have not been ex­posed to the lan­guage from birth.

The au­thor has also stated that ac­cord­ing to those schol­ars, there is a ‘crit­i­cal or sen­si­tive’ pe­riod in a child’s life ex­tend­ing from birth to ap­prox­i­mately six years, dur­ing which the ‘mat­u­ra­tion and lat­er­al­iza­tion’ of the brain takes place. If dur­ing this pe­riod the child is taught in his mother tongue or the lan­guage of en­vi­ron­ment, op­ti­mum ben­e­fits would be de­rived by him in terms of com­pre­hen­sion and vo­cab­u­lary. Keep­ing in view all these fac­tors, the au­thor has sug­gested a plan for the medium of in­struc­tion and the teach­ing of a lan­guage as a sub­ject, to be adopted at var­i­ous lev­els. This plan is slightly dif­fer­ent from those rec­om­mended by two other ex­perts. On the whole, she is in agree­ment with the oth­ers quoted by her, in that the mother tongue or the lan­guage of en­vi­ron­ment is highly prefer­able as the medium of in­struc­tion in schools, es­pe­cially in the lower grades. She too, like the oth­ers, re­al­izes the im­por­tance of English and rec­om­mends it to be taught as a sub­ject be­fore be­ing adopted as the medium of in­struc­tion.

In the process of de­ter­min­ing the most suit­able medium of in­struc­tion at var­i­ous lev­els, the au­thor has also brought to light some other prob­lems faced by our sys­tems of ed­u­ca­tion such as the ab­sence of ca­pa­ble and trained teach­ers, good text books and the ir­rel­e­vant cur­ric­ula. All these prob­lems need to be ad­dressed.

How­ever, this rather pedan­tic de­bate on the medium of in­struc­tion be­comes un­nec­es­sary if the na­tional lan­guage is also given the sta­tus of the work­ing lan­guage in of­fices. In spite of the fact that English has now at­tained an in­ter­na­tional sta­tus, this switch over is not im­prac­ti­cal. Af­ter all none of the Euro­pean coun­tries, not to speak of China and Ja­pan, have adopted English as the work­ing lan­guage in their of­fices, as we have done.

How­ever, this is hardly pos­si­ble in the pres­ence of the priv­i­leged class which the au­thor has re­ferred to in her book. This elite class has not al­lowed the is­sue of the medium of in­struc­tion to be set­tled and thus put in dan­ger their own prospects for em­pow­er­ment. How can they per­mit a change that would open the door to an egal­i­tar­ian dis­tri­bu­tion of au­thor­ity, the au­thor ques­tions?

The re­viewer is a se­nior jour­nal­ist and ra­dio pro­fes­sional with a spe­cial in­ter­est in book pub­lish­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.