Back To Roots – Urdu

The PTI government in Punjab has decided to make Urdu the medium of instruction in all public schools and teach English as a subject separately. The decision has been largely welcomed by teachers, writes Arsalan Haider.

The education sector in Punjab will finally be returning to Urdu as the primary medium of instruction, as the current government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has decided in principle to make Urdu the official medium of instruction at the school level. PTI’s decision was part of its election manifesto, which suggested that English should be taught as a subject. Before taking the decision, School Education Department (SED) Punjab conducted a survey in 22 districts of Punjab and asked thousands of students, parents and teachers about their preference of language when it came to teaching. Almost 85 percent chose Urdu, the government claims.

In a discussion with Academia Magazine, Punjab Minister for School Education Murad Rass said the provincial government was set to adopt Urdu as medium of instruction until class 5 from the next academic session, adding that English would be taught as subject then onward.

He said the government distributed books worth billions of rupees each year, suggesting that the outcome of this exercise would be much more fruitful if these books were in our national language and easy for students to understand.Raas added that most teachers in the public sector did not have a complete command over English language, resultantly, they could not transfer knowledge to pupils effectively.The government’s intention seems to have resonated with a majority of teachers, who believe that it would not only increase the learning capabilities of students, but would also help teachers of Punjab teach students in national language with added ease.

In a brief talk with Academia Magazine, noted educationist Dr Arifa Syeda Zahra appreciated the government’s decision of reverting to Urdu as a medium of instruction, but she added that only time would tell if the government had made all the necessary preparations in this regard. Former HEC chairman and the incumbent chairman of Prime Minister’s Task Force on Education, Dr Atta ur Rahman, said experts around the world believed that children should be taught in their mother language in first two to three years. “After early ages, the child can be taught in Urdu, but English should be adopted from start as a strong second language,” he opined. However, Rahman said English should certainly be the medium of instruction at the higher education level, because 99 percent of international literature was in English. “English is no more the language of British, as it has become an international language. It should be taught along with mother language from the beginning,” he added.

 

Language Of Lords

In Punjab, English was the medium of instruction since 2014 when then government led by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) made English the official language of instruction at the primary level in all government sector schools. Though it was praised by many experts, it received equal amount of criticism by many quarters. Following the decision, the PML-N government later spent a hefty amount from the provincial exchequer to train teachers in English language skills and teaching effectively in English. The task was handed over to directorate of staff development and several foreign trainers were hired for the purpose.But the fact remains that even after spending large resources on training, teachers, especially those in rural areas, have remained unable to teach in English language properly.

Teachers believe that the decision will not only increase the learning capabilities of students, but will also help teachers of Punjab teach students in national language with added ease.

Talking to Academia Magazine, a teacher said on condition of anonymity that despite attending several trainings arranged by the Punjab government, he had still been unable to teach science in English to class 4 students effectively. He said as a student, he had studied Urdu all his life and found it extremely difficult to adopt English as a medium of instruction. Asked about the decision regarding Urdu as medium of instruction, he praised the decision, saying this would ease teaching for thousands of teachers and learning for millions of students. According to several researches, the medium of instruction must be the mother language of children, as it helps them in learning easily. According to Global Partnership for Education, many linguistic groups are becoming vocal about the need to ensure that the youngest members of their communities keep their linguistic heritage. Some governments, such as in the Philippines, have recently established language-in-education policies that embrace children’s first languages.

On the other hand, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on mother tongue instruction in primary education since 1953. According to UNESCO report of 2005, adopting first language as the medium of instruction means children are more likely to enroll and succeed in school, parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning, girls and rural children with less exposure to a dominant language stay in school longer and repeat grades less often, and children in multilingual education tend to develop better thinking skills compared to their monolingual peers.

According to UNESCO, adopting first language ensures children are more likely to enroll and succeed in school and parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning

Professor Dr Hafiz Iqbal, former dean of Faculty of Education at Punjab University, told Academia Magazine that the decision of previous government to change the medium of instruction in English was very unwise. He said children cannot understand the words and their meaning in foreign language, adding that the biggest issue was of teachers, a majority of which could not understand a word of English themselves.Professor Iqbal said that for teaching any language, the teacher must have full command over the language, but teachers in Punjab did not have such competence and the same could not be developed by trainings. He added that learning a language could only be attained by one’s own capability.  “A report of British Council in 2008 stated that most of teachers in Punjab were not able to teach in English language,” he said. Talking about the current government’s decision he was of the view that it is a good decision to revert back to Urdu as medium of instruction, and it would benefit both the students and teachers.

 

Widespread Benefits

Talking to Academia Magazine, Punjab Teachers’ Union (PTU) General Secretary Rana Liaquat Ali said it was a good decision on part of the of the government and children who avoided school or could not learn in the classroom because of the language barrier would now be able to learn more effectivley. Discussing the background and history of the decision, Liaquat said that in the tenure of Pervaiz Elahi as Punjab chief minister, around 10 percent schools were converted to English medium in every district. He said when Shahbaz Sharif came to power, he converted all classes to English medium.

 

“At that time, teachers were of the view that if the government wanted to convert schools to English medium, it should do so gradually. The teachers suggested that only matriculation classes should be converted to English, however, the government did not listen to our concerns,” he added.Over the years, students have faced a number of difficulties because of different languages they have had to study, Liaquat said. “Students need to study Arabic for subjects like Islamiat, English because of the medium of education, Urdu as a common language and another language that was their mother tongue. For students, it was difficult to master a language – English – that was only used in the classroom.”“The biggest stakeholder, teachers, were never consulted at any level when it came to making policies or taking key decisions such as the medium of instruction,” Liaquat lamented.Kashif Shahzad Chaudhry, the central secretary general of another faction of PTU, said a child understood better in his/her own mother or national language. “All developed countries have their basic education in mother or national languages.” He added that a student should be able to choose any language as a medium of instruction right up to the masters’ level.

 

Takeaway

While the decision to revert back to Urdu as medium of instruction is highly appreciable, the fact remains that the capability of teachers and the quality of teaching they provide is another serious issue the government must look into. While it becomes much easier for a pupil to understand concepts in his or her mother tongue, the same pupil will struggle to understand the easiest of ideas – be it in Urdu or English – if the teacher at the smart end of the classroom does not have a clue about teaching in the first place.

The public education sector, being one of the biggest employers in the country, has regularly been abused by influential individuals in successive governments to grant employment to scores of their ardent supporters as a reward for their continued support. Over the years, thousands of teaching jobs have gone to people who do not merit being called members of this noblest of professions. Until the government gets it head around ridding the education sector of this malaise, educational outcomes are certain to continue being below par, whether the medium of instruction is Urdu, English or any other for that matter.