The Punjab government is about to introduce a wide range of reforms in the education sector to ensure access to free and quality education to the students. While the reforms aim at providing access to education for all, regardless of their background and economic statuses, their central focus is to enhance the learning process and introduce equitable improvements in the learning outcomes. It is expected that improvement in the learning outcomes will also yield fruitful results in terms of increasing student enrolment and retention levels in the province.

The recent step taken by the government to revolutionise the educational sector was the change in the medium of instruction (MOI) from English to Urdu at the primary level. Provincial Minister of Punjab for School Education Dr Murad Raas said this decision was made after analysing compelling supportive evidence which indicated that the decision to convert MOI to Urdu can benefit students to learn English in later stages of their education and can also support its use at the middle and secondary levels as MOI.

Dr Raas also said Urdu as a medium of instruction can also help in learning other subjects such as mathematics and science with better understanding. Preference of English as an MOI holds no basis in research and was just an erroneous perception derived from the post-colonial heritage,” he added.

“Conflating quality of education with using English as MOI is unlikely to serve the public interest,” Raas said, adding that School Education Department was working to change rote-learning with a much-balanced approach so students can learn and develop the needed skill-set.

The minister said these reforms will help in eliminating the rote learning culture from local schools. “Sole emphasis on rote learning has severely affected the ability of our schools to prepare the pupils for a rapidly evolving knowledge-based economy. Rote learning occurs when pupils are unable to develop deep conceptual understanding of knowledge and an ability to apply it to the solution of problems. Hence, the current reforms emphasise on a balanced development of necessary knowledge and skills”, he explained.

Replying to a question related to the importance of English as an international language in the present times, the minister said that one cannot deny the fact that people with competency in English had access to better jobs in the public and private sector. Asked if the provincial government will also implement the MOI regulations on private schools, Raas said the process will take some time. He said firstly they will be focusing on putting their own house in order and then they will ask the private school administration to convert their MOI at later stages.

In Pakistan, while English is regarded as the language of power, Urdu is considered as the language for common use. The language of preference for MOI has always been a debatable topic in Pakistan because of the prestige attached to English language. Raas lamented that the choice of MOI has often been made on the basis of popular opinion instead of factual-based scientific evidences.

“The research conducted in Pakistan as well as internationally indicate that using the language of common use (In this case, Urdu), as the MOI boosts learning”, the minister stated, adding that having English as MOI in Pakistani schools for such a long period of time failed in improving the English language skills of our students.

He said that the government was facing a shortage of teachers who demonstrate excellent English language schools to teach at local schools. “It also requires immersive experiences in the use of language in and out of the school premises. In the absence of these conditions, the pupils are taught to rote memorise the contents of English lessons”.

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