English medium of instruction should be adopted all over the country
The word "Education" having its roots in Latin, means "to bring out the inner potential". Actually education means to nourish one's inner qualities and to enable him to use his/her qualities in the best way. Education is the top most requirement of everyone in the society. It is the source through which knowledge, skills, and values can be transmitted from one generation to another. A proper system had been setup for this purpose in the past, which is called schooling. A school starts from class kindergarten till 7th grade; this is called the primary school. Then from 7th till the 8th grade is the middle school. One thing to be noted is that not all the education systems have a middle school. After the middle school is the secondary school which comprises of 9th and 10th grade. Then higher secondary school includes 11th and 12th grade and then the higher or professional education persists. This is the common system of education in Pakistan. The government schools start from class-I while the private schools start from kindergarten. The American and the British systems differ a bit, but that is irrelevant to discuss here since Pakistani system is the topic. Now in this formal education system, there is a medium of instruction, or the language in which different subjects are taught to the students which had always been English in most of the countries, however many others adopted it afterwards. What I will discuss is that how the medium of instruction changed in Pakistan and what should be the preambles of a remarkable system of education at primary level.
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It is a fact that the mother language is the most effective medium of instruction being easy on young minds. However in case of Pakistan, a state based on Islamic ideology, Urdu was chosen as the medium of instruction at the time of independence just because it contained a lot of Arabic words which is a treasure of religious knowledge. This is why Urdu was preferred on Bengali and chosen as the medium of instruction. This paved way for Urdu to not only progress as a commonly spoken language in all provinces other than the regional languages, but also as a medium of instruction at primary as well as all higher levels. The epic translation undertaken at Usmania University, Hyderabad and the new work being done at the University of Karachi and at Lahore were employed to serve as the basis of the new movement that had been started by "Maulvi Abdul Haq" who is also known as "Baba-e-Urdu".
It was in early 60s, when many educational institutions, especially the University of Karachi decided to adopt Urdu as a medium of instruction at higher levels. At that time, another effort was being made to make Urdu as the official language in the federal as well as provincial government offices. Many universities teachers plead to delay this decision since the available Urdu translations were inadequate, but their plea wasn't fruitful.
Now what happened is that this decision of making Urdu as a medium of instruction was welcomed by the students since it was very easy for them to write answers in Urdu now. As a result of which, a flood of students graduated who had studied for higher degrees in Urdu and provincial languages. But there were no standard text or reference material in these languages, so the graduates could not compete with the graduates from abroad who got most of the jobs in private and public sectors. As a result of which, the local graduates were left behind in ignorance. This was the time when the government realized the drawbacks of using Urdu as a medium of instruction.
As a result the private English medium schools like Karachi Grammar School, Atchison etc. rose to the surface. They prepared the students for higher education in foreign institutions, and enabled them to acquire handsome jobs in different multinational companies. They aimed at providing quality education to the students. Though such institutions were expensive, but the quality of education they provided was brilliant. They groomed their students in such a way that they could compete with the foreign students, so that they couldn't be left in cold when applying for jobs.
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But the English medium schools were only affordable for the rich. The middle class and the lower middle class people couldn't benefit from them just because of high fees. This again created a divide among the society. Those who got enrolled in English medium schools, received quality education based on international standards, but those who couldn't afford the high fees were left with no other option than acquiring education in local medium. As a result, the lower class people were confined to their existing positions. So the discrimination among the graduates still prevailed which intensified this division even more.
In our past, almost all the governments have worked to solve the problems related to medium of instruction because it was one of the hazards that our national development was facing at that time. I won't go that far back, but when Benazir Bhutto established her first government, she made English compulsory at class-I level in all government institutions just to enhance the opportunities for poor children. But any remarkable progress couldn't be made due to unavailability of quality teachers in government schools. One of the reasons was that teachers of private schools were highly paid, so there was no reason for them to leave a handsome salary and come to government schools where the teachers used to get an annual increment of Rs. 1000 at a maximum, on their salaries. So government increased the salaries of all those who could teach in English, just to balance the inequality. If we look at General Musharraf's reign, efforts continued to improve the standard of education. The government of Punjab, under the supervision of Chaudhary Parvez Elahi launched a campaign in which primary education was made free for all, so that none of the individual is left behind. In this campaign, students were given free books, uniform and stationery. The teachers were given three day training for English language, every week. In addition, a National Outreach Program (NOP) was also launched in 2001; by the government. This aimed at picking up bright students from all over the country, and providing them with quality education for free. In such a way, all deserving students who couldn't afford such expensive education otherwise were blessed. This was a big step towards our national development, which later proved to be fruitful.
One thing more to be noted is that it is nothing about replacing Urdu language with English. Actually Urdu is the best medium of instruction for our nation, but what time demands is that students should be brought up in such a way that they can stand with any foreigner student. As we have seen in our past the problems with the students of Urdu medium schools. Though the steps to modernize the primary level education were very well received but many parents complained about them. When the government introduced English medium of instruction, some students were so weak that they weren't given admission in English classes. The newspapers carried out surveys across the remote areas of the country, and they received many complaints from the people. One of the complainers was a woman Naseema, who told them about her children. She told that her elder daughter wasn't given admission in English school just because it had been a long time for her in Urdu medium school. She maintained that how can a child clear the admission test when he hasn't been schooled in English medium? In reply to this, the Education District Officer (EDO) Dr. Muhammad Arshad said that all the students who had attained an average grade of 50% in grade 4 and 5 will be given admission in English classes. He also disclosed that almost 800 teachers have been retired with the replacement of new teachers who could teach in English. He added that the provincial government was trying to hire teachers capable of imparting quality education under the new curriculum. He maintained that teachers have been instructed to teach bilingually until the students get used to English language. Another answer is that the transition from Urdu to English medium will take some time, and the whole system of English medium education in provinces has been designed in such a way that students develop an ear for English very quickly, and easily.
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Many people criticize the implementation of English medium education with a fact that it is creating a distance between children and their religious values. Since Urdu contains a treasure of religious knowledge, so Urdu should be the only medium of instruction all over the country. Now what my opinion regarding this issue is, that there is no such effort of creating a distance between religion and children. In my opinion the present education system has failed to disclose the reasons why Pakistan was founded. This has created ideological confusions and moral degradation, which are main reasons of the downfall of education standard. And due to this constant downfall, Pakistani educational documents are no longer acceptable abroad. As a result the nation has been divided into two classes of upper English medium and lower Urdu medium. Something immediate should be done about this trend.
Urgent measures should be adopted to improve the miserable condition of institutions being run by the government. Policies should be made with the consensus of experts, teachers' representatives and students' representatives without the intervention of any political party. All the institutions should be made to boost standardized English education, and to embrace all the classes of society on basis of merit. This would remove the discrimination among the students. One more problem is that many of the postgraduates from Pakistan lack basic skills in English language and mathematics. And we all know that skills in other fields depend on language and mathematics. This problem is due to many reasons, and a lot of work is left to be done on it.
A uniform system of education should be implemented throughout the country. We should have one medium of education. Though Urdu has its own vital importance and will always remain a medium of communication; yet English will have to be preferred as a medium for most of the subjects. One more thing the government should do is, to introduce an integrated system, thereby bringing the Deeni madaris and modern schools closer in the curriculum and contents of education. Any policy if made should be implemented without the wastage of time.
So after all the discussion, what we are in need of is the improvement of education system in Pakistan. Still much more is left to be done in this sector. The vision is an education system which is uniform throughout the country, where all the science subjects are taught in English. And at the same time, equal attention should be given to Urdu language. The Urdu language not only has a treasure of religious knowledge, but also acts as a carrier of values from one generation to the other. This shows that Urdu plays an important role in our national development. But English, at the same time is a necessity too. We cannot ignore it while thinking of quality education. It is a need of time that quality of our education meets the international standards. We have a dream of Pakistanis as one of the greatest nations of the world. We cannot achieve our goals until each and every child of our country receives quality education, until each of our children can stand proudly with the foreign students. We have to invoke a spirit of being a competent and educated Pakistani in them. Only then, we can see our dreams come true.
As Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek once said:
"The most important thing that schools can do is to make people aware that understanding the world is very much part of the requirement of being an educated person. There should be some shame attached to not being more aware of the world, not having some mastery of foreign language."
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