Pakistan's education reform | The language enigma
Whither education reform?
Islamabad, Sep 03: It has been our great misfortune that, for decades, our political
bosses have been products of military influence – some through
nurturing, others by coercion. While the military may have been
sincere, in its own perception, in choosing political masters for us,
still given its very institutional culture, it imposes views, ideas,
strategy, tactics etc. Hence, only closed minds willing to pursue
pre-determined courses are amenable to accepting such a drill. While
such politicians may be clever, they cannot have a transcending vision.
Ayub Khan picked up his political protégés for promise of calibre, in
addition to loyalty, the dictators after him developed a strategic
framework for enlistment of politicians chosen for the army's
patronage. They were required to accept the fantasies evolved by the
military's ideologues and not vent their intellectual capabilities to
develop a vision of what they wanted this country to be.
Ali Bhutto was, perhaps, our last visionary leader; unfortunately his
evidently tragic flaw led him to end in a Shakespearean tragedy. Ziaul
Haq had a strategy for intellectual enslavement of the people under the
heavy burden of ideology; essentially as a ploy to prolong his power.
He fed the army on fantasy and the common man on submission.
what do we have now? A breed and generation of politicians entirely
engrossed in the daily chores of retention of power. They are clever
people: power savvy, street smart, adept at mutual protection across
political divides, masters of manipulation and traders of intrigue. But
they have no vision. They cannot revolt against the limiting myopia of
thought imposed upon them by their handlers, both domestic and foreign.
the governance seems focused merely on remaining in power. Public
policy is, therefore, limited in extension and interest. The government
takes decisions primarily under compulsion of circumstance. Their
policies are reactive and not proactive. While, per force policies are
worked out in the fields of economics and security, there is little
interest in long gestation policies of the social sector, though they
are more fundamentally pervasive.
Let us refer to the much
pursued education policy, pending now for four years since a review
began under the last government. Between 2007 and 2008 the policy
exercise was sacrificed at the altar of the whims of a self-righteous,
egotist Federal Minister. Since this government came in, the draft
policy has been lying in the cold storage of disinterest and
Education is a fashionable interest of
politicians. Hence, every other government formulates a new education
policy. But the favourite governance culture of our governments –
autocratic, supply driven imposition of whimsical ideas – inhibits a
visionary approach to education with a breadth of perception.
civil society has been clamouring for an education policy cleansed of
the garbage of prejudice and dogma, focused on the state providing the
environment and resources essential for the citizen to acquire
knowledge through learning processes that help him or her realise his
or her full potential.
A new education policy now awaits
cabinet consideration. The draft betrays that the present government is
trying to impose a hotchpotch by stealth – as if to get rid of a
discomforting burden by producing an innocuous document of impressive
verbiage, grandiose promises but little efficacy. While the 1998
document represented one individual's private agenda through a
propagandist policy for a gullible public, the current document is lost
in a directionless, wayward, wandering. The government seems to have no
understanding of the issues and the constitutional obligations of the
state. It merely uses MDGs, EFA and Vision 20-30 as fashionable
crutches on which to build a policy.
Some space is provided to
make the right noises about quality, access and relevance of education.
But no desire is concrete for universal, free, publicly-funded
education up to secondary level, as guaranteed by the constitution.
Instead plaudits are showered on the for-profit private sector's
contribution of 35 per cent in this sector. That only caters to the
needs of the elite. An achievable framework for quality public
education is sorely missing. Therefore, the masses are damned.
policy rightly identifies poor implementation as a major stumbling
block to realisation of goals in the education sector, but provides
only simplistic answers to the problem. Governance and management are
recognised as a major issue, but no identified, agreed and committed
answers are provided. It promises to ultimately expend seven per cent
of the GDP in this sector. But on whose commitment and guarantee can
such a claim be made? Have the Ministry of Finance, the Planning
Commission, Economic Affairs Division (the donors' commitment) and the
provincial governments committed to such a provision in an agreed time
frame? Have we developed the capacity to plan, implement, monitor and
evaluate an outlay of that size? Who is the government trying to fool?
The ordinary citizen, really.
Simultaneously, there is a
cowardly acquiescence to the peddlers of dogma, in the name of Islamic
education. It appears that, for the sake of convenience, the Ministry
of Education is trying to repeat the 1998 document in a new parlance.
Our great religion provides the moral bases of our lives. Though
religious education remains primarily the responsibility of the family,
it is imperative that school education ensures an enlightenment of
young minds with the ethical values that Islam demands. The state
should be concerned with only such religious education.
in to merchants of blackmail, the latest document fails to chart ways
for the ethical development of the school child. It merely plans to
provide for learning the Quran by rote without understanding it. That
will only provide employment to turbaned thugs who were till recently
killing women and burning schools in Swat. Are these the ushers who
will lead us into the Garden of Eden?
Education is so
fundamental to a society's upbringing that we should not deal with it
with a flippant hand. To ensure that -- and also to ensure ownership by
all stakeholders -- and evolve a mechanism for full implementation, the
policy must be taken to the parliament. If we have wasted four years
already, a month's parliamentary debate will only yield something
Javed Hasan Aly - The writer is the author of the White Paper on Education, 2007. Email: javed. firstname.lastname@example.org (The News)
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The language enigma
Islamabad: The fate of the National Education Policy (NEP) continues to hang in
the balance. A revised draft was to have been taken up by the cabinet
in early August but it was not.
Meanwhile, some NGOs working in the education sector and grouped under
the umbrella body called the Pakistan Coalition for Education reacted
strongly to the new document.
This should have provided an
opportunity for a public debate on the policy. Unfortunately it didn't
because education is too mundane a subject for our media.
draft that has been posted on the Ministry of Education's website, and
which will presumably be considered by the cabinet, should be taken up
not just by educationists but also parents, the youth and enlightened
citizens who care about the future of Pakistan. The fact is that many
issues addressed by the NEP need to be debated fully so that there is a
broad national consensus and not simply an agreement between the
governments in Islamabad and the provinces.
One issue that
needs careful consideration is the language policy that could well
become politicised and cause serious harm to the growth of education in
The NEP's current draft speaks of the government
developing "a comprehensive plan of action for implementing the English
language policy in the shortest possible time, paying particular
attention to disadvantaged groups and lagging behind regions". Fine.
There is no disputing the now universally accepted fact that English is
the international language of diplomacy, science, commerce and
communication. It must be learnt.
teaching is not at all up to the mark and the NEP admits that. Hence
the problem has to be addressed mainly by training good
English-language teachers. Correct.
Thereafter the policy
draft stipulates that English will be taught as a subject from class I
onwards and the curriculum will include Urdu, one official regional
language, mathematics and an integrated subject. From class IV onwards
science and mathematics will be taught in English only.
However, the provinces have been given a grace period of five years to
effect this change-over. They are expected to train the teachers to
teach in English. Until then they can use Urdu/an official regional
language as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics.
Theoretically correct too, though it would make greater sense to change
the medium in science and mathematics after class V at the secondary
level when the child is about 10 and would have had five years of
English-language learning.Next comes the core issue that has been
cloaked in ambiguity. What is to be the medium of instruction in the
primary section? The choice has been left to provincial and area
education departments with no guidelines provided.
for guessing that things will continue as presently. Given the
commercialisation of education in the private sector which is also the
trendsetter - both good and bad - every institution will naturally vie
to be an English-medium one, including those with signboards that
proudly announce in Urdu that the school is 'English-medium'.
In view of this calculatedly indifferent approach to language, can we
expect any change for the better after the NEP is announced and
implemented? Language is basic not just to the development of the
education system but also to a person's mental growth. Therefore the
government's hesitation in adopting a clear-cut position on the medium
issue is difficult to justify.
Given the appalling standard
of English-language teaching in all schools, with the exception of a
few private elite schools, it will prove to be a formidable exercise to
upgrade the knowledge of English of thousands of language teachers as
well as thousands of those teaching science and mathematics to ensure
their proficiency in English. Most of the latter also require courses
to teach them their subject anew. But without this effort no strategy
It would be best to make it compulsory for schools
to adopt the mother tongue as the medium of instruction at the primary
level. Simultaneously there must be a lot of stress on language
teaching as a subject (Urdu, English and regional languages) and
developing communication skills. There is no reason why a child being
taught in his mother tongue with which he is familiar cannot be taught
excellent English as well.
It is time the language
controversy was laid to rest. The failure of our educationists
generally to understand the integral link between language and the
mental development of a person is shocking. Language is the basic tool
for thought. It is instrumental in expanding a young child's mind and
developing his creativity at an age when his faculties are growing and
his thought-language (to use Paulo Freire's term) is being formed. As
the White Paper on Education in Pakistan (2007) observed, learning in
the mother tongue allows for better self-expression and conceptual
Dr Maria Montessori is another expert whose
observations about language and the child are most relevant. In her
monumental study The Absorbent Mind, she writes that in a child a
special mechanism exists for language, which responds to speech and
accumulates the words that the child hears. Thus the environment -
especially the verbal one - makes a deep impact on the language
learning process in a child.
Not surprisingly a
child's mental growth is slowed down if education involves
comprehending new concepts in an unfamiliar language, mastering that
language and its vocabulary as well to enable him to express himself.
It is for this reason that students of elite schools are also found
wanting in terms of 'critical thinking', a quality Freire considers so
The students in these schools are taught in English
and get good grades because as Ismat Riaz, a Pakistani educationist,
aptly points out the focus in these schools is on the acquisition of
knowledge and memorising. One may add, English as a medium of
instruction at an early age stunts the child's capacity to think
critically and isolates him from his surroundings. By Zubeida Mustafa, email@example.com (Dawn)
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