One of the least researched aspects of education in the walled city of Lahore, once the East India Company took over in 1849, was the state of its schools. This is the benchmark, in all its aspects, that should be studied, researched and measured.

It should be studied and researched in order to understand what went wrong, or better still is wrong today. On the 11th of August, 1947, Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his famous and much tampered speech said, and I quote from the original record as it exists in the British Museum Library: “Now that we are free we must spend one fifth of our national resources on educating the poor, or else each government will be more corrupt than the last, leading ultimately to the demise of the State”. These are haunting lines, and given our present condition they have acquired special significance. That is why we must understand just where we stood in 1849.

Immediately on taking over in 1849, a survey of the educational schools of Lahore was carried out. The results startled the British who discovered that the people of Lahore were far more educated than people in other Indian cities. Let us go over the basics of the schools in 1885 in the walled city of just about 127,532 people. The population of the walled city was at its maximum during the reign of the Moghal emperor Akbar, standing at 213,400. The turmoil that followed ate into the city population and even today it is near the 167,000 mark. This speaks of the massive degradation. Just for context the population of the Punjab was ‘roughly six million Hindus, eight million Muslims and one million Sikhs’.

The official EIC statements divided schools into Koran, Perso-Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Gurmukhi, Mahajani and advanced Arabic schools. Now here we see a complete disarray of directions with seven different languages being the language of choice. In such a disarray we have communities with completely different objectives, let alone values. No wonder that with time once the hold of the British loosened, more so because they had economically exploited the sub-continent to a ‘bone-dry’ condition, the communal card was easy to play, what with English being added to the language pile. So eight alien languages were being forced on a people who spoke Punjabi at home.

It is no wonder that Mr Jinnah pointed out the main weakness: a completely ignorant people in world wisdom terms. It must be said that his selection of the medium of instruction, favoured more by people who had nothing to do with the soil that became Pakistan, ignored the aspiration of the people. This disarray was in a way grouted in historical experience. Let us go over the basic data of the walled city of Lahore. The walled city had 81 small points of learning the holy Quran and Persian. For example, the largest school had 50 pupils and that was at Hamaam Wali Maktab just near Chinnianwali Masjid. Amazingly, the teacher was a gent by the name of Wasakha Singh and the syllabus included the ‘Sikandernama’ and a host of Persian books. Another school with 40 pupils was at Suttar Mandi run by Shahab Din alias ‘Shaaba’ and he taught Persian, Arabic, the holy Quran and comparative religions.

Other large schools were at Takya Sadhwan near Chinnianwali Masjid where Ustad Zahur Ali taught Persian and Arabic. Another well-known school was at Kucha Gillanian where Persian and Arabic was taught. The school at Chahl Bibyan taught Persian and Arabic and Arithmetic thanks to Muhammad Bakhsh. At the Haveli Miyan Khan Mosque we have Ustad Din Muhammad teaching Arabic and mathematics. An interesting school was for eunuchs only and that was at the mosque of Faizullah where Ustad Mahmud taught 35 pupils. This was located at Kucha Chabakswaran just off Rang Mahal.

Then we have what is classified as the Advanced Arabic schools where Maulvi Rahimullah, who was also a well-known physician of Langa Mandi, taught an array of subjects. He taught translations of the holy Quran, portions of the Vedas, Hadith books, arithmetic and religious history. But the best known school of the walled city was near Shahalami gate at Havagarian, where grammar, logic, jurisprudence, arithmetic and philosophy was taught. Of the 13 advanced schools, it seems the emphasis was on logic and mathematics as well as on the languages. The enrollment levels were high and getting admission was difficult.

Then we have the Sanskrit schools, 24 in all, with Pandit Kanahia Lal teaching at the Akbari Mandi School he owned. The subjects were Sanskrit grammar, Vedanta and Nyaya. Just nearby we have Daya Ram teaching Puran, ancient literature and Vyakaran. At Suttar Mandi we have Pandit Raghn Nath teaching logic and mathematics. At Shahalami near Rang Mahal we have the school of Pandit Govardhan teaching pure astrology. The difference in emphasis is before us to explore.

Within the walled city were 15 Mahajani schools which concentrated more on accounting and land records. At Taxali we have the huge school run by Rajadha Ram with almost 65 students per class. At Pipal Vehra there was the accounting and land records school run by Lala Radha Krishan.

Amazingly there were only 11 Gurmukhi schools in the walled city, with the Mohallah Maulian ‘dharmasala’ inside Lohari Gate being the largest run by Ram Singh. Another large school at Kucha Hanuman was run by Ganda Singh. All these taught the Gurmukhi language only. We know that for other skills they went to other schools depending on their family inclinations.

The British encouraged ‘elitist’ schools, for within 15 years of taking over we see the establishment of The Imamia School of Nawab Nawazish Ali Khan, the Islamia School attached to the Badshahi Mosque run by Maulvi Fazl Ahmed, the Guru Guru Singh Sabha School of Bhai Partab Singh and Punjab Sanskrit School funded by the ‘anna fund’ of Hindu shopkeepers where Pandit Bhagwan Das of Government College taught. The elitist tendency was well on its way.

Just how did this diverse set of schools, each different and, dare one say, disconnected with others, function as a whole educational unit. This is what must be tried to make sense of today if we are to understand the educational mess we are in. What followed is even more bizarre.

The employees of the East India Company, all Urdu-speaking, both clerks and officers, spilled into Lahore in 1849. A repeat flow took place in 1947 from the Urdu-speaking areas of the sub-continent. The British officers were taught Urdu at Fort William. The clerks and the British officers all opposed Punjabi as a medium of instruction. For almost 75 years Persian prevailed. At the higher courts English was introduced. It still is there. Urdu came to the lower courts much later. The language of the people of the walled city of Lahore has not been the official court language for almost 970 years.

In Bengal the people opposed Urdu and the results are before us. The sheer diverse mediums of instructions have resulted in Pakistan ending up being the least educated on Mother Earth. Most MA English students today cannot write a simple letter in English. The Public Service Commission results are before us. Such things never shame our rulers, let alone those who rule educational institutions. At least we must try to research, to know the true facts, to try to understand what is at stake, and most importantly to feel what this land of ours needs. It is time we reach some sane conclusion at just what we are all about.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2017