SOME of the educational institutions in Lahore have been famous for the last more than 150 years for their unique academic culture, high quality of teaching and extracurricular activities of students. There are alumni of these institutions, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, who achieved great success in a variety of fields and won laurels for the country. These institutions managed to maintain academic excellence so long as they were allowed to operate independently without any interference from the government.

The teaching in English language at college and university level not only boosted the students’ knowledge and intellect by providing them access to the global body of knowledge, but also prepared them to compete with others successfully within or outside the country.

The cultural norms of these institutions have also played a significant role in grooming the students’ hidden talents and bringing about a balance in their lives. The Government College Dramatic Club (GCDC), for instance, would stage classic English plays regularly, which were popular not only among college students but also outsiders. Superstars of Indian film industry, like Dev Anand and Balraj Sahini, as well as our living legend Zia Mohyeddin, had for the first time demonstrated their acting skills through the GCDC.

All these activities have been alarmingly disrupted by the Covid pandemic, causing a lot of confusion and frustration among students of all ages. Unfortunately, these feelings have been aggravated by the forced induction of the Single National Curriculum (SNC) by the government in private schools. The administration of Aitchison College, Lahore, had strongly resisted the application of SNC, but succumbed to the pressure from the Punjab government.

This year, since the SNC has been introduced only up to class V, children have been given two books in Urdu; ‘Islamiat’ and ‘Muasharati Aloom’ i.e., social studies. I fail to understand why the students, who have so far studied all other subjects in English, are now being compelled to understand and memorise the terms in Urdu through books that have been translated from English. Such diversion will adversely affect a child’s concentration in other subjects, and that will be counterproductive.

Following the revolt of 1857, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had foreseen the imperative need for the Muslims to acquire proficiency in the English language and modern sciences if the community was to maintain its social and political clout. There was no hint of ‘mental slavery’ in his approach.

In recent times, former Malaysian prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad had said: “The English language has become a very important language to acquire knowledge”. He had told parliament in July 2019 that “to acquire and master new knowledge, the English language is needed”. There was no hint of ‘mental slavery’ in his advice either.

Parvez Rahim
Karachi

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021

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