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The education setback of 1948

December 19, 2010


Educating the masses without a national language is a misnomer. This is what was in Quaid-i-Azam’s mind when he declared Urdu to be the national language soon after he took oath of office even though at that time more than 50 per cent did not speak Urdu.

The Quaid-i-Azam unfortunately did not survive long enough to implement his ideas; otherwise the destiny of this country would have been different. There would have been no infighting on the language issue; East Pakistan would not have separated.

Pakistan came into existence in 1947. India occupied the Hyderabad state in 1948 and abolished Urdu medium in the Osmania University. Even though the Hyderabad state only had a 15 per cent Muslim population, Urdu was adopted as a medium of instruction at the highest level and non Muslims readily accepted it. It was generally accepted that Urdu belongs to all Muslims and Hindi to all non-Muslims.

Osmania University was established in 1917 with Urdu as the medium of instruction for all arts, science and technical education. But realising the importance of English,  too, it was also retained as a compulsory subject up to BA/BSc. Even the theology students had to pass in English.

The first batch of graduates came out in 1925 with Urdu medium. Students in MBBS were admitted in 1927 and in BE (English) in all branches in 1928.

Such rapid progress required mammoth input in planning management and money. The Nizam opened his coffers to see that scheduled progress is maintained. Crores of rupees (in those days) were spent, for translation rights of English and German books, for writing new books in Urdu, for devising new terminology and for buildings. Bright students were sent abroad at the government’s expense and were employed as teachers, too.

Within 10 years, all the renowned universities of India, Oxford and Cambridge recognised its degrees for entry in post-graduate courses without further coaching in English. Graduates could sit for all India competitive exams.

In 1948, when the Indian government abolished Urdu medium, a treasure of books in all faculties was available and became redundant and were going to be sold as scrap. This was a golden chance for Pakistan. We could have acquired this treasure by spending a few rupees on transportation, only.

Quite a number of teachers, professors, men and women migrated to Pakistan, and with their high standard in English got absorbed in almost all services in Pakistan as well as in the Middle East, USA and other countries. Some Urdu medium lawyers, taught law in English in the law college.

Here I would like to mention two names who graduated from Osmania University in the first batch in 1925. Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui, who was vice chancellor of Osmania University in 1948, and Dr Hamidullah who taught in French at Sorborn University. Dr Raziuddin Siddiqui served in Pakistan as VC in several universities.

Dr Siddiqui knew the advantages of Urdu medium and could have persuaded the government of Pakistan to obtain all those books and staff and establish Urdu medium universities here in 1949. What difference it could have made in the lives of Pakistanis in the field of education in these 60 or so years.

Perhaps the Quaid-i-Azam had this in mind when he declared in his first speech at Dhaka that Urdu shall be the national language of Pakistan. The persons who are now fighting to adopt nine languages as national languages were not even born at that time.

Presently I am the only surviving student, whose medium of instruction has been Urdu from class one to BSc (physics) and BE (mechanical). I served in Libya, Syria and Iran and retired as a UN expert in technical education and training in 1980 (I am now 86).

Recently, I took upon myself to teach mathematics in the Urdu medium to Matric students, and I find that this so-called Urdu medium is a hotch potch of Urdu and English. It is a mockery of the Urdu medium. In fact those who have been chosen to establish an Urdu medium university themselves do not believe in Urdu medium. For instance they have chosen to write Algebraic equations from left to right instead of right to left, which confuses the students.

English language was also poor in technical terms. It has borrowed almost all its technical terminology from Greek. Similarly Urdu has based terms in Arabic, which was used by even Europeans in the Middle Ages. Algebra is an Arabic word. In science and maths we have to deal mostly with formulae and figures, and language plays a secondary role. This is the reason why Japanese and Chinese have no difficulty in getting high grades in USA.

The basic point in any education is as to whom are we teaching. Out of the 100 students who enter primary school there are hardly five who make it to the university. For 95 per cent, a basic knowledge of English is enough to carry on their professions. Loading them with a grammatically correct high standard of English is not only a waste of time and money but also waste of talent.

To understand as to why we adopted English as a medium of instruction, I quote the words of Lord Macaulay uttered in the British Parliament in Feb 2, 1835.

“I don’t think we will be able to conquer India unless we break their spiritual and social heritage. Therefore I propose that their old system of education and norms of culture should be drastically cut down. When the Indians start to realise that the English language is good for them, they will automatically lose their culture and self respect.”

There were several Muslim and Arab mathematicians, scientists, astronomers, doctors and surgeons in the early period of Islam who taught these subjects in universities of Spain to Europeans, but they changed their Islamic names to Latin names in their books, so our English medium students know them from their Latin names only. Macaulay’s prophecy has come true.

The box carries a list of Muslim and Arab heroes with their changed names.

These people were teaching maths, physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine and surgery when Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Chamberlain and Roger Bacon were not even born. I want to know what authority anybody has to change my name?

Money spent on educating in a foreign language does not build a nation, it only promotes class segregation as we have seen in these 62 years. At best it helps in earning some foreign exchange. But education in the national language is an investment and helps in building a strong nation. There is no hope of building a strong Pakistani nation unless we change our attitude. In fact the rift is widening by the day and may result, God forbid, in further disintegration of the country.

To retrieve what little is left of our education system, I suggest that the following actions be taken without delay.

• Establish one Urdu medium university in every province.

• The Federal Urdu University has already laid down its blue print. It will provide teachers books and terminology.

• A central examination board should be set up at Islamabad to ensure uniformity.

• These students should freely take part in all competitive examinations alongwith English medium students.

In 30 years, I hope we will succeed in amalgamating all Pakistanis into one nation. If these steps are not taken immediately, I fear we will stand at the same place as we do today.

In the history of India, two kings will always be remembered. One who spent tons of money to build a tomb for his wife and the other who spent tons of money to educate his people in their own language; in fact the money he spent was an investment for Pakistan, if only our rulers had used the opportunity in time, without fighting for a national language.

The writer is a former UN expert.