KARACHI, May 28: An impassioned discussion on the subject of education was witnessed at a seminar held at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday. The event was part of the launch of a book titled Tyranny of language in education: the problem and its solution by Zubeida Mustafa.

Dr Aquila Ismail, a former teacher of the NED university, in her introductory remarks to the book and its contents said language was a medium of communication and the thought process was related to the language in which a child dreamed.

Dr Jaffar Ahmed, director of Karachi University’s Pakistan Study Centre, lauded the book’s contents.

He said two things had made it a worthy effort: painstaking research, and Ms Mustafa’s personal involvement in it, which also entailed the fact that it was a former editor of Dawn, Ahmad Ali Khan, who had persuaded her to do social journalism which enabled the author to see and understand the distortions in society.

He said it was easy for a child to acquire education in its mother tongue, and said Ms Mustafa had given social and economic reasons in support of the argument.

He mentioned a few clauses of the 1973 constitution according to which it was to be ensured that Urdu would be made the official language of the country in 15 years but nothing was done about it. He claimed that the elite were in the way of making that happen. He said Ms Mustafa, quoting Karl Marx in her book, had commented that Pakistan had nothing to lose but ignorance.

Mehtab Akbar Rashdi, a well-known media person, began her speech by suggesting that people had a ‘complex’ which was why they thought learning the English language was essential.

She said even the regional languages in today’s Pakistan were not spoken the way they ought to be. She said newscasters on Sindhi TV channels were not using the correct language. She also lamented that her own children couldn’t write Sindhi.

Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior journalist, established at the outset that English was an impediment in the way of our progress.

He said when he was young, despite the urge to learn English there was an environment in which Urdu literature was read with great fondness. He rued that these days Ghalib, Quratulain Hyder and Faiz were not familiar names for many.

He said in a country where a novel written in English sold 10,000 copies, a new edition of a Quratulain Hyder book wouldn’t be sold in half that number. He remarked we’d been stripped of language (hum be zaban ho gaey hain).

He said a country’s prosperity, among other things, was also gauged by how many books were sold in it or how many newspapers were published in that country; and in that regard Pakistan was in a mess. He said society had been de-intellectualised.

Kishwar Hameed, an educationist from Lahore, pointed out the many facets of the word ‘tyranny’ in the title of the book. Talking about the confusion in relation to education policies, she said in 64 years of the country’s existence, there had not been a single education plan in sight.

Shahbano Alvi said the publishers were happy that in the 10th year of their existence they’re coming out with a good book. Then the floor was opened for questions, which generated a heated discussion.

In the end, Ms Mustafa thanked the participants of the programme and gave her own opinion on the topic.

She said she once asked a child in English what he wanted to become when he grew up. She drew a blank. But when she asked the same question in Urdu, the three-year-old gave a spiel in response. She said it’s usually thought that education was an equaliser, but in Pakistan it was causing the class disparity to increase, and English was largely responsible for it.

She maintained that initially education should be imparted in mother tongue to children, so that when they went to school from their homes they wouldn’t feel strange. Later on, she said, they could learn other languages such as Urdu, which was a link-language.

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