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Language in Sindh schools


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THE language dilemma in education remains unresolved in Pakistan because educationists fail to understand how basic language is to the child’s learning process, as also to the psyche of the speakers.

Those who ignore this fundamental truth can undermine national integrity. If they are running schools they cannot maximise the learning advantage of their students. Language has a political dimension as well. When our leaders fail to understand that imposing a language on a people amounts to linguistic imperialism, the consequences can be grave. We know what happened in 1971.

In this context, Sindh should be the last province to pose a problem. It has speakers of mainly two languages — Sindhi and Urdu. Geographically they are broadly divided between the rural and urban areas. Public-sector education follows this demographic feature in the medium of instruction policy. Unsurprisingly, from ASER 2012 (the annual report on the status of education) to be released in January it emerges that 90 per cent of the parents in Sindh want their children to be taught in Sindhi (presuming that is the language of their choice when they said no to Urdu and English and opted for “other” in a survey conducted there).

Then one wonders why schools run by NGOs otherwise doing an excellent job of educating the underprivileged children of the province are reluctant to teach them in their home language.

Last week I received an email from a friend who is doing wonderful work in her ancestral village of Khairo Dero where she has set up the Ali Hasan Mangi memorial trust to honour the memory of her grandfather. Naween Mangi’s commitment to serving her community is impeccable. There are few who have made it big, and have still taken the trouble to return to their roots to uplift their people.

One of Naween’s ambitions is to educate the children of Khairo Dero. She joined hands with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) that has done a phenomenal job of opening 830 schools all over Pakistan in the last decade or so. TCF has been cited as a model and has many success stories to its credit. Naween raised the required amount from philanthropists to enable TCF to open a primary school in her village which she visits regularly to keep track of the progress of the children.

Naween is, however, having a problem with TCF’s language policy. Adopting a uniform approach vis-à-vis language in all their schools, TCF policymakers understood early in the day that it would be futile to try to educate their students in English. That was a very sensible decision though English is recognised as being the ‘language of power’. TCF seemed to understand how a child is at a disadvantage when he has to learn in an unfamiliar language (English) from a teacher who is not proficient in it either.

Hence TCF adopted Urdu as the medium of instruction in all its schools. Some objected to that. But not Naween, a broadminded, liberal and highly educated journalist. She says she doesn’t mind if the children in her village are taught in Urdu and also learn Sindhi as well as English. She cites her own case. She is trilingual and feels she has benefited from her diverse language competencies.

The problem that has dismayed her is that in the process of learning Urdu the children are getting alienated from the Sindhi speakers who they bully and look down upon. This should not really happen if the teachers are briefed on how to handle the challenges of bilingualism. Naween’s letter to TCF (forwarded to me) summed up her concerns.

“As earlier, I found children speaking to each other in Urdu and replying to my persistently Sindhi questions in Urdu. Worse, the teachers and staff all speak to each other in Urdu … and replied to all my Sindhi questions in Urdu,” she wrote. “Are the children and the teachers this brainwashed that they cannot … respond in the same language they are being spoken to?” she asked. They believe “they must not speak their native language”. This she termed “as a great disservice to the children themselves, to the rich tradition of our language and to the community you aim to serve”, she added.

TCF has promised to respond.

This news saddened me. It meant that the dialogue we have been attempting to have with the high-ups of TCF for the last two years has not impressed upon them the significance of language. Their argument in support of their policy — mainly lack of resources — is not convincing.

This doesn’t answer the question why the pre-primary classes, where written text is minimal and there is more emphasis on the spoken language, should not use Sindhi and also let this period be treated as a transitional phase to introduce Urdu. Also intriguing is the failure of the teachers to inculcate love and respect for a language — in this case Sindhi — which is after all the language of all TCF teachers in rural Sindh.

Language cannot be equated with quality. Quality is determined by pedagogy and textbooks. Take the case of the Indus Resource Centre schools which use Sindhi as the medium of instruction. They have produced excellent results in the latest school-leaving examination. Sadiqa Salahuddin, the executive director, tells me that of the 41 students of her schools who appeared for their Matriculation exam this year 24 got A-plus or A.

The writer is the author of Tyranny of Language in Education: The Problem and its Solution.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

khanm Dec 26, 2012 11:39am
Wonder why india is not having such issues. They have many provinces than Pakistan. May be they fixed it right from the begining.
Kamal Hussain Dec 26, 2012 04:25pm
khanm@ is absolutley right. Just like in India, make students speak the language of the province, replace Urdu with English as the official language.
g.a.shirazi Dec 26, 2012 05:53pm
Seems like the poor kids in Pakistan will have to learn three languages simultaneously. Regional for cultural reasons, Urdu to travel within Pakistan and India, and English to be part of elites. Good luck.
Farhan Shaikh Dec 26, 2012 05:50pm
Sindhi was taught in sindh during British india...not as a single subject but all subjects i.e. maths ,Geography,science and history were taught in sindhi and not in Urdu or english.After independance when urdu made its way into urban school ,sindhi disappeared.More recently, prestigious private school chose it not teach sindhi in their syllabus even to sindhi speaking students even in the rural area of the province. It may be surprising to many but fact is that even books on physics ,chemistry and maths are translated in sindhi up to graduation and masters level and are taught accordingly since british era when colleges in sindh were affiliated with Bombay university
Aussie Dec 26, 2012 07:30am
Interesting article. The education in Pakistan is in a mess. There are English and Urdu medium schools, public and private schools and madrissahs - all of which are catering to a different section of the society, in turn producing entirely different societies. The elite english medium private schools with their A and O level education produce students that invariably go abroad and get into prestigious institutions and graduate to become the "ruling class" .. the urdu medium public schools on the other hand are producing the work force middle class of clerks and peons. Madrissahs are producing graduates who dont fit anywhere. The solution to all this confusion is: 1. decide on a universal educational standard. 2. Decide on the language of education. 3. Decide on the quality of graduates and the uniform quality of education. In this regard few revolutionary steps need to be taken. 1. There should be ONE educational standard throughout the country. The Matric - FSc system is favourable as it is the oldest system in the country and is very logical. Education should be compulsory at least to Middle standard (class 8) and should be free for all. All educational institutions, public or private, should adhere to one syllabus. A national examination at matric and FSc level should be taken and a national score be given to each student. The individual schools may add subjects as they want but the core curriculum should be the same. 2. All developed nations in the world have their national language as medium of education, even up to university level. There is hardly a country which imparts education in a foreign language. Urdu should be the medium of education throughout. From the primary classes the students should be given an option of a "second" language (sindhi, punjabi pushto etc) which they may chose. English should be introduced in high school (year 6). 3. Teach the teacher as they say. There should be a mass movement to standardise the quality of teachers. All teachers should made to go through certification so that they have a minimum standard of teaching. This may take billions of rupees and 5-7 years, but it is the most essential element missing in the education system in Pakistan, even more important than distributing laptops. If these things are implemented on an urgent basis, maybe in 10-15 years the degree from Pakistan would have more value than the paper it is printed on.
ChangaManga Dec 26, 2012 08:04am
Let them learn in Sindhi. And let them speak Sindhi.
Sandeep Dec 26, 2012 05:37pm
India too had problem in the mid-1950s and early sixties when there was an attempt to impose Hindi in south India. The fieriest resistance came from Tamil Nadu akin to the problem faced in the neighboring Sri Lanka. At the end Jawahar Lal Nehru dropped the policy of 'Tri-bhasha' policy and Tamil Nadu was exempted from learning Hindi. But now the younger generation in Tamil Nadu is finding difficult to communicate with rest of India as majority of folks in that state do not speak Hindi.
Farhan Shaikh Dec 26, 2012 05:26pm
Hailing from rural Sindh, i myself was schooled in Govt-run sindhi medium school where Urdu was taught as a single course (Salees Urdu) and English's started in class Six...But all this didn't stood my way to get where iam through competitive exam and achieved distinctions.after settled in karachi when I got my kid ,at 3 1/2 , admission into DA montessori he didn't pick up a single word of Urdu and let alone english...since I made it point to to speak in sindhi at that he is 5 ...he is good at all three (Sindhi,urdu & english)...but iam still worried that he can't write Sindhi since its not taught at school despite good number of students in class are from sindhi -speaking families and are eager to get their kidz read and write in sindhi atleast in their province...but no choice.
rich Dec 26, 2012 05:18pm
yes we have tried to solve our language problem as best as we can in any school in indian cities 3 languages are thaught ex in mumbai if u go to a english medium school, english is the medium of instruction, then hindi is thaught as official language, and marathi is thought as state language, this is basic formula, marathi is switched to gujrati,urdu ect ect in different state or school curriculum, works well, usually most indian are trilingual i dont knoow if u are aware but india does not have a national language, contrary to wht people beleive that hindi is the national language, it is not its just an official language but then so is bengla,marathi,gujrati,sindhi,punjabi,kashmiri,konkani ect ectwe have more then 26 official language, and the list is increasing even i dont know the exact nos so everybody is happy, learn whatever language u want, and be happy Richie
Bashir Mirza Dec 26, 2012 04:03pm
Sindhi children will learn Sindhi anyway because it is their mother tongue, and they will learn it whether they go to school or not. The challenge is to teach them Urdu and English so that they can compete for jobs with the rest of the nation.
Munir Shah Dec 26, 2012 10:15am
In Punjab, as well the culturally rich language of Ghulam Farid, Waris Shah, Mian Muhamed Baksh , Shah Hussain (R.A) has been reduced to the language meant for speaking with our home servant and with those who are menial jobs. What a pity !!!
Tariq Dec 26, 2012 10:18am
Forgive my ignorance please, but is this different to what has been happening in the public and private education system in Punjab for the last 65 years? Is education in Punjab delivered in the Punjabi language? Is Punjabi taught as a subject in schools? I am not arguing that Sindhi should not be taught, rather that it should - but it seems the same sickness that afflicts Punjab is now spreading to Sindh.
Habib Dec 26, 2012 10:27am
Punjabi language is in more dire straits than the sindhi language. Punjabi is given a stepchilds treatment by Punjabis themselves. Urdu is considered more urbane and hence parents prefer urdu to punjabi, which is considered to be the langauage of rural punjab and hence somwhat uncouth. Being primarily a spoken langauge, there is a grave danger that we will lose this language altogether. When i was in school in the seventies, it was compulsory for us to speak in urdu at school. However, my parents ensured that we learn punjabi by speaking the language at home with us. So my siblings and i learned both the languages and are equally proficient in both. Alas, i can't say the same for my kids, as i have not put in the effort to teach them punjabi. The next generation in my family is most likley to lose this language.
Ashfaque Dec 26, 2012 12:00pm
I really appreciate the subject of the discussion, this is indeed a very important issue that needs to be looked upon, well done
I kHAN Dec 27, 2012 12:04pm
URDU is our national language, if a reputable organization who providing quality education to less privileged areas why we criticize only for a language issue. If we love our country, we should respect and love our national language too. I-KHAN
Raj Dec 26, 2012 07:35pm
In India we have three lenguages we learn in school. Mother tounge- Hindi -National and English -International. Most of the Indian kids know at least three lenguages..
Waseem Dec 26, 2012 09:36pm
Here in Punjab the actual reason behind Urdu being used as language of choice for primary education is to avoid Punjabi Siraiki conflict. South Punjab will never accept Punjabi in their schools. Instead they will assert on Siriaki that may eventually help creating 2 ethnic identities in the province leading to political move to divide the province in to two parts. I could not any other reason.
Gohar Ilahi Dec 27, 2012 12:25am
Incorrect, in India the problem is even larger and more complexed. Most indians have forgotten their native tongues and are opting for English and Hindi instead especially among the newer generations. While this works for them, the situation is different in Pakistan as people here want to still be able to speak their mother tongue due to their historical attachment to the land.
Gohar Ilahi Dec 27, 2012 12:27am
Technically speaking, URDU and English are both foreign languages in Pakistan.
n.qureshi Dec 27, 2012 01:18am
as a non sindhi who studied and lived in hyderabad,i can say the biggest mistake was the establishment of 1 unit which stopped the compulsary teaching of sindhi in schools.if it was continued the division between the different cultures would be less.i missed the understanding of the rich sindhi culture and poetry.
Iqbal Dec 27, 2012 07:21am
I don't get it. Why don't you want to teach your children several languages? In Europe everyone learns two or three languages. I wish I had learned that supple and beautiful language... Sindhi. Don't call learning a new language a tyranny, call it a glorious opportunity. Oppotunity to learn the literature, the poetry, and the culture of the people who speak that language. Most importantly languages allow us to better communicate with each other and thus learn to love and respect each other. Don't underestimate what a young mind can learn. Trust me, they will be better and more successful human beings.
Vatsyayan Dec 27, 2012 08:10am
India has a very interesting design regarding language in education. Language in schools comes under state juristriction. The states which have their hindi as mother tongue, teach hindi as primary language and english as secondary. In other states, the respective language is primary with hindi compulsory till higher edu, and english secondary. Children usually have the option to choose between Punjabi and hindi in 9th class in Punjab.
Ashiq Ali Samo Dec 28, 2012 09:19pm
We respect and appreciate Urdu as the national language of Pakistan; but it should not be at the cost of my mother tongue - the language in which I have listened the lullabies from my mother. We see prejudice and bias in your enforcing the Urdu language upon us. FOR GOD'S SAKE LEARN THE LESSON FROM BANGALI LANGUAGE MOVEMENT OF EAST PAKISTAN. FOR GOD'S SAKE LEARN THE HISTORY WHY "INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY" IS OBSERVED.