PPP promised to introduce language reforms with stress on mother tongue, national and international languages.
The language policy in Pakistan, inherited from the British empire, is undermining the effectiveness of state education and excluding many of the poorest from skills and training that could help them break out of poverty. There are more than 70 languages spoken in Pakistan, yet Urdu, the national language and the medium of instruction in the majority of state schools, is spoken by just 7 per cent of the population.
English is perceived as a passport to better employment and upward social mobility in Pakistan. In a society characterized by acute class division and intense class consciousness parents from the lower, lower middle or working strata of society aspire to enrol their children in the English-medium schools. Public demand for English medium schooling has led to an exponential growth of low-fee/low-cost schools over the last two decades where “by the end of 2005, one in every three enrolled children at the primary level was studying in a private school.” Behind the rapid spread and intense pursuit of English medium schooling is also a belief that the earlier the child is exposed to the English language, the faster she/he will learn the language.
Various studies have confirmed that early English-medium policy appears counterproductive as most students demonstrate poor English language proficiency. Factors such as unavailability of qualified English teachers, poor pedagogies, sociocultural dynamics, and overall institutional weaknesses contribute to the failure of the policy. These studies have concluded that the maximum exposure and greater learning beliefs associated with earlier English teaching are delusional as those beliefs are underpinned neither by theories of bilingual/multilingual education nor by the schools and social environment of the children.
What is understood about how children learn in relation to language indicates that for preschool and primary years in particular, teaching in a language which is not familiar to a child is often too demanding for the child to cope with – particularly when they face other barriers to education, such as poverty, hunger and poor learning conditions. Children learn based on linking new knowledge to what is already familiar to them. Sudden shifts into an unfamiliar language sever those links. Not having access to primary schooling in a familiar language is leading to the exclusion of large numbers of children from education, particularly in developing countries.
The world’s most linguistically diverse societies, many of which use a single national or international language for schooling, account for a significant proportion of out-of-school children. 54 million out-of-school children live in countries economists classify as ‘highly linguistically fractionalized’. These countries account for 58 per cent of primary-school aged children. The most linguistically fractionalised countries contain 72 per cent of out-of-school children worldwide. These numbers mean that language of instruction will need to be a strong priority for strategies focused on reaching the education targets.
The Supreme Court in 2015 directed federal and provincial governments to adopt Urdu as official language in the country. In its ruling the SC said: “In the governance of the federation and the provinces there is hardly any necessity for the use of the colonial language which cannot be understood by the public at large.” The judgment was also binding on the statutory and regulatory bodies of the federal as well as provincial governments.
According to the Article 251 of the Constitution of Pakistan
(1) The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day.
(2) Subject to clause (1), the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu.
(3) Without prejudice to the status of the national language, a provincial assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of a provincial language in addition to the national language.
Senator Sassui Palijo said that the federation should treat all regional languages as national languages. A bill on languages drafted by the Mohammad Ibrahim Joyo-led committee had been submitted to the Senate’s standing committee, which sought amendment to Article 251 of the Constitution, she said. She said that private schools must teach Sindhi and urged the Sindh government to ensure that signboards being fitted along the corridor being built under CPEC were written in Sindhi.
She agreed that there has been little effort to implement the promise.
Senator Khushbakht Shujat from MQM said that the Sindh Assembly turned down on a resolution to implement Urdu as the official language of the province. This resolution she said was moved by the MQM. The resolution was put forward by Muttahida Qaumi Movement
(MQM) MPA Kamran Akhtar and it read that: “In view of Supreme Court orders, the official language in the province should be Urdu.” However the Parliamentary minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro responded that they had yet to receive such orders from the Supreme Court to implement Urdu only as the official language. She said that the ruling party in Sindh gave the reason that since the resolution was aimed at implementing only Urdu in the province therefore it was not acceptable. She added that Khurro was of the view that already Sidhi and English were used in assembly and other places.
“With this attitude do you expect the PPP government to bring about language reforms as promised.”
Zubeida Mustafa, journalist turned social activist, says: “We have politicized the language question in education to such an extent that now we don’t know how, when and where to teach a language. We can’t decide which languages should be taught as the core subject or which language should be used to teach a student other subjects. We have ethnicized the language question that learning or not learning a language is now taken to be a political statement.” She added that the fact is that a child should be taught in his first language in the primary school — that is until the age of 9 or ten.
“Then one wonders why our eminent policymakers and educationists are so confused and ill-advised in taking a conclusive decision on the medium question. This is partly because there are many factors relating to education interwoven into the medium of instruction question. To name a few, the quality of education (that includes the standards of textbooks and teachers), the applicability and need of the language he learns in the life of the child when he becomes an adult, and the social and political accessibility provided by a language that is taught in school.”
The PPP government has been unable to implement its promise of language reforms in Sindh therefore the promise stands broken.