Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Education in Native Languages

There is a very interesting blog published in Express Tribune titled What happened when a Pashtun child tried to read Urdu. In it, the author has talked about the need to provide education in native language so that a child can develop the learning skills quickly and can come to terms of having a decent start to his/ her education. The author has provided a video as an example in which a child, whose native language is Pashto, is given a book in Urdu and told to state what he makes out of it. The child displays creativity by making sense of what is in book by using some of his vocabulary in Urdu and compensates for his deficiency in vocabulary by replacing Urdu words with his native language sounding equivalents.
Education is vital for societies to develop and primary education is the base where this development takes stage. Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and education standards are only dreams. The GDP spending on education has averaged 3% over decades and there seems no effort to spend on education anytime soon. State education is rotten to the core with countless ghost schools and zilch provision of education to the children.
Without doubting the efficacy of early education in one's native language, is it really workable in Pakistan? Let’s probe.
Minding Our Languages
According to author in the blog, there are 75 local dialects in Pakistan lead by Punjabi, Seraiki, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Hindko and mainstream communication language of Urdu.  He also states that Province of Sindh is at the forefront of introducing Sindhi as primary education level language whereas Punjab is the total opposite. KPK falls in between wherein the Govt last year introduced measures to promote native language education. To provide education in native language requires the curriculum be present in that language. How many languages in Pakistan boast of this feature? Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto come to my mind - I don't have any research data at my disposal to include more languages in the list. Even considering Urdu, which is not a regional language per se and is used more as a communication language, the courses and curriculum are woefully inadequate. So do we really require 75 curricula? Who is going to modify the curriculum in native languages? Who will keep them up-to-date? We can't even keep Urdu curriculum up-to-date – how on earth can we manage 75 languages?
In my opinion, and I can be dead wrong, the problem lies somewhere else. I can see three major problems.
‘S’ is for State
First and the foremost is the State’s responsibility of fulfilling it. Seriously.  No Pakistani Govt ever has focused on education for the betterment of people. After the 18th Amendment in Constitution of Pakistan, education has been devolved to the Provinces but the role of state (provincial or federal) does not change. They need to pump in more funds for structural improvement in education system. Make education up to 10th standard free and remove ghost schools and teachers.
‘T’ is for Teacher and Training
Refresher courses for teachers and their capacity development are vital for better education – whatever the medium of communication. If the teacher is capable enough, he/she can explain e.g. a scientific fact in student’s native language with English terminologies. But for that to happen, teachers have to be properly trained themselves. Using native language curriculum and handing it over to poorly trained teachers is not going to improve anything.
C’ is for Curriculum
The bone of contention let’s say.  I have already alluded to the fact that managing curriculum in 75 languages would be an extremely difficult task. Currently there are two mediums of education in Pakistan – English and Urdu. Public schools tend to be Urdu medium based and private schools English medium.  The disparity is stark when Urdu medium schools educated children come in contact with English medium educated students.
If you look at it – there is one thing pretty clear. You can't have 75 native language based curricula and you have issues with one language (Urdu) based curriculum. So that leaves English as the only medium to provide education. This does not mean that the teacher and children are supposed to talk in English from 8 am till 1 pm. This is nonsense. What should be done is that all terminologies should be English based and mode of communication could be Urdu or native language. (Note: this scenario will work for levels up to middle class and subject of science and maths) This has to be supported by developing English language skills in students so that they don’t face issues in higher education which is all but based in English for Pakistanis at least.
The A-Z
I have to agree with the author of that blog that no matter what the way forward, it is a difficult task and it needs to be dealt with in earnest. Education in native language might be the best but there are difficulties in its implementation here in Pakistan. Quite frankly, why discuss imparting education in only English, Urdu or native languages, as I discussed the mode of making students understand is whatever language they use as communication language with English terminologies and phrases combined. We are talking of imparting education and not doing masters in any particular language hence students should be provided the quickest and the most effective way of learning.
Primary education is all about teaching children how to construct sentences and identifying words that are the building blocks – of any language for that matter.  Once they get the hang of it, even multiple languages, imparting them with education in any language in higher studies would not be a problem.
Respect for everyone who is imparting education.


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