English Vs. Urdu in Pakistan

Pakistan ruined by language myth

Effective teaching of English is the preserve of an elite leaving the rest of the country to linguistic confusion and educational failure

Zubeida Mustafa; guardian.co.uk,

Last year I wrote a book highlighting the crisis in Pakistan's education system caused by the way languages are used and taught. Its publication prompted one critic to remark that I was trying to "backwardise" the children of Pakistan. Another said that language was not the problem; it was what we taught that needed to be addressed.

These were typical responses from highly educated, fluent English speakers. They have glorified the English language in Pakistan to the extent that all logic has been put aside. But they wield great influence over public opinion and have even persuaded policymakers that the country's education system can be fixed by hiring teachers competent in English. Such teachers are hired by exclusive private schools, which are beyond the reach of the majority. So proficiency in English automatically becomes the preserve of the affluent.

Since I have been more concerned about the majority's problems, I have pleaded the case of the underprivileged by stating that children must initially begin their schooling in their own tongue, with which they are familiar. This will help their cognitive development and inculcate critical thinking. It will also enable them to be articulate participants in the construction of knowledge in the classroom and discourage the culture of rote learning. English should be introduced at a later stage and taught as a second language.

With the exception of a small minority of children who are bilingual even before they begin school, teaching children in a language other than their mother tongue in the early years does them harm, no matter how good their teachers may be. This approach robs the child of the natural advantage she has in her home language.
A child begins "acquiring" language from her environment soon after she is born. Children have already gained three or four years of language experience in their mother tongue when they start school. If English is to be the school language, these children lose this advantage. The benefit goes to a small minority that is bilingual from the start by virtue of their parents being the products of exclusive English-medium education.

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