Private schools in Pakistan must focus on character building instead of spreading the English language complex – by Muhammad Amir Khakwani

Source: Express, 27 July 2010

Also of interest is the following extract from a lengthy article on this topic by Shamaila Ali Hasan:

Discussing about the situation he (Javed) further writes:

While the reason for students taking up English courses are many and varied, on the flip side one cannot help but wonder how the market for these institutions came into existence at all, when English is a compulsory subject from the school level onward. The answer is all too simple and obvious unfortunately: the standard of English taught at government –run schools, as well as the cheaper private schools is much below par. (Javed, 2008, p. 106)

English in Pakistan is used as official and second language. It is used by small but extremely influential portion of the population. In Pakistan it is used in civil administration, bureaucratic communication, federal as well as provincial government, mass media, legal and military system. The constitution and laws are presented in English and it is also used extensively by armed forces for communication, documentation, to issue field orders and to train officers and personnel. In fact the knowledge of English is essential for office going people and the question for their promotion without it does not arise (Ghani, 1999, p. 104).

Ghani (1999, p. 105) writes that English in Pakistan serves as a gateway to success, higher education, and white color jobs. “Socially, English has been adopted as a polite and prestigious means of interaction among educated Pakistanis: those who know it are considered educated. In Pakistan, English as a second language has had a significant impact both economically and educationally.”
English is the only foreign language used for writing in hospitals, banks, airports, markets, factories, in competitive exams, like CSS and PSC. There are a number of employments where mastery over spoken and written English is required and a reasonable knowledge of English guarantees better paid employment opportunities (ibid.).

English was supposed to continue as the official language of Pakistan till national language(s) replaced it. “However, … English is as firmly entrenched in the domains of power in Pakistan as it was in 1947” (Rahman, 2003, p. 4).

Rahman also gives details about the dominance of English that the Civil Service of Pakistan and the officer corps of the armed forces, had a stake in the continuation of English because it differentiated them from the masses; gave them a competitive edge over those with Urdu – medium or traditional education. Even now, as the members of these two elites come mostly from the lower – middle and middle classes and who have studied in Urdu – medium schools want to preserve and strengthen English to enter the ranks of elite (ibid.).

At elementary stage the students do not have a clear idea of the importance of learning English but when they are getting secondary level education and then the college education later on, they realize the importance of education in their personal career and in society in general (Ghani, 1999, p. 107).

The difference of competence of English becomes evident in intermediate and graduate levels where English becomes the medium of instruction for science group. Students from Urdu medium schools find it hard to come up with science subjects and despite having a strong aptitude for medical and engineering cannot get admission into medical and engineering colleges because they cannot comprehend and later on reproduce the material written in English (p. 108).

There is a discrepancy in the availability of language learning facilities in government and private English/Urdu medium schools. English medium schools provide better learning facilities e.g. well equipped English language libraries, audio – visual aids and computers etc. These learning aids help the students to learn English language more successfully. On the other hand, Urdu medium schools are generally less influential schools and are less popular in the country (p. 110).

Hassan (2000, p. xi) expresses his dissatisfaction with the written output of senior students also. He writes that teacher’s daily chore of proof reading and marking and correcting assignments does not seem to result in any visible improvement. According to him second draft submitted by students are “as bad as the first one.” They “repeat mistakes corrected so painstakingly in the first one.” They remain reluctant to write.

In recent years, with more young people from the affluent classes appearing in the British O’ and A’ level examinations, with the world – wide coverage of the BBC and the CNN, with globalization and the talk about English being a world language, with stories of young people emigrating all over the world armed with English—with all these things English is a commodity in more demand than ever before (Rahman, 2003, p. 5).

Rahman carried out a survey of 1085 students from different schools in Pakistan in 1999 – 2000. The results of this survey regarding English suggested that 16 year – old students of Matriculation in Pakistani schools are not in favor of English as the medium of instruction in schools other than that it is taught in English medium schools only, as they suffer because of English. He explains this situation in these words:

However, paradoxically, even school students do not support the abolition of English –medium schools. Perhaps this seems too radical, visionary and impractical to them. Perhaps they feel that English – medium schools provide good quality education and should remain available for the modernization of the country. Or perhaps they understand that such schools are a ladder out of the ghetto of their socio – economic class to a privileged class which their siblings or children might make use of. In short, it is probably because of their pragmatism and a shrewd realization that nothing is going to change that they want the English – medium schools to keep flourishing. (ibid.)

The children of elite English – medium schools are indifferent to Urdu and claim to be completely bored by its literature. They are proud to claim lack of competence in the subject even when they get ‘A’ grades in the O’ and A’ level examination. They read only English books and not Urdu ones nor those in other languages (Rahman, 2003, p. 8).

Shamaila Ali Hasan

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