Mind your language: Chal Parha’s take on language in schools

Published: February 13, 2013

Chal Parha,is trying to make education an important policy issue for the upcoming election in Pakistan.PHOTO: http://www.facebook.com/chalparha

Chal Parha is a brilliant TV show, recently launched on Geo, hosted by Shehzad Roy to reform the government education system in Pakistan.

The second episode was a thought provoking insight into the issue of the language of instruction in Pakistani schools. The episode looked at the emotional trauma and turmoil children face when they are forced to learn or communicate in languages which are completely foreign or alien to them, in our case these being Urdu and English.

It does not only cause confusion in the minds of the students, but may eventually lead to a loss in self-confidence and the ability to express themselves, resulting in a lifelong learning impediment.

The policy suggestion presented in the show was to introduce a tripartite language system at the primary level, whereby children are taught in their mother tongue as the language of instruction (especially if it is a regional or local language) and Urdu and English are introduced as ‘languages‘ which can be built on once they reach their secondary school level.

We know in many developed and developing countries, such as most of Europe, Japan and China, that children learn in their local languages and their education systems are able to compete internationally.

There are successful models of multilingual countries with a federal system similar to Pakistan who have done remarkably well with multilingual education, also known as ‘first-language-first’ education. The most interesting case being Switzerland which has 26 cantons (regions) and where the language of instruction can be,

“German, French, Italian or Romansh, depending on the language region… All students learn at least two other languages during their compulsory schooling. This is generally one of the other languages spoken in Switzerland and English,” according to the EDK, the Swiss national education coordination agency.

On the face of it, the policy sounds great in principle. However, in the Pakistani case, there would be many challenges to the implementation of such a policy.

For one, Pakistan has its own historical legacies to contend with, the first being colonisation. The subcontinent was colonised for nearly a 100 years, during which time local languages were gradually devalued and later learning English was the only option left, if one had to work in the vast civil service or government jobs. This unfortunately is true, even more so, to this day.

The second legacy is the adoption of Urdu as the national language, which ironically wasn’t the language of any of the geographical areas which formed the country, but of Muslim League leaders who were migrating from India. It was fair in the sense that it was unfair to everyone local, and gave some advantage to those who had left everything behind.

However, this ‘Urdu only’ policy led to disastrous consequences to the country’s federalism of which the secession of the Bengali-speaking ‘East Pakistan’ was the worst example. The language riots may not have been the only or defining factor in this, but they were definitely an important one.

One would have hoped we would’ve learnt our lesson and started to value regional languages. In reality, it provoked the opposite reaction with even more emphasis on national unity and the national language being the language of instruction.

Even if you leave the historical legacies aside, there is the irrational fear of political wrangling and corruption which can take the policy years to be implemented, much longer than the political horizon of any government. Constant changes in policy wreak havoc to an already failing education system.

Another important factor would be the compliance of the booming private education sector in Pakistan. Already the privately educated have an advantage because of their better quality of education and relatively superior grasp of English. A policy also introducing regional languages to the mix for government schools may further disadvantage those from the poorest backgrounds, rather than aiding learning.

How would we ensure that private schools also adhere to the policy?

Also to consider, though this is something we can work on and aim to improve, there is a lack of resources available in regional languages. Very few books are available in Urdu, let alone in regional languages, that deal with technical or scientific topics and a significant investment would have to be made to produce and translate content in these languages. For example, while many people in Khyber-Pakhtunwa may speak Pashto, very few of them know how to read or write in their mother tongue. And, even within a province like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, there are many Hindko speakers.

So we may be opening up a Pandora’s Box!

If we agree that multilingual education is something we want and aspire to, how do we get there?

I would love to hear from others, especially those with an education background, of what can be done in the short- and long-term. And especially lessons that we can learn from other developing countries, particularly our neighbour India who shares our colonial legacy and for whom multilingualism is an even bigger challenge than it is for us.

A huge thank you to Zara Sochiye, the campaign team behind Chal Parha, for getting the debate started and for trying to make education an important policy issue for the upcoming election in Pakistan.

I am looking forward to what the next episode has to offer!

Read more by Tamreez here, or follow her on Twitter @tamreezinam

Tamreez Inam

Tamreez Inam

A freelance international development consultant who having graduated from McGill and Oxford University, worked for organisations such as Oxfam and the United Nations. Tamreez volunteers with Inspire Pakistan- a campaign to promote inspirational initiatives in Pakistan". www.inspirepakistan.com She tweets @tamreezinam (twitter.com/tamreezinam)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    Once a Shehzad Roy always a Shehzad Roy . Waaja, Allan faqeer, Brian Adams, Sukhbir and now these poor kids.Recommend

  • Ahmad Hashmi

    Yes, we need a multilingual system and a child should learn and know at least three languages. Having said that the real question remains, which three languages. The example you cited of Switzerland is not applicable to Pakistan as there a child learns three languages of international scope whereas; in Pakistan, the local languages are confined only to particular area within the country. Furthermore, many of these even do not qualify as a proper language and are in fact dialects or only spoken languages without a proper script. This is not the end, we have to consider also the enrichment of these languages in regards to arts and science. Its bitter but truth that we can in no way compare our local languages to those spoken in Europe or some other parts of the world. We are far behind particularly in science and its terminologies and their use in our languages. Even for Urdu that is a medium of education and was tried to develop to encompass different terminologies never got successful in the true sense of the word. Besides, it is another unfortunate fact that we lack experts and linguistics to translate and integrate the modern day requirements in our languages. Therefore, in spite of the fact that it has certain advantages to learn in your own language, we are not in a position to embrace it. For me the right thing to do is to focus on English, Urdu and a third language like German, French, or Chinese to teach in schools and high schools to produce students who are in better position to face challenges of modern world.Recommend

  • http://pakistaniteen.wordpress.com PakistanTeen

    I say ‘There is dearth of Good Literature in Urdu.’ They say ‘ Sharam Tum Ko Magar Nahi Aati! ‘ #Facepalm.Recommend

  • leftist

    is this show a copy of Aamir Khan’s stayam jit something program?…Recommend

  • Fahad

    @leftist:
    Bus karde bhai.Recommend

  • azeem Aslam

    I saw the program and i amused much that it point out the weaknesses of our education system. so keep it up towards betterment.Recommend

  • Op

    i think we should have our education in english language coz most of contents is available in english only but there should be subjects in urdu and other regional languages (2 minimum)… we should not forget our our culture our languages… Recommend

  • naeem khan

    the title CHAL PARHA is very offensive and derogatory to the teachers and represents the society’s attitude to teachers in general no wonder with this mentality the people are actually destroying the very purpose which the show on paper at least claims Recommend

  • roadkashehzada

    @leftist:
    come on, Amir khan’s prog was not a full stop on social programs. probably that was also adaptation from somewhere.Recommend

  • Haroon Hazara

    Do you know one of the reasons of the people living in Hindko regions to demand a new province is the problem of forcefully learning Pushto in government schools. In KPK government already made it mandatory for Hindko speakers to learn Pushto in primary and now for Hindko speakers we have to learn Urdu, Pushto and English in primary in govt schools. The same problem of multi lingual education will emerge in Karachi where Hindko and Punjabi speaker have the ability to integrate while Pukhtoon will try to implement Pushto in Karachi and that will lead to civil war. Apart from Mother tongue there must be another rule that Migration should not allow the demographics, Language and culture to be altered in any manner in any region and Hindko regions should not be systematically dismantled by Pukhtoon migration and similarly Karachi will always remain with Urdu and Sindhi as main languages and no other language should be introduced there as then there will be another tug of war where one ethnicity who is spreading around Pakistan will found another way to dominate and alienate others.Recommend

  • gp65

    In India, most state boards allow the medium of instruction/examination to be either the local language or Hindi or English. In the Maharashtra board where I studied, even though my medium of instruction was English, from the 5th to the 8th Hindi and Marathi (the local language) were compulsory. If you had studied in a Marathi medium school, English and Hindi would have been compulsory. Thus each student has some familiarity with Hindi and English which are considered link languages and facilitate communication across state lines. At the same time first generation learners have the benefit of learning in their own mother tongue.

    Apart from establishing a link language the other advantage is that if some of the students want to opt for science stram later where most global literature is in English, they are not starting from scratch at college level.

    When I was young and a school student, some of the examples given to ilustrate points were Western creating an inherent disadvantage for students of a lower socioeconomic strata. These issues have been addressed in the more recent NCERT curriculum that I have seen.Recommend

  • Mast Malang

    @leftist. No. First it is not a studio show and secondly it focuses only on the local Education system, unlike Amir Khan’s show that focused on diveresed issues. but it is really a good impact leaving show. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Shehzad Roy and his efforts deserve nothing but praise.
    As an observer and a product of the private school system I say let the private school system function as it is because it must be doing good as the children manage to get an education. Not that improvements can’t be made but the priority must be the government schools.
    The biggest issue and the first to be addressed is not the medium of instruction, its the decision that what ever decision is made it must in principle stand irrespective of government changes and personal whims
    What ever is suggested must be doable keeping financial constraints in mind. We have a tendency to think Switzerland, Japan, England etc, etc, instead of looking at Sri Lanka or India.

    I am certain there are many qualified people who could put things right but the government must display the will to do it. Recommend

  • Zalmai

    One has to learn their mother tongue and work towards expanding scientific and technical terms in the local languages with the help of linguists and scholars. Abandoning native tongues because it lacks the equivalent vocabulary borrowed from western scientific and technical terms will only hasten the demise of regional languages.

    Pashtun scholars and linguists in Afghanistan have dedicated their efforts in alleviating this problem by creating new words and replacing loan words from English and Persian/Dari with Pashto words. They have their work cut out but based on what I have seen on Afghan television, Pashtun scholars have made tremendous strides in the development of the language and making it more uniform for all Pashtuns.

    Pashto literature pales in comparison to Persian literature but the awareness of this shortcoming exists and proud Pashtuns are rectifying this by encouraging the development of Pashto literature in academia. Pashtun analysts on Afghan television don’t resort to Persian/Dari anymore to get their point across, whereas in the past they would have fumbled for words and switched to Dari.Recommend

  • T

    @ naeem khan,

    although i don’t endorse your point of view totally but it does makes me think.. why “chal parha” as it is understood as a derogatory term.. why not “aao parhain” or something like that.. Recommend

  • T

    oops.. i take my comment back.. its not “chal parha” (teach!) its “chal parra” (i have begun to walk).. thats what i have been wondering… my bad though!Recommend

  • rehmat

    After reading this blog, I checked out the first show. Some of the issues appear to be common across India and Pakistan e.g. missing teachers. I am sure learning should be possible. I hope Kapil Sibal and his policy team also keep an eye on this show adn implement those things that make sense. Of course local Indian NGOS like Pratham who have been working with millions of kids also probably have recommendations which they have already made tto Indian policy makers, that a show like this could benefit from. I know that the measurement system implemented by Pratham called Aser has also been rolled out in Pakistan on a pilot basis. In such areas, ego should be put aside to roll out best practice in each other’s countries. The kids deserve that.Recommend

  • [email protected]

    Dear Author.

    The government of KPK started this program 3 years back. Once the program is implemented all teachers will be required to teach primary level in their mother language and secondly mother languages itself will be taught as a subject. an Institution FLI (forum for language initiative) and MIED have been established. Text Book Board is in the final phase of sylabus development and resource production. Most probably in 2014 the initiative will start. It will be a great step.Recommend

  • Saad W A

    Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country and we MUST value our diversity in order to stay integrated. There are fortunately well defined language regions in the country which are distinct from provincial regions. I suggest the following:
    – Schooling should be devided based on language regions rather than provincial regions.
    – Each language region should have its own education board under the supervision of the federal board
    – The provinces should be ultimately responsible for the education systems in their province HOWEVER when spending their funds, should collaborate with the language region board in its specific area.
    – Education funding should be divided on a population basis, with funds being divided per capita and 25% extra being allocated to under-developed and lagging regions.
    – Schooling should be in the regional language for primary schooling
    – Instruction of English and Urdu should be compulsory during secondary school: Urdu being the lingua franca, and English being necessary for advancement
    – Post secondary education should only be in English.

    This way, everyone will get a solid foundation and will be well equipped to deal with the world head on. Recommend

  • nadia azad

    I would agree with Zalmi, that we need to develop our local as well as national language. As not using them for educational purposes will make them redundant. Yes , we realize the English is very important but countries like china, Japan, Germany have made progress using their own languages instead of adopting foreign languages. Urdu works as a common string for diverse cultures in our society and we should be proud of it and continue to make advancement in it , instead of abandoning it.Recommend

  • Ahmad Hashmi

    I see that many readers are coming up with the argument that Germany, Japan and other countries are developed countries and made progress using their local languages which is true. However, the fact of the matter is that they did progress as these countries were better off in infrastructure and had enogh expertise in the fields of science and economy. These countries are now at the lead and are defining the terms for the majority of the world to follow them. Comparing a country like Pakistan to them is like apples with oranges. We are dependent on such countries for survival. When I say survival, it means on science and technology and modern day industry and economy. Therefore, we have to depend on languages with an international scope to cover this gap at quantam leaps otherwise we can never make progress. No one is asking to neglect our culture and local languages, but for education we have to accept the fact that English is the key to survive. Besides, learning any other language of an international scope is always of great benefit. Learning a mainland EU language or Chinese or even Arabic will open doors for better integration and opportunities to a number of countries. I also consider this an opportunity to know more about different civilisations as learning language means learning the culture of that country which is very critical to neutralise the elements of intolerance that our society has developed others without knowing others. Recommend

  • bano

    Bono is west, amir khan in india and Shehzad roy in pakistan they all our genuine people please dont compare them. Shehzad roy is ours and a genius, we are proud of him.Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    Shehzad Roy is simply an opportunist who after failing in music trying his luck in social sevices. Just like Abrar ul Haq and Jawad Ahmed. Recommend

  • Murtaza

    I think that kindergarten schools should be started in govt schools. Children will go to school at the age of 3 where their conversation skills in urdu would be focused. At the age of 5, they’ll attend grade 1 where reading and writing in Urdu can be introduced. This practice must be carried out till grade 3. By that time children would be able to use Urdu easily, then english can be introduced which can be taught as only a language till 7th grade. Afterwards English can be used as a medium of education till the end of high school. If everything goes according to the plan, a student would be able to use three languages easily till the end of high school.Recommend

  • malika

    @Tanzeel: i think you dont live here. Shehzad roy s last album “LAGA REH” changed the paradigm and scenario of pakistani pop. strings, bagairat bigade etc followed Roy s foot step and did political music then again his song with wasu was a huge hit and then this song chal parha. its fine if you dont like his music but he is huge and takes his own time to release something but he always comes up with a bang. Abrara and Jawad are history roy is our future. Recommend

  • khattak

    In Pakistan everything is compared with India e.g., onion prices, sugar price and missile and atomic technology except languages used in the education system in India. In India every state and province has the right to use regional languages as medium of education and as a state/provincial language. In India provinces and states are not forced to use Hindi as medium of education. For example Malayalam is the official and educational language in the state of Kerala and similarity TELGU is the official and educational language in the state of Andhra Pradesh. These are just few examples of regional languages being used as the educational and official level in India. In Pakistan provinces are forced to use Urdu as medium of education. The ethnic distribution in the India is almost the same as in Pakistan. Now question raises why regional languages are not declared as languages of education in Pakistan? Some people argue that giving importance to regional would break Pakistan. From such people I have one question that why India is not broken yet because India has been using regional languages in education since 1947.

    Although Pak was separated from India on name of Islam and language to understand Islam is Arabic but since 1947 Urdu is declared is as a national language. The people of the four provinces have nothing common from history and culture point of view except Islam. Urdu is declared as national language to keep people ignorant from Islam , science and technology and to destroy their centuries old cultures. I observe that Urdu is only used in Pak to promote religious extremism and to promote Indian culture 3. To steal ethnic identity from people of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa as Pashto has no correlation with Urdu at all.

    In Pakistan some entnic groups which are Indian by descent, have imposed Urdu as national language due to certain reasons. First these ethnic groups mother lamguages are closely correlated with Urdu. Second through Urdu these ethnic groups are earning money through bolloywood movies as Urdu and Hindi are two names for one language(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urdu#UrduandHindi). Third to eradicate the culuture of other ethnic groups which are by histroy and culture are not Indian descent.

    I would suggest that only way to improve education system in Pakistan is to declare regional languages as medium of education as India has done and declare English is the compulsory language in the education in Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://h Haris

    Nice writeup Tamreez. Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    he looks funny in this pic !!!! guitar … education … kids … am I the only one missing the link here ?Recommend

  • http://www.urdu-english.com Urdu-English

    Anything that improves the education system can only be a good thing.Recommend

  • NJH

    @gp65: Thank you so much, the system you have described surely is impressive and supports communities/ countries with multi-language requirements. With today’s global requirements, it is imperative that we teach our children their first most language i.e. their mother tongue; let them express themselves in this language and later dwell into others as needed.Recommend

  • kinza

    God give me a man like Shehzad Roy! so I can marry himRecommend