Sindh’s schools don’t need Mandarin

Published: September 16, 2011

Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages in the world; How can Pakistani children learn this language when they have trouble learning Urdu? PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

Historically, Pakistan and China have enjoyed cordial relations. China is our all weather friend and one of the biggest investors in the country. In 2007 Chinese investment in Pakistan was valued at $4 billion, and it was estimated to have grown to $15 billion by 2010.

Therefore, when Chief Minister of Sindh Qaim Ali Shah announced that Mandarin, could become a compulsory subject across schools in Sindh from 2013  it seemed to be a very practical proposition. After all, China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Having expertise in Mandarin, China’s official language, will certainly help Pakistanis in getting employment opportunities in China, as well as in attaining higher education – but is this the right way to go about it?

Is teaching Mandarin practical to a population who is not even fully capable of reading Urdu and English?

With a literacy rate of barely 58 per cent, including those who can merely sign their names, and 42 million or 60 per cent of the population of school-going age unable to access any means of education, Pakistan fares extremely poorly on the global index for education.

One in ten of the world’s out-of-school children is a Pakistani.

According the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of Pakistan in 2010, in the province of Sindh itself, among the children aged 5-16 in the  6 rural districts surveyed, it was found that a very large chunk (28.6%) of the children  are at the beginner’s level in reading Urdu or Sindhi. Only 20.3 per cent of the children tested could properly read Urdu or Sindhi at story level or above. The scenario is even worse for English where 39.6 of the population of children aged 5-16 years cannot even read a single letter in English.

Only 5% of the total surveyed population properly read sentences in English.

Such statistics clearly depict the sad state of education in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh where Mandarin is proposed to be taught. How can our policy makers expect teachers to teach Chinese to a population which has a large majority of people who are not even well-versed in their local languages?

Chinese may indeed be the language of the future. However, it needs to be popularized through other channels for professionals, entrepreneurs and young post-secondary students who are planning to study in China. Statistics reveal, it is not too wise to introduce it sporadically in the education sector of Pakistan, which is already suffering from acute problems of drop out, repetition rates, and poor learning levels.

Education has been made a fundamental right through the article 25-A in the constitution. However, the Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF) a government-run body, set up in collaboration with the UK government itself declares that universal primary education will only be possible in Sindh by 2049 and throughout Pakistan by 2100. A large portion of Pakistani students already suffer due to mismanagement of languages, undermining of the teaching of their mother tongue and the prevalence of ‘English at all costs’ in our academic discourse.

It is necessary for our policy-makers to look into these problems of basic education, and not introduce a language in such a reckless manner which may further confuse our students.


Rafeel Wasif

A social worker and an educationist, Rafeel is working as a research associate with South Asian Forum for Education (SAFED). He completed his education from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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