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.

  • huss

    its never gonna happenRecommend

  • Zaid Hamid

    Arabic is our language.Recommend

  • Kashif

    they should only learn Urdu and English. Urdu is national language and English is International languageRecommend

  • The Forbidden Fruit

    And we have some intelligent people amongst us who say teach our children all provincial languages. What a brutal way of killing the poor lil kids! Recommend

  • Friend of Pak

    No matter what our Pakistani friends will do with regard to Manderin, we’ll be with you. I do like to point out though there are far few Pakistani who can converse in Chinese than our close relationship demands. Recommend

  • Tanzeel Khan

    It should Be taught because China can make us grow and develop with them…. faster. We alone can’t do anything. We need support from our ally countries and china is representing this at its best and China is also going to be next Super Power ;). Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Well then why do we emphasize on learning english if we do not know urdu? Simple, that is the universal language that is going to help them. Now the chinese are rising hence it becomes the universal language sooner or later. …..Recommend

  • True Believer

    From 2013, all residents of Sindh will have to eat noodles with thier chai.Recommend

  • http://none Bangash

    Won’t it be easier for Pakistanis to just change their names to a Chinese one rather then learn a difficult language that is of no use in the rest of the world.Recommend

  • Hina Safdar

    Well no doubt about the importance of learning languages but to impose it on kids is not a good idea. At graduation level languages can be offered as optional subjects.Recommend

  • D’maagh

    There are so many things wrong with this article, I don’t know where to begin.

    You are claiming Pakistan’s children are not capable of learning Chinese which is a defeatist lie.

    Columnists like you are feeling out of date because the world is moving to Chinese and away from English, as China is the next superpower of the world. Instead of discouraged other Pakistanis from learning the language, why don’t you cover your gap in education instead? English is passé and you English-educated people better get used to it. The future is Chinese and at least this once, our country will be at the forefront of the future.

    This move will cement our all-weather friendship with China, thus foiling India’s evil eyes on a brotherly relation which it doesn’t have with any country.

    It will also bring economic opportunities and well-being to our country as China is the fastest growing economy and knowing Chinese will give us a direct link into the economy.

    Columnists like you who only know the outdated English, are short-sighted and aren’t planning for the long term, while for once our govt is doing its job. You all should be ready to say ‘ni hao’ – this is Hello in Chinese, and it was not “difficult” to learn at all, unlike what you say!Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    @Tanzeel Khan: That doesn’t mean it should be made compulsory for all students..Recommend

  • heer

    My niece studying French, Polish, Irish and English of course in 7 grade, living in Ireland. And her dad speaks Phustu, mum Urdu and mum’s mother Punjabi. Tell me whats the deal now???Recommend

  • Parvez

    Very well said. The idea in its present form makes no sense at all. Recommend

  • bilal

    i think i support Chinese ,sindhi is not understood by 50% ppl living in sindh so u will kick out sindhi,i think its okay,but the process shall be slow and steady ! thats my opinion !Recommend

  • MD

    Sir, if I am not wrong then your nick name, in Urdu/Hindi literally means ‘brain’, but I am sorry to say that, you, it seems, seldom use it while reasoning, thinking or writing something on the issues of importance. Let me enlighten you about few facts. The Chinese government is desperately trying to teach its students English, as the lack of adequate English knowledge has become a serious impediment in attaining and mastering the advanced technology from the western world. China lags far-far behind India in the service sector mainly because of the lack of English speaking skills of the Chinese workforce. Apart from this, the low and middle level Chinese businessmen, who are key to the economic progress, find it difficult to interact with their counterparts in the various parts of the world, making it difficult for them to clinch a quick business deal.
    Therefore, sir, when I read about the move of the govt. of Sindh to teach Mandarin to the youngsters of the state, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing aloud, because, even the Southern Chinese (Cantonese speaking people} are bitterly opposed to learning Mandarin (language of Han people). I am not saying all this out of any hatred for Pakistan or Pakistanis, but, it is an opinion of a subcontinental who visited China not once but twice. Trust me buddy, Indians are much more respected in China than any Pakistani could ever imagine. Stop the foolish thinking that any other country would bring you success or prosperity, no one is going to help you, it is for us to rise and claim our place in the comity of the nations.
    Be proud of your country, your culture, your heritage, your roots, language and history, but, never leave the the thread of pragmatism, because, no one ever achieved success without being a realist.,Recommend

  • optimist

    I am not worried that Chinese language cannot be learned!
    It is already compulsory in some GOOD British schools (Brighton College, an independent school in East Sussex, this week – in 2006- became the first to make the language compulsory, alongside French, Spanish and Latin.
    I think if we teach ANY language, there should be an audio video lab to complement routine lectures! Watching chinese children channels should be compulsory for one hour a day for the whole academic year! Learning a language from non native speakers alone will not change much. Recommend

  • saad

    discussion and debates aside just delve. there must be some ulterior motive (read lots of bucks). why not nationally and only provincially? putting 2 and 2 together or the 2 (father and son together): their frequent visits to china (still a mystery) and don’t be surprised the first chinese to teach mandarin, cantonese or chow mein or manchurian will land in benazirabad. btw some years back indians in south india and some other parts started learning the language but only to economically compete with china. so check. Recommend

  • KolachiMom

    Right. Because learning Mandarin is so much more important than simply educating the nation’s children. Prioritizing is certainly not our strong suit.Recommend

  • Harry Potter

    China isn’t our real friend,we don’t have any real friends,Pakistanis are obsessed with China and Saudi Arabia,but these countries don’t give a beep about us.

    India and China trade more than Pakistan and China,also our relationship with China is one-sided
    we get Aid more than we trade.

    Also,we think China loves Muslims,but it isn’t true,they actually hate Muslims,even more so than
    Americans,thousands of Muslims in Western China have been killed by the Chinese government.
    If you don’t believe me,google the atrocities commited against the Uyghur people.

    Also religion is suppressed in China,the Qur’an and other Holy books are banned their.

    We always talk crap about America,but in America, Muslims are treated 1000x better than they’re treated in Pakistan.

    We always complain about France banning the burka or Switzerland banning minarets,but China you can’t even build a Mosque.

    Muslims in North America,are free-er than they are in China and even Pakistan,and they’re happy here.

    Also we even think the Arabs love us,but most of them hate us,they look down on us like we’re inferior than them.

    Look how Pakistani workers in the gulf are treated.

    We think the Saudis are our best friend,but they’re the ones funding extremists to kill us,they’re the ones who created Bin Laden,and they’re ones who have given Islam and Pakistan a bad name.

    We think China will help us when India will invade us,but they won’t,their interests are more important than ours.

    We hate Americans even-though majority of Americans are Christians,who are our brothers and People of the book,and we love China,who are mostly Atheists and don’t give a beep about God.

    I know religion isn’t important and I don’t have anything against Atheists,but our politicians and religious clerics like talking about religion,so I just pointed that out.

    We need to wake up,stop trusting China so much.

    P.S English is still the most important language in the World and will remain that way for many decades to come.Recommend

  • Maria

    There is nothing wrong in learning Chinese and if it helps bring people together, it is a good thing. The more languages the better.Recommend

  • Atif Zaidi

    Since 2008, when the new People’s government assumed the reigns of Pakistan, things began to warm up all over again between Pakistan and China, which unfortunately had reached a crescendo during Musharraf (another military dictator) era and more so had come to the end of the roads. Zardari has declared relations with China as the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. He has vowed to cement the relations between the two countries and for the purpose he has made six visits to China so far. It was due alone to his concerted efforts that a high profile most recent visit of the Chinese Prime Minister – Wen Jia Bao – was made possible. Before this present visit of the Chinese Premier, Pakistan and China have already concluded 60 agreements. All of these have been possible due to focused and sustained efforts by Zardari. He has continued with the legacy of Bhutto of maintaining close ties with China by making quarterly visits there.Recommend

  • ItrustAyazAmir

    people should start eating pork as pork is used in almost all food eaten in china. Cant pakistani show that chinese are the bestestest friend of pakistan? Learn cantonese with eating pork dumpling for breakfast.Recommend

  • http://none vikash

    Teach only English not chinese.we know china is our best friend but it sounds awful when speak chinese.Recommend

  • indien


    this article made my day.Recommend

  • vickram

    Anyone who can master the use of English and Mandarin will have the world at his feet.

    I know guys who dictate their pay terms to their employers, just on the strength on their fluency in both languages. Many private institutes in India have now started teaching Mandarin and Spanish to conquer these markets.

    Pls don’t discourage the learning of Mandarin and English. It can change your world ! Recommend

  • http://HareHole Chief Hare

    I am ashamed, my reputation is ruined, I am history! I will be mocked forever with “MinisterBrained” idea.

    Oh dear God, please help save my reputation…tell the minister that I gave him the idea “in a dream.”

    Whole Hare community will be eternally grateful to you God Almighty!

    Your slave:
    Harry The Hare.Recommend

  • hameedullah

    You need to get your facts right. Sindhi is the majority language in Sindh and is spoken by all Sindhi people. If people have difficulty in reading and writing Sindhi then efforts must be made to teach it. Kicking out Sindhi language which is the native language of Sindh is as irrational as it is insane. Sindhi needs to be preserved because of vast treasure of literature in it.Recommend

  • Javed

    India has $80 Billion trade with China and will exceed $100 Billion in the next few years. Do you think most of Indians speak Chinese? Language helps but you need to have commodities to trade as well.Recommend

  • Sajida

    Your logic is flawed. Poor Pakistani learned Arabic to get jobs in ME, so why not mandarin for same reason?Recommend

  • islooboy

    not really there are non sindhi speakers oo it is compulsary for all it should be optional like rabic or sindhi or something like that sindhi is not that difficult in speaking but its script is confusingRecommend

  • majid

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

    Yes it is……….Recommend