Manzoor Ahmad Siyal is a proud father of two doctors – a son and a daughter. He believes only his strategy and hard work of his children helped him realise his dream of turning his son and daughter into doctors. “Had I not withdrew my children from Urdu medium government schools 17 years ago and admitted them to a private English medium school, they would never have been able to become doctors,” he claims.
Siyal had to suffer a lot to pay the private schools fee in his meagre resources, but nothing could stop him from achieving his goal. “I know my three nephews, the sons of my elder brother, were mentally very sharp; they were more intelligent than my children,” admits Siyal, a welder by profession. “But they failed to get the requisite marks in their F.Sc. examinations to get admission to medical or engineering colleges, only because of their Urdu medium background,” explains Manzoor Ahmad.
“I was advised by a doctor, running his clinic at some distance from my welding shop, to admit my children to an English medium private school if I want to make my children doctors like him,” recalls the man in his late fifties. “F.Sc. is very tough and students doing their matriculation from Urdu medium schools mostly fail to get good grades in the Intermediate pre-medical or pre-engineering exams, hence failure to get admission to professional colleges in this age of very tough competition,” the doctor had advised. Siyal says he acted on the advice, and today both his children are doctors, the only ones in his extended family.
This is one reality, pursued and proven by Manzoor Ahmad Siyal, a man with a very humble background. And the second reality is shared with Cutting Edge by Muhammad Tufail Sukhera, a vegetable vender. He tried both government and private schools four, five years back but his two sons failed to pass their matriculation examinations. In his limited resources, he could only afford sending his sons to a government school, where he was to pay almost nothing compared with the private schools.
A dweller of Dubbanpura, off Multan Road, Lahore, he had admitted his sons to the nearby Government High School, situated in Hassan Town. When they failed to reach the eighth class despite spending even two years in sixth and seventh classes each, the worried father took them to a private school. “But even there, they failed to pass their ninth class board exams, only because of textbooks in the English language,” the father shares the “ordeal” of his sons. Tufail Sukhera believes his sons could have passed at least matriculation examinations if they had been taught textbooks in the Urdu language.
Positions and status aside, Sukhera’s viewpoint has also been endorsed and advocated by Sardar Usman Buzdar, the chief minister of Punjab. He has decided to re-introduce Urdu as a medium of instructions up to the primary level in all 60,000 government-run schools of the Punjab. “Since the medium of instructions is English at the primary level, teachers and students are wasting most of their time in translating instead of understanding the subject and they hardly learn anything (in this process),” says Buzdar through a tweet, adding that Urdu will be the medium of instructions in all primary schools of the Punjab from the next academic session beginning March 2020.
The 18th Amendment, passed by the parliament in 2010, makes education a provincial subject and all the federating units are now free to formulate and evolve their own education policies, while deciding about what to teach and what not, and in what manner. They are free to decide about their curriculum, syllabi, textbooks and mediums of instruction even if they are different or conflicting with each other.
The Punjab chief minister, however, claimed that the latest decision was in conformity with the PTI manifesto, promising to introduce a uniform system or syllabus of education and Urdu as medium of instructions at the primary level. It will, in fact, wrap up the system, introduced by the Pakistan Muslim League-N government in 2009, in consultation with Britain’s Department for International Development and the British Council, introducing English as medium of instructions in all schools of the Punjab.
The tweet said that the Department of School Education had carried out a survey, asking students, parents and teachers of 22 districts about their preferred medium of education. In each category, more than 85% of the people were in favour of Urdu, hence the provincial government’s decision. English would be taught as a separate subject, added the post.
Punjab Minister for School Education Murad Raas fully endorses and defends the chief minister’s decision of reverting to the Urdu medium of instructions in primary schools. In a talk with Cutting Edge, he says studies from around the world show that the use of local languages helps children understand the curriculum. He says it increases the children’s interest and improves their comprehension/reading ability.
The minister believes that children’s learning capacity was weakened due to the syllabus being taught in English. He feels that community languages, such as Urdu, Punjabi and Seraiki, will help students understand the curriculum better. Earlier, all main subjects, including Maths, General Science and Social Studies, were being taught in English till grade-V, but now these would be taught in Urdu.
The minister has a lot more to share on the subject. “The move will enable students to understand the concept, rather than just reading books like parrots.” He is planning to introduce “active learning” in public schools by 2021, and a massive teacher training exercise very soon. He believes that the reforms would help eliminate rote learning in schools. The sole emphasis on rote learning has severely affected the ability of our schools to prepare the pupils for a rapidly evolving knowledge-based economy. Rote learning occurs when pupils are unable to develop deep conceptual understanding of knowledge and an ability to apply it to the solution of problems, the minister explains.
Murad Raas does not agree that the provincial government’s decision would widen the gulf between the rich and the poor class. He also dispels an impression that it will promote the cause of private schools, as parents, like Manzoor Ahmad Siyal, would want their children to study in private English medium schools, instead of Urdu medium government schools. The minister promises that the “student-friendly” move would not remain limited to the public sector schools, adding that the government would gradually introduce Urdu as medium of instruction in private schools also. “They would have to comply with the School Education Department rules, as there can’t be two system of education in the province,” he claims.
Fizza Batool Bukhari, a researcher at Lahore School of Economics, agrees with the Punjab education minister in principle. She says in her research paper that the enforcement of English as the medium of instruction in the Punjab government schools had led to a notable deterioration of educational environment. In the four years of its implementation, 2009-2013, students’ cognition of subjects drastically dropped, cramming increased, student-teacher relationship declined and their confidence suffered.
While citing the findings of her research, she tells Cutting Edge that a number of studies, while relating the failure of the policy, blamed a lack of capacity, competence and due diligence on the part of government schoolteachers. The research study, conducted in 30 government schools in Lahore, found teachers the victims of an ill-conceived government policy. Spread of private education and gradual withdrawal of government from school education has completed the process of differentiation, leaving only the poorest attending the government schools, the researcher regrets.
There is no denying the fact that the best way to impart education to children could be through their mother tongue. But the process needs a lot more additional things. For example, our classrooms need professionally trained teachers, who know how to proceed from simple to complex and easy to the difficult. They must be aware of the children’s learning needs. They must know that rote learning kills creativity. They must be familiar with the contemporary assessment and evaluation techniques. They must know that books are for the teachers, and not for the students. They must know the art of lesson planning. They must know the effective usage of local resources to enhance learning in classrooms, and much more.
It is hoped that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led coalition government in the Punjab would not leave the change (tableeli) process halfway, and take it to its logical conclusion by providing all necessities to the schools, their students and teachers.