EducationFeaturedVolume 13 Issue # 24

“English medium” – violating the Constitution of Pakistan

In 2010, the Punjab provincial government issued a notification, converting all public sector schools into “English medium” with effect from April 1, 2011. The education authorities claimed that the decision was aimed at competing with the globalised world in the field of knowledge. Years ago, in 2006, the federal government had approved in the curriculum-2006 that mathematics, science and social studies subjects would be taught in English. The School Education Department had issued instructions for implementation of the decision of the federal government.


However, a large number of educationists and experts on education believe that the move was aimed at destroying our education system, and the notification was issued in violation of various articles of the Constitution of Pakistan.


By imposing a ban on teaching the syllabus books in Urdu language, a large number of students were rendered mentally uncomfortable and they were forced to abandon their education halfway. The reason was obvious and simple: the syllabus books in English were hard to comprehend for them, being above their mental level. Interestingly, even their teachers were unable to read the syllabus books and understand them fully, what to talk of giving any lessons to the students.


Ishtiaq Ahmad, a senior subject specialist of Physics, says the Punjab provincial government blatantly violated the Constitution of Pakistan “to fulfil the imperialist agenda of keeping the upcoming generations uneducated by imposing English on them from the beginning”.


Talking to Cutting Edge, the educationist said that converting public sector schools to English medium without hiring teachers capable of imparting an education to students in English medium was a big conspiracy against the young generations of the country. That’s why, according to Alif Ailaan education initiative surveys, literacy rates in almost all provinces during the past years either remained stagnant or went down, instead of showing any progress, Ishtiaq Ahmad justifies his assertions.


Under the 18th Amendment, education was devolved to the provinces. However, no province was given authority to introduce any syllabus which violates the Constitution of Pakistan. Imparting education to students in Urdu language is clearly written in the Constitution. However, the Punjab provincial government blatantly violated articles 251, 28, 31, 19, 25A of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan by issuing a notification about change of medium from Urdu to English in all government schools.


Article 251, which is about the national language of the country, says:-

(1) The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day.

(2) Subject to clause (1), the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu.

(3) Without prejudice to the status of the National Language, a Provincial Assembly may by law prescribe measure for the teaching, promotion and use of a provincial language in addition to the National Language.


Ishtiaq Ahmad says that in all three abovementioned clauses of Article 251, there is no mention of replacing Urdu with English; rather there are clear instructions about changing English with Urdu as the medium of instruction in a stipulated period of time.


There is a provision for the use of a provincial language, with the condition that it would not affect the status of the national language. For the purpose, the provincial assembly will have to legislate; but no assembly, national or provincial, has been authorised to replace an educational syllabus in the national language Urdu with English. Then how come a chief minister of a province can issue a notification in this regard on his own, asks the educationist.


Ishtiaq Ahmad says that Shahbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab, violated the Constitution of Pakistan by issuing a notification, though his party claims to be a protector of the said Constitution.


The second related article of the Constitution is 28, which is related to “Preservation of Language, Script and Culture”. It reads: Subject to Article 251, any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose. Under this article also, the citizens of the Punjab province, like those of other provinces, have the constitutional right to get education in their national language, Urdu, guaranteed under Article 251 of the Constitution. But the former chief minister deprived the people of Punjab of their constitutional right.


Now, if any person or an organisation opens an Urdu medium school in the province, they would have no facility of syllabus books in Urdu, neither the students would have the facility to take their exams in their national language. The ex-chief minister even issued a directive for conducting the assembly in the morning in the English language, regrets the educationist.


The Punjab provincial government also made an attempt to replace Quranic and Islamic education with computer literacy in violation of Article 31 of the Constitution. This Article titled “Islamic Way of Life” reads:-


(1) Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities, whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.


(2) The State shall endeavour, as respects the Muslims of Pakistan:-

(a) to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of the Arabic language and to secure correct and exact printing and publishing of the Holy Quran…


However, the Punjab government replaced Arabic and Islamic education subjects with computer education. Imparting modern and computer education is definitely a need of the hour, and a good step, but it should have not replaced Quranic and Islamic education in schools. Secondly, all books on computer education are in English, which are hard to understand by even the teachers, what to talk of the students.


And then Article 19 of the Constitution – Freedom of speech, etc. Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.


Under this article, every citizen of Pakistan has the right to freedom of speech and expression. But during the past five years, the teaching community, especially those working for primary and middle schools, were completely deprived of their rights. Being old appointees and with no refresher courses and chances to up-gradation of their qualifications, they were kept in a state of sever oppression. They were deprived of their right to comment on or object to the current syllabus being taught in schools.


And, finally, the most important article related to education i.e. 25 A., Right to Education, which says:-


The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law. The article clearly says that the State is responsible for providing free education to all children of Pakistan. If it is true, then how can the State allow privatisation of government schools? How is it that the big school system can operate and provide relatively quality education in exchange for a hefty fee, while the state-run schools provide such a low-standard and poor quality education that no parents like to send their children there.


Educationist Ishtiaq Ahmad says the State has not adequate number of schools where it can offer even “poor quality” education. The governments are not fulfilling their constitutional obligation of providing education to all children “only to benefit private school systems”.


Ishtiaq Ahmad, quoting from the findings of various surveys, regrets that during the past over 10 years, not even a single new school was set up by the Punjab government in any part of the province. In fact, a large number of schools were either privatised or closed down for various reasons during this period, he alleges.


If the Punjab provincial government was sincere in promoting education in the public sector, it should have increased the number of government schools instead of spending huge funds on a few Daanish schools, which are also a form of promoting ‘education business’. It must have provided missing facilities in the public sector schools where children of the poorest of the poor study, Ishtiaq Ahmad concludes.