EducationVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 05

No end to deteriorating education standards

Ali Hassan took it as a computer system fault when he found out that an Urdu alphabet “Alif” has been changed into “Alif Madd” everywhere in an article on animal breeding. However, he was surprised to know from the computer operator that the change was made on the direction of newly appointed subeditor Danyal Ahmad.

Ali Hassan is the editor of an Urdu-language weekly, published by a Lahore-based veterinary drugs and pesticide manufacturing company. An explanation by subeditor Danyal Ahmad about using “Alif Madd” instead of Alif baffled Ali Hassan even more. “Madd is the zewar (ornament) of Alif and I always use it where Alif is found as a single alphabet in the text,” the young man explained. But you can’t use Alif Madd instead of Alif everywhere, the editor told Danyal. “Sir, I am a ‘double’ MA (degree holder). I earned an MA degree in Urdu literature, and another MA degree in history. I passed all my exams in the same way. I always used Alif Madd wherever Alif was found as an independent alphabet, and I secured good marks in all papers. I wonder why you are objecting to it,” the young master’s degree-holder protested, instead of admitting his mistake.

However, Asadullah, a senior member in the editorial team of the Dunya News channel in Islamabad, is not much surprised to know what the fresh “double MA” said. “We conduct tests of young graduates every other week for hiring new people. But every time we are even more disappointed by the kind of stuff our higher educational institutions are producing now,” Asad tells Cutting Edge.

Fresh graduates in mass communication, journalism and Urdu and English literature/language disciplines from even reputed universities in public and private sectors prove to be sheer disappointment when they are put to the test at newspapers and channels, regrets Mr. Asadullah, who has served the profession for at least 20 years now. “Most of them fail to write even five error-free lines when they are asked to write on a topic. And I am not talking about the quality of thought or knowledge on the topic, but only of grammatical and spelling mistakes they make in writing a few lines,” adds Asadullah, a former fellow at the University of Oxford (UK), and an MS degree holder in Communication Studies from a German university.

One could find out the language command and quality of the staff appointed for the purpose in only a few minutes by reading the news tickers, passing across the screen of any news channel. “You would find only one or two persons suitable for the newsroom job after putting over a hundred candidates to the test,” claims Asadullah from his years of experience.

The ever-ready excuse the young graduates mostly offer for their lack of command of Urdu language is that they received their early education in “English medium” schools, and therefore they could not focus fully on the Urdu language.

Does that mean they are good at the English language? The answer is a big ‘NO’, regrettably. Those dealing with day-to-day work at English-language newspapers have even more complaints about the young graduates’ language skills. Muhammad Taseer Dhudhi, Quality Editor at The News International Lahore, says he could not find even a single graduate from any university during the past many years, who took the test for a newsroom job and wrote a 100-word paragraph free of grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Even those passing out from most prestigious colleges and universities in the public and private sectors failed to write a few error-free lines when put to a simple test to check their language command, Mr. Dhudhi tells Cutting Edge. Despite all efforts to minimise language mistakes, you would find lots of mistakes on pages of all English-language newspapers in the country, he admits.

Shabbir-e-Azam, one of the most respected senior journalists of the print media, endorses Mr. Dhudhi’s assertion that errors of English grammar, expression and spelling have increased manifold in newspapers and magazines of today. “When I started as a junior subeditor at the Pakistan Times in the late 1960s, a maximum of one mistake in the whole newspaper was permissible,” the senior journalist tells Cutting Edge from Jhelum in a special telephonic talk.

“Exceeding the permissible limit of an error used to invoke a disciplinary action by the authority against those responsible for it,” recalls the newsroom man, who worked for various English language newspapers during his 50 years professional life.

After the passage of almost a decade, when academic as well as professional training standards deteriorated, it was believed that one error/mistake a page was not a big issue. Then two, three mistakes a page and then…“Then education standards in schools and colleges of the country nosedived, and everyone is witness to the latest situation in the print media, no matter English or Urdu,” Shabbir-e-Azam painfully says.

“Now, every single sentence in various stories is full of errors, what to talk of a whole page of a newspaper,” he adds. “Even headlines and intros of stories on the main page are not error-free.”

Prof. Dr. Mamuna Ghani, former Chairperson of the Department of English, Islamia University of Bahawalpur, supervised a study some years back. The M.Phil qualitative content analysis was titled “The study of various errors of language in local news items of English-language newspapers”. The study found out that the standard of language in English language newspapers was on the decline in Pakistan, where lack of professionalism, proper training, educational qualification and carelessness were the main reasons behind the errors and mistakes.

In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, Prof. Mamuna said that most of the errors appearing in the English language newspapers were a result of lack of understanding of the language. In universities, English or Urdu languages could not be taught from the beginning, she believes. If basic elements of a language as a subject like grammar and narration rules are not taught to students in schools, it is hard for them to practice the correct use of the language throughout their lives, adds the linguist.

Prof. Dr. Fouzia Naz fully agrees with Dr. Mamuna. The Chairperson of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Karachi, says various courses, like Functional English and Functional Urdu, are part of the BS 4-year programme. “But only those students perform well in the courses and learn something better during studies whose concepts of the language as a subject are already clear,” Dr. Fouzia tells Cutting Edge by telephone.

“The process of laying the foundation of learning different subjects starts at the school level. But, regrettably, our schools fail to set good foundations of our upcoming generations, hence a disappointment in the field,” she adds.