ENGLISH OR NO ENGLISH

AYESHA ALI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Mar 29 - Apr 4, 2010

The Punjab government with its decision to implement English medium in selected government schools across the province and the shortage of text books in majority of the schools despite the start of the new academic session has been much in discussion for the last few days in the province.

Non-availability of textbooks in the government schools is attributed to the lack of coordination among the various wings of Punjab School Education Department, the Program Monitoring, Implementation Unit of the Punjab Education Sector Reforms Program and the Punjab Textbook Board. A common opinion is that the arrangement of the books should have followed the natural order after government took the decision to change the medium of instruction.

This problem poses a challenging task to those 1,100 schools approximately, which have been selected from across the province for the introduction of English medium for the ongoing academic session 2009 since they are without the revised textbooks.

Undoubtedly, English is one of the popular medium of instructions. Therefore, any decision which aims at the development and refinement of language skills, must be welcomed. Instruction in English medium would lead to a healthy and competitive environment besides grooming personalities of students. It would also give a tremendous boost to students to pursue higher studies in the country or abroad. Uniformity in medium of instruction would mitigate the class distinction of the haves and have-nots.

Importantly, the effort to maximize the comprehension of the students of the international language would augur well for the socioeconomic development of the country.

Provincial minister for education Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman declared that the government had approved the education enhancement program for conversion of public sector schools into English medium schools where subjects including mathematics, science and social studies would be taught in English language. It is in fact a very positive step to bring provincial policy in line with the federal education policy.

Another redeeming factor is programme's phase wise implementation in a few primary, middle and high schools which would provide sufficient time and proof to improvise system as the programme moves ahead. This would also justify the increase in numbers of these schools from the next academic year.

"Master Trainers" (headmasters/ headmistresses and senior teachers) with their six-day training course in spoken English, bear great responsibility to enable the teachers to make use of the new medium of instruction. It is expected that it would raise the quality of teaching along with the standard of learning. This system would also put an end to the economic exploitation by the expensive private sector schools besides putting a question to their monopoly, English standard, and the snobbish culture.

Chief minister Punjab holds the reputation of practically taking bold measures and there are clear directions by him about the introduction of a uniform education system, syllabus, teaching style, medium of instruction, and a examination system. The introduction of English as a medium of education in 12000 public sector schools around the province from the very next academic year is not going to be an easy task. Every one perhaps appreciate the thought of propagating justice through the provision of equal standard of education to the children of poor and middle class families alike.

The debate on the English as a medium of instruction gives rise to many ideological and political connotations. A thought provoking statement was recently given by an Indian intellectual. It is worth mentioning. Pavan Varma, Director General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations said "we are producing a nation of linguistic half-castes, who can never speak English with the degree of adequacy or fluency that any language demands".

English is taken by some as elitist tinge or urban style and for some it is the reminiscent of the slavery to British Raj-slaves, who try to speak, read, write or behave like their masters. It is or may become a possible reason of death of many local and regional languages. There is an apprehension that the literary achievements and love, passion and propagation cherished in the native languages would vanish one day with English is becoming a sole medium.

After introduction of English as a medium of instruction, additional time, energy and effort would be required by the students to memorize the language before attaining the proficiency in the subjects.

Much has been written and said generally regarding the hopeless standard of English among Pakistani students even at the tertiary level. This can cause a higher drop-out rate at least in the initial phase.

For a country like Pakistan, where enrollment is already low, this can prove itself very alarming. Another valid point of concern is that in Pakistan particularly in Punjab where trained English mentors are already insufficient-a leading reason behind exorbitant fees of private English schools-replacing vernaculars with the English as instruction medium in public schools sounds a remote reality. This would also mean more funds and grants.

Let's have a brief overview of the trends prevailing in the world outside Pakistan regarding the medium of education followed in their educational institutions. The systems existing in Japan, China, France, and Germany emphasize on students developments in accordance with the international standards without losing touch with their national heritages and native or local languages in this age of globalization, communication, and privatization. In Azerbaijan, medium of instruction is Azeri and similarly in Russia also use of English language even at higher education level is limited. Same is the case in Georgia. France solves the problem of the type of medium of instruction through its legislation restricting languages other than French in state schools. Nonetheless, languages other than French are permissible in non-state schools. In India, media of instruction vary among Hindi, English, and the states' official languages. Private schools enjoy the liberty to opt for one of the first two choices, while public schools have a preference for one of the last two. Likewise Norway, Romania, Switzerland, Tanzania, and Turkey are also encouraging examples of making advancements through their own native, regional and foreign languages. Let's come out of the petty discussion of medium. We are running out of time and these issues should be resolved as early as possible.