The situation in Nepal is no different than in Pakistan. Is Nepal heading towards the state of “linguistic confusion and educational failure” or is it already there? Here’s an excerpt of an article which should make Nepal’s educational policy makers pause and think for a while.
Pakistan ruined by language myth
By: Zubeida Mustafa
Last year I wrote a book highlighting the crisis in Pakistan’s education system caused by the way languages are used and taught. Its publication prompted one critic to remark that I was trying to “backwardise” the children of Pakistan. Another said that language was not the problem; it was what we taught that needed to be addressed.
With the exception of a small minority of children who are bilingual even before they begin school, teaching children in a language other than their mother tongue in the early years does them harm, no matter how good their teachers may be. This approach robs the child of the natural advantage she has in her home language.
If English is to be the school language, these children lose this advantage. The benefit goes to a small minority that is bilingual from the start by virtue of their parents being the products of exclusive English-medium education.
Such is the power of myths about language in Pakistan that a public demand has been created for English. People believe that English is the magic wand that can open the door to prosperity. Policymakers, the wielders of economic power and the social elites have also perpetuated this myth to their own advantage. The door of prosperity has been opened but only for a small elite.
This importance is reinforced by Pakistan’s employment market, which discriminates in favour of the fluent English speaker even though not every job requires an English language expert. This language paradox has undermined our education standards. With no well-defined language as a medium of instruction policy, we have a fractured system that divides society.
As a result, the country is in a state of linguistic confusion. The ambiguity of the language of instruction policy allows schools to make their own choices, which has contributed to the present crisis in education in Pakistan. The demand for English – a trend set by the privileged elite – has put schools under pressure.
The main challenge would be to decide judiciously which language is to be used as the medium in which region and at what stage other languages, including English, should be introduced.
Zubeida Mustafa is an independent journalist based in Karachi. Her book Tyranny of Language in Education: The Problem and its Solution is published by Ushba,