‘Be not the slave of words’ was the advice given by Scottish literary Thomas Carlyle over a century ago, and can be applied to Pakistan today with respect to language in education. Be not the slave of language or rather, be not under the tyranny of language, was the topic of discussion at Saturday’s launch of Zubeida Mustafa’s latest book “Tyranny of language in education, the problem and its solution”, at the Karachi Press Club.
During the event, speakers critiqued the dominance of the English language in Pakistan’s prevailing education system.
Senior journalist and writer Zubeida said that education essentially played the role of equaliser in terms of opportunities, but in Pakistan it was reinforcing the division of society.
The main purpose behind the book was to spark a dialogue on the medium of instruction in the education system, especially at the primary level so as to improve Pakistan’s current education.
The book also marked the writer’s shift from political journalism to social journalism.
Director Pakistan Study Centre at Karachi University Dr Jaffer Ahmed pointed out that Article 251 of the 1973 Constitution mentioned making Urdu the official language within 15 years as well as the promotion of provincial languages, adding that the elite class was responsible for preventing it materialisation.
While commenting on the book’s preface, Ahmed said the ruling elites perpetuated the ignorance of the masses, as they were afraid that education in the country’s mother tongue would empower the people.
He appealed to civil society to change the mindset of the ruling elites.
Former education secretary Mehtab Akber Rashdi said that education had become increasingly commercialised and due to the mushroom growth of private schools, the state was gradually abdicating itself from the responsibility of educating the masses.
She admitted that the dismal standard of education at government schools forced her to send her children to private English medium schools. However, she regretted that her children could not understand the poetry of Shah Latif Bhittai.
Senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said that the dominance of the English language was causing the ‘de-intellectualisation’ of society, hampering progress.
He believed that in their pursuit of English, people had become ‘language-less’ as they were not only unfamiliar with their mother tongue, they were also deficient in English itself.
Salahuddin pointed out that only around 100 Pakistani bureaucrats were capable of speaking English properly, adding that the intellectually capacity of the upper echelons of society was diminishing.
He observed that while the ruling elites sent their children to private schools in pursuit of higher standards, the quality of education at many of these schools left much to be desired.
Kishwar Hameed observed that the greatest tyranny of all was the silence of the people about the dismal standards in the country’s education system.
Uqila Ismail expressed that the domination of English in the primary education system undermined the natural capacities of children in addition to creating the inferiority complex among them. She said that creative thinking would only emerge when children learnt in a language in which they dreamed.