A medium of change

February 2, 2014

A medium of change

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is going to introduce English-medium schooling and a uniform curriculum in all the public sector schools from the upcoming academic session. The shift from Urdu/Pashto medium to English-medium textbooks will be completed in several phases. In the first stage commencing from this April, the students of grade one, besides English, will also study Mathematics and General Knowledge in English. With the promotion of these students to grade two, English-medium textbooks/education will also move up the ladder, if not earlier. The process will take about four to five years to reach up to secondary level.

Official sources say the government is fully prepared for the shift. "First, 400 master trainers were trained who are now busy training primary school teachers for grade one. The process will continue till mid-March and 36000 teachers will be trained this year. One teacher from each primary school will be guided on the new textbooks in ten-day workshops. For more classes later, more master trainers will be trained who would then train all the 120000 teachers in KP," says an official privy to the process.

He says the government has prepared/printed textbooks and these will be provided well before the start of the session.

Teachers and parents say English medium education was long overdue. It will bring public sector schools at par with their private counterparts which have seen a mushroom growth in recent years. In the absence or shortage of quality English medium government schools, parents go for private schools which are increasingly getting costlier and unaffordable, they argue.

Naming them Centennial model high schools, the government had earlier converted a few government high schools to English medium status throughout the province. These schools proved a great success and have gained parents’ confidence.

The PTI activists say it will help end the decade-old class-based education, bring a uniform curriculum, remove disparities between the education standards in urban and rural areas, ensure equal opportunities for competition and progress to both the rich and the poor and will augment enrolment in government schools.

Nevertheless, changeover from Urdu/Pashto to English-medium schooling is, however, easier said than done. It is likely to bring several problems for both the students and teachers overwhelmed by an English-phobia of an extreme kind. But nothing is impossible for a resolute mind and hardworking administration. Though the government seems conscious of the gigantic challenges lying ahead, some precautions must be made.

Planners will not only have to select and train qualified and competent master trainers and teachers in the later stages, they also will have to prepare/supply books in time and a permanent monitoring mechanism will also have to be developed.

"We need hardworking and proficient master trainers and teachers to be able to teach maths and science in English. Without qualified and committed trainers and teachers and a robust oversight mechanism and competent monitors, the move will come to nothing. One hopes the government will be able to publish/provide textbooks in time and will induct, train and provide competent teachers for this purpose," says Zubair Ahmad, an educationist.

"Training of teachers continues province-wide. To make the process successful, the concerned officials should ensure that a trainee teacher nearing his retirement or likely to be promoted in near future is not selected. Or at least two teachers should be trained for a class," says a teacher.

"Some of the trainee primary teachers can hardly speak a simple sentence in English for grade one. The trainee teachers must be young, energetic, qualified (preferably graduate) and must be selected on merit without any interference from teachers’ union and politicians," says a master trainer. "Also, primary teachers whose promotion to high schools is due shortly must never be considered for training as their departure would deprive their erstwhile schools of a teacher trained for grade one while his training would be of no use in high schools. The government should also plan and ensure follow-up activities so that teachers continue to teach to the class they were trained for," says the trainer.

"Almost all the teachers at my centre are young. They take keen interest in the training. They are happy that English medium textbooks will improve enrolment and prospects of their students and augment their own prestige," says another master trainer.

English-medium education is being started from grade one (Awal Aala). It means two preceding classes -- the preparatory class (called Awal Adna locally) and the other called Kachi have been left out, says a teacher, Shafiq Khan. The KP government, however, recently announced playgroup classes will be started in public schools from the upcoming session.

Most developed countries have uniform system of education. But different curricula in the public and private sectors and religious madaris (seminaries) have sharply divided Pakistan. A modern/uniform curriculum is necessary to strengthen national unity and promote moderation and tolerance in the country. The PTI, in its 6-points education policy, too had promised a uniform education system if voted to power.

It requires huge funds, time, personnel, incessant work and cooperation from all the private schools and religious seminaries to have a uniform curriculum province-wide. So, the PTI has decided to bring uniform curriculum in government schools through English-medium textbooks for the moment. Private schools may be covered later. The PTI leaders argue the government and private schools follow the same syllabus for class 9 and 10, so why can’t it be the same in other classes.

One hopes the move will lead to healthy competition between the public and private schools. The government should also promote spirit of cooperation and coordination between the two.

The PTI opponents accuse it of being ‘secular’ having pro-west agenda (JUI-F leaders harp on the theory) while some analysts accuse it of taking the KP towards fundamentalism.

Following the landmark 18th Constitutional Amendment that devolved education and curriculum design to provinces, the KP government can modify its curriculum and textbooks. Textbooks lessons have been usually changed by successive governments and the PTI government is also expected to follow suit. But its leaders say they would do so in strict compliance with the 2006 national curriculum. It means there will be no major changes in curriculum introduced by the previous ANP-led government.

The ANP government had included lessons on local heroes in curriculum such as famous poets Rehman Baba, Khushal Khan Khattak and Ghani Khan. They also included lessons on human rights, peace and religious tolerance and removed historic distortions, hate material and harsh sentiments against non-Muslims. The ANP activists say the Jamaat-e-Islami is now bent on reversing these changes.

The KP Elementary and Secondary Education Minister, Muhammad Atif Khan, as per newspaper reports, said Islamic ideology would be the basis of his government’s steps regarding curriculum. He said the PTI government would accept no bar on religious education and won’t tolerate external interference in this regard. He also vowed to rectify the ‘mistakes’ in present curriculum introduced by the ANP government.

The KP Information Minister Shah Farman reportedly said the KP would revise and develop curriculum as per Islamic teachings and the country’s cultural norms. He termed criminal the changes brought about by the ANP-led government (some changes he and Khan cited included the removal of Quranic verses on Jihad, mention of Kashmir as disputed land and replacement of lessons on Voice of God, Hazrat Umar and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with those on ‘The Man Who Was a Giant’, ‘Helen Keller’ and ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ etc).

"While its coalition partner -- The JI -- wishes to Islamise syllabi by expunging some ‘secular’ lessons from them and limit the donors’ role in policy/decision making, the civil society, opposition parties and donor agencies may dislike the move. How will the PTI deal with these conflicting viewpoints, remains to be seen," says an ANP activist.

A medium of change