Mother tongue first
fascinating report released recently by the British Council Pakistan on
the role of language in education in Pakistan, suggests that Pakistani
students are best served by education if they are to be instructed in
their mother tongues.
The report also suggests that Islamic madrassas are extremely interested
in learning English so they can promote Islam in other countries, learn
about other religions, communicate their message to the world in a better
way, improve image of Islam in the world as well as the basic need for
Muslims to learn knowledge.
Titled Teaching & Learning in Pakistan: The Role of Language in
Education, the report (prepared by Hywel Coleman and the British Council),
was based on the results of a widespread research and survey of the many
languages spoken in Pakistan and the country’s education sector.
Some of the findings in this context are:
- Language breakdown of Pakistanis by mother-tongue are: (Punjabi) 49.3 %,
Pushto 12.0 %, Sindhi 11.7%, Urdu 6.8%, Balochi 3.6%, Brahui 1.3 % and
Farsi 0.6 %.
- Urdu tends to remain the medium of instruction except for a few English
- Class 3 students are not able to write simple sentences in Urdu and do
not recognize simple words in English. They are in effect functionally
illiterate and innumerate.
- English is involved in two contexts: as a subject, as the medium of
- While intention is good for use of English as medium of instruction, its
impact is negative.
The report insists that education in
mother tongue is more effective especially in early years because:
- There are no barriers to comprehension as formulation of basic concepts
takes place in mother tongue.
- Children learn to read and read more quickly and easily in a language
they are already familiar. Making connections between sounds of a language
and signs on a written page is more effective when those sounds are
repeated more often.
- The same language spoken at home, so learning can be reinforced. This
also enables the parents to get involved and monitor and contribute to
- Children can relate their learning in school with their home
environment, the games they play, the TV programs they watch, their
interaction with other students if all of this is in the same language.
- All communities feel equally respected if their home languages are
employed. Using a language in school that people do not understand leads
to political and social instability and conflict. Particularly important
for Pakistan as it is one of 11 countries with high levels of “fragility
of conflict” and one of 19 countries with high linguistic
- Survey of 22 countries suggests that choice of first language affects
educational attendance, performance and explains half of the reason for
low retention rates. This is particularly relevant for women.
- All things being equal, children are likely to achieve greater
proficiency in English if they first study in their home language and then
study English as a foreign or second language.
- Only 5 % of Pakistanis have access to education in their first language.
The report thus recommends that support should be given for advocacy of
adoption of multiple languages in education. But it also notes that
education in multiple languages is logistically difficult to arrange for
in Pakistan. However since the seven major languages in Pakistan are first
language for 85 pe rcent of the school population, these can be used as
medium of instruction right at the start.
The report points out that international experience suggests that adoption
of multiple languages for primary education strengthens loyalty of ethnic
minority towards the state.
Based on these findings, the report then goes on to make some potent
recommendations for education in Pakistan till the year 2020.
The following is how the recommendations
have been devised:
- Nursery Education : Learn to speak mother tongue language
- First 3 years: Introduction to alphabets, learn to read and write
in their mother tongue. (Scripts for local language and Urdu are either
same or very similar.)
- Class 3-5 : Urdu is introduced and gradually replaces regional
language as the language of instruction. By 5 this transition is complete.
Regional language is a subject not medium of instruction but still taught
as a subject.
- Class 6: Children should be confident and fluent in Urdu by now.
Roman alphabet and English are introduced. English is studied as a main
subject for four years (grade 6-9)
- Class 10: English becomes medium of instruction; Urdu and regional
languages become subjects.
- Entrance exams for civil service, other employment and
universities will require that candidates are good in all 3 languages
(Urdu, English, regional language). This will help them serve their people
better and oblige elite schools to teach local language.
The British Council report will be officially launched on Thursday.