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Why parents prefer English to Urdu for children?

British Council holds policy dialogue on language in school education.


Arsalan Altaf


Islamabad — The British Council held a policy dialogue on “Language in Education in Pakistan” Wednesday. Participants were from the civil service, education sector, non-government and government organisations and donor agencies.

On the occasion, the British Council also launched its latest publication: Language in Education in Pakistan: Recommendations for policy and practice, which is a synthesis of two years of research on mother tongue education in Pakistan.

Eminent scholars such as Dr Tariq Rehman and Zubeida Mustafa were part of dialogue.

Representatives of the education departments of Punjab shared their findings that student enrolment in public schools increased after they introduced English as a medium of instruction. Likewise, officials from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said when they introduced regional languages as medium of instruction many families started sending their children to English-medium private schools.

However, Dr Tariq Rehman observed that this was because English language in Pakistan is connected with power and prestige.

He said parents would never send their children to non-English medium schools in the present scenario where elite and armed forces schools continue to teach in English even if the government imposes Urdu or regional languages as medium of instruction.

“Linguistic diversity needs to be celebrated. It is the quality of education that really matters in whatever language it is taught,” remarked Ayesha Bashiruddin of the Aga Khan University.

Speakers emphasised that multilingualism has never been a threat to national identity.

Discussion focused on the role of mother tongue education in the early years of schooling. The various issues discussed by the gathering included the need for enhanced teacher training, need to undertake research in mother language research and the necessity of reaching a national consensus on education policies.

Speaking on the occasion, Hywell Coleman, co-author of the book, said, “I witnessed a genuine concern by everyone present to address the issues of language in education and recognition that these are issues that are going to take a lot of time and effort to address.”

The Head of Programmes – English at the British Council said, “Today’s research forum is an important milestone in our language in education policy dialogue, and we very much appreciate the role of our research partners who have provided valuable feedback and shared innovative ideas in the field of language learning.”

English Language Advisor of British Council Tony Capstick said researchers need to focus on the question of at what stage a foreign language should be introduced and for what purpose. The process of transition from mother tongue to Urdu or English should also be examined, said Capstick.

(Published in Dateline Islamabad on March 29, 2012.