Given the many issues we already face over the language of instruction at schools in our country, the decision by the Sindh government to introduce Chinese — or Mandarin, as the tongue spoken in China is called — as a compulsory subject after grade six from 2013 onwards seems like a rather strange one. While Mandarin is gaining increased popularity around the world and is one of the most widely spoken languages on the globe, there must be some question as to whether we can put together the expertise, even with Chinese help, to teach children a language they are completely unfamiliar with. This is all the more true given that Mandarin is regarded by lingual experts as one of the most difficult languages in the world, with even Chinese children themselves not commonly mastering the alphabet till they are around 12 years old.
We have been unable to obtain any kind of mastery over the English language in all but a few of the most prestigious schools; people who visit government schools to inspect standards say even Urdu is patchily taught in many cases. Children learn lessons by rote and genuine literacy is not common. We are told that Chinese is to be taught because China and Pakistan are ‘good friends’ and children who pass the Chinese exam at the matriculation level will be entitled to foreign scholarships, presumably in China. While that all is well and good, surely such friendship between two nations shouldn’t come at the expense of Sindh’s children. One wonders if it would have been better to increase focus on English language teaching. This is available in Sri Lanka and South India and has opened up avenues for jobs and growth. We have a base in English, even if it is becoming increasingly weak. Perhaps we should build on this and promote a language the world, including the Chinese, aspire to learn rather than introducing a brand new complication in our already crumbling education system.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2011.
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