Colonial catch: Saga of unfamiliar sounds

Published: March 29, 2014
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Panellists discuss suitable medium of instruction for entry-level education. PHOTO: FILE

Panellists discuss suitable medium of instruction for entry-level education. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

It must have taken some real effort for our predecessors to ensure that everyone calls ‘a spade’, ‘a spade’ and the listeners understand it as ‘a spade’ as well. 

Finding a new name for ‘the spade’ is like going through a labyrinthine. That is what we have been doing with our young ones at the schools. It needs to be stopped.

The intellectuals and academicians had something similar to say at a policy dialogue held here under the aegis of the British Council this week, according to a press release.

Encourage the initial learning in the mother tongue, all the present seemed to agree.

It remains to be seen if the decision makers heed it.

Linguist and author of many books on the subject of language Dr Tariq Rahman asked for a complete review of the education policy viz-a-viz the English language. He was of the view that without first acknowledging the importance of mother tongue, the issue of the English as a second language could not be dealt with. “The way forward that I see is to encourage initial learning in the respective local languages. Let English be taught as a subject instead of being the medium of instruction,” he suggested.

Dr Rahman maintained he wouldn’t buy the ‘English for All’ slogan saying it could only be supported at the college and the university level. There was no need to be obsessed with the idea of enforcing English language right from the entry-level at the expense of children’s basic learning, he remarked.

Research scholar Prof. Chris Kennedy said the local language should take precedence when it comes to imparting basic learning adding that learning English at the primary level won’t guarantee any success either.

Linguist John McGovern said what students could learn in their mother tongue would be almost impossible to grasp if taught in any foreign language. “The language policy should be based on these realities. Both local and English languages needs to be promoted through a balanced approach.”

Earlier, in his keynote speech, former information minister Javed Jabbar said “In today’s Pakistan, we are surrounded by the English language starting from sign-boards to the identification plates for the cars we drive around, and, from names of small stores to our currency notes, making it a fact that it has become a peoples’ language,” he remarked.

Educationist Khadija Mushtaq highlighted there existed a bias in favour of those students commanding proficiency in the English language while those lacking this skill were simply being discarded despite the potential and acumen they possessed.

She disclosed that a large number of parents visiting schools demanded just one thing: proficiency in English. She suggested adopting a practical approach without overrating impact of the English language.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2014.

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