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Language barriers

United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 says that 40 per cent of the world’s children are being taught in a language which is not their mother tongue. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Pakistan does not fare well in education keeping in view that we have been overlooking the biggest barrier – language – in education. If one is unable to communicate, how can he/she teach or learn?
The biggest hurdle in this regard has been language or languages. We have been using multiple mediums of instructions at the multitude of educational systems in the country. Lack of a single medium of instruction coupled with different systems of education has created a large-scale problem for the country that can be seen everywhere. From educational institutions to different industries this problem has been staring Pakistan in the eye. There are those whose are well-versed in English but struggle with the national language – Urdu and then there are those who are vice versa. Also there are many who are not proficient with both. All of them have degrees from various institutions of the country, even reputable higher education institutions.
The blame can be put on higher education institutions, however, the real culprits are the schools and colleges. The problem can only be solved to introspect the education system as a whole and a holistic policy is required to combat this issue. Children who are lucky enough to get an education from elite schools are proficient in English but the same cannot be said when it comes to our national language. Then there are those that get education from public schools, they are the complete opposite but sometimes are inept even in Urdu. Those who study in madrassahs are different and focussing on Arabic language.

The problems are not with the ability of students, but it lies within the flawed systems that have emerged in the absence of an education policy that clearly uses a language of instruction or for the case of Pakistan: more than one language of instruction. Many countries use multiple languages as in the current era English has become a common language of science and technology. What lies at the heart in case of Pakistan is the confusion when it comes to the medium of education. The debate has so far been focused on the use of Urdu and the role of regional languages.

It is the need of the hour for the country to look beyond petty issues and focus on a large-scale education policy that can apply to all forms of schooling available in the country. It should give special attention to the question of language and should include experts that can advise on the use of use of different languages. We should also look to find a balance of English and Urdu with a mix of regional languages.

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