should be the language of instruction in Pakistan's primary schools?
By YesPakistan.com Staff
Should Pakistani children
attending elementary school learn in only one language or gain mastery over
several languages? This dilemma the parents and teachers of these students face
is important given the multi-lingual environment of Pakistan, as well as increased
globalization, which has heightened the influence of English.
Currently, Pakistan's elementary
school classrooms use multi-lingual teaching. Students are taught their provincial
language (i.e. Sindhi, Punjabi), the national language (Urdu) and English as
an official non-indigenous language. However, many studies reveal that children
learn more effectively and time is saved if they are taught only in their first
language during the first grades of school.
This is due to the fact
that multilingual instruction reduces the amount of time and attention given
to teaching a single language. The result is that children in multilingual schools
often learn literacy slower than children taught in monolingual classes.
Children from areas with
poor minority groups, like the tribal areas of Pakistan, are at a disadvantage
when they are taught in a second language not spoken at home. A recent study
in neighboring India indicated that only 60 percent of teachers believed that
tribal children understood textbooks written in the regional language but not
the children's first language.
The success of monolingual
schooling during the early years of schooling can be seen in two projects conducted
in Guatemala and Nigeria respectively.
In Guatemala, a primary
school curriculum with Spanish-language instruction was replaced with one in
which students were taught in one of four major Mayan languages for the first
three grades of elementary school. After this, the language of instruction was
Initially, parents were
concerned that their children would be left behind other students who did learn
Spanish and that they would receive a lower level of education. However, as
the children progressed through the curriculum, parents' fears were allayed
once they saw their children improve their mastery of Spanish as well as the
indigenous language. The success of this program in Guatemala led to the passage
of a national law that now requires bilingual education in all rural communities
that speak Mayan languages.
In the Nigeria project,
teaching in the native language actually improved learning without hindering
elementary school students from picking up the country's national language.
By the time they completed elementary school, these children were ahead of their
peers who were not part of the project in all subjects, including English.
In Pakistan, like in the
case of the Guatemala project, parents often fear their children will not learn
the national or official language, which is why they often insist on maintaining
a multilingual language of instruction for their children. This is of course
understandable, since not knowing the dominant language reduces future educational
opportunities, limits the types of jobs available and limits the opportunities
for escaping poverty and upward social mobility. For example, not knowing English
in Pakistan would limit these above-mentioned opportunities.
In a survey of different
linguistic groups in Pakistan, 98 percent of Punjabi-speaking students and 96
percent of Urdu-speaking students considered the study of English essential.
Many teachers in the Aga
Khan Foundation's schools in northern Pakistan have reported a high demand from
parents for English language instruction in primary schools. This is similar
to how parental pressure has led to the introduction of English from grade one
onwards in some schools of Pakistan.
What Pakistani parents need
to remember though, is that such bilingual teaching programs are not successful
because of the poor teaching quality. Many teachers are not fluent in the dominant
official language themselves, which means that a large number of children complete
elementary school with very low competency levels in the second language.
As the examples from Guatemala
and Nigeria indicate, the best strategy for Pakistan to follow is to develop
solid skills in the first language only for the first few grades of elementary
school. Such a method allows students to thoroughly learn their first language,
thus promoting the necessary skills to learn a second language. Once these have
been gained, any other language can be easily learned before entry into secondary
school and beyond.
Date/Time Last Modified: 6/17/2002 3:44:50 PM
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