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Mother tongue-based multilingual education for Khowar children

By Fakhruddin Akhunzada CHITRAL, Nov 19: Education should bring positive change to the society but the education system in our country is preventing this change. Now is the time to do something about this aimless education system. Replacing it with mother tongue-based multilingual education, prevailing around the world, is the best option. Researchers argue that in an education system where medium of instruction is not the first language of a child, he/she gets confused; resulting in poor quality of learning, high rate of repetition and dropouts. Educationists agree that children learn best in their own mother tongue rather than in any other non-familiar language.  Countries have pledged for education that, among other things, develops respect for the child’s parents, cultural identity, language, values, etc. Our country still has a British-oriented education system.  British masters of colonial era established this system during those times with one single goal:  to create middle level government servants to overcome the shortage of human resources for running the affairs of government.  Just as the madrasas train mullahs, military academies train soldiers, and driving schools train drivers, the role of that system was confined to train more loyal servants to serve their master.  They did not establish it with the intention to increase the literacy rate. The main drawback of this system is that still it just generates ‘servants’.  A person, after completing his/her education, struggles for government jobs only.  Children from elite and middle classes have better facilities, thus getting better results, so they occupy higher positions and end up playing the role of the masters of those days.  Meanwhile, the majority of children who got poor  results, can only have access to lower positions and end up serving the new ‘masters’.  Usually, these lower position jobs are got by the people from the disadvantaged groups.  Both the masters and the servants work like machines just repeating the task oriented system established by the British colonialism hundreds of years ago. They do not have any personal vision to develop the country and solve social issues. The current system creates further problems for children coming from minority language groups. Due to an education system in a language which is not familiar to them, they face numerous challenges: do not understand the school’s language well enough to grasp the meaning of the lessons; are forced to memorize words, phrases and even whole sentences as the teacher reads; are forced to copy letters, words, and sentences from chalkboard or from a book, and none of this helps them learn, or enquire, or express their thoughts in written form. In this system, everything revolves around English language. English language was a need of British masters for communication with their servants.  This system still emphasises this need and children are expected to learn English from the very beginning. Parents’ mindset is that education equates to merely learning English. This system ignores other areas of human development, as pointed out by Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) that the intention of education should be much more rather than just transforming information. He says that it should generate learner skills for comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. We are experiencing this outdated education system since our independence but it does not give us a good output. We are still least educated nation in the world. The most acute problems we are facing right now are due to illiteracy; and illiteracy is due to this system.  It makes us ‘servants’, just to obey the orders of the master. The quality of our education is so low that even Afghanistan does not recognize our degrees. Nations learn from their mistakes and failures, and also from the success of other nations. We have to admit our failure and should not walk into deeper darkness. Mother tongue-based multilingual education is a well tested approach worldwide. It is very successful in countries where two or more ethnic groups live together. It addresses the issue of using one language as medium of instruction, which did not help children from minority language communities learn effectively.  In many countries, including some states in India, this system is in use. With this method, the learning of a child starts from his/her own mother tongue. The knowledge and experience the children have learned from parents and communities are honoured and form the foundation for further learning (UNESCO 2007).  It does not depend only on books but a child is motivated to learn from his/her surrounding environment. A child’s mother tongue is used for creative writing and to develop reflective skills. This system does not deny the learning of other languages, even more, it uses a scientific and practical approach to lead the children in the transition from their mother tongue to a second (national) and third (International) languages. Because of the strong educational foundation in the mother tongue, children learn other languages with great ease and confidence. Khowar speaking people are one of the minority ethnic groups of the country. The learning among the Khowar children is affected due to unfamiliar languages at school from the very beginning. Children just memorize lessons without understanding the meaning and the same happens throughout their school experience; for example, a tenth-grade student cannot draft a simple letter. Globalization has had a positive effect on Khowar. Nowadays it is used in Facebook, YouTube, chats, SMS’s and other new technologies for communication. If in general Khowar speakers use no other language for internal communications than their own, why would Khowar speaking teachers use an alien language and books to transfer information and concepts to Khowar speaking students?  The best approach is, as states committed to achieve the objectives of Education for All, that in primary level the medium of instruction be should be in Khowar. The second and third language should be introduced at a later stage. The other important fact we should know is that learning English only is not equivalent to education. We should remind ourselves that in most of the European countries, English is not taught in primary level. They have their own mother tongue and national languages and they use them as medium of instruction in their schools.  We also should take note that highly developed nations like Japan and China, do not impose English on their children as they start their school education.  It is my personal experience, having been in a main city of Japan, to have a lot of difficult to find local who could communicate in English  If our children develop skills for accurate reading, creative writing, and critical thinking, then they can learn any other language easily.  The British Council recently conducted a year-long research to find out what is the proficiency of Pakistani nationals in English. One of the findings points to poor proficiency because their own mother tongue is not used at school (Hywel Colman 2010). KPK government has taken a bold step to remove this nonsense from our education system. In addition to including Khowar and other disadvantaged languages in the curriculum, the government has passed legislation for the establishment of a language authority for the development of the languages of the province through literacy programmes. The facilitation of Anjum-e-Taraqi Khowar, MIER, and other writers, researchers, and poets for standardisation of Khowar alphabet and writing system, is a step toward quality education in the province.

The current education system in the country is not successful and we, Pakistanis, need to change it through innovative approaches. Education in the mother tongue (in our case, Khowar) is the best option to adopt.  It will provide a good educational foundation to the children for lifelong learning.

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1 Comment
  1. Zakir Hussain (Abu Dhabi) says

    Mother tongue is definitely important as a medium of education, but the problem is that even most of us cannot read and write Khowar. Again transferring all knowledge in to Khowar is also impossible in near future. For us, Urdu and English both are alien languages. The benefit of using English as the medium of education is easier than Urdu. Also, the sources of modern inventions and technology are in English. To keep pace with the modern world, we must concentrate on up-to-date information and development in the field of science and technology in the developed world. Keeping Khowar, Pushto or Urdu as medium of education is impossible.

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