Battameez Urdu Medium published in Dawn Magazine

Students punished in a traditional way

Driving down Fatima Jinnah Road, one can see a large crowd of youth in front of the Pakistan American Cultural Centre (PACC) and the British Council especially in the morning and evening hours. The crowd includes an interesting variety of traditionally and modernly-dressed youth, sitting or standing idly in groups, under trees, on the footpaths, in their cars or on motorbikes.

Most of them are from the middle and lower middle class families which persistently strive to rise above their social status throughout their lives. These youngsters are actually the product of our dual education system which, on one side, has Convent and Grammar Schools, offering foreign maal at foreign rates and, on the other extreme, the poorly managed peelay schools which have been producing generations of inferiority-complexed youth.

In spite of having university degrees, and the label of being literate, these Bachelor’s and Master’s degree-holders are unable to communicate confidently in a language which they usually study as a compulsory subject for more than a decade. The five per cent privileged class which claims to dream in English can’t even imagine how this language trauma damages an individual’s personality and keeps one behind on every front. English is just another important language, but for those who can’t speak and write it well, it is rather a monster that overshadows all their talents and hinders their progress in all the spheres of life.

It is said that the limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s world. So, how could a battameez Urdu medium survive in a society like ours, where most of the career opportunities demand the candidates to be fluent both in written and verbal expression in English; where interviews, not only for jobs but also for admissions to prestigious educational institutions, are conducted in English; where all official documents from registries to amenities’ bills are printed in gora sahibs’ language; and where all the important exams from professional colleges’ entry tests to the civil services exams are taken in the same medium.

The demands of our society don’t end here. Whether you want to visit any fancy restaurant, attend a business conference or an academic seminar, you need to communicate in English. Switch to Urdu or your mother tongue, and you will be looked down upon as a social outcast.

A master’s degree-holder in English from the larget University at Karachi shares, “I feel that even an ‘O’ level student is better than me, both in expression and in knowledge because his foundation is strong, concepts are clear, environment is conducive and s/he is usually encouraged to understand rather than rattofied (cram) books for success in exams, so cambridge system students usually don’t need to make an extra effort to develop their communication skills like matric students.”

Another masters student from the Department of International Relations is of the opinion, “Right from the prestigious educational institutions to the high-level competitive exams for civil services, command in English is the basic criteria and a vast majority of the youth are disqualified there solely due to poor expression. It seems that the barrier of language is intentionally created and exploited by the elite class to keep common man away from the top decision-making positions—the trick they have learnt from their colonial masters while their own generations are sent to foreign universities to get all sorts of training since they are to take the reins of the country generation after generation.”

The consequences of the dual language system are evident all around us. While majority of English-striken youth give up and suffer silently with embarrassment throughout their lives. Others opt to join various centers that offer English language programmes and courses for different levels and make high sounding claims with exorbitant fees. However, very few of them practically help these “English-phobia patients” to regain their confidence and get command over the language while most of them are simply money-making hubs with little to offer.

One such English medium victim shares , “I have always been afraid of business gatherings, meetings, interviews and presentations—any socialization which involves communication in English. It’s not that I can’t speak or write the language at all. It’s the fear of making a mistake that makes me dumb at such occasions.This fear is deeply rooted in me since my college days when a teacher insulted me in front of the whole class for speaking wrong English. It was one of the city’s most recognized English Medium colleges where Urdu was completely forbidden in the class. So, a few Urdu Medium students who dared to get admission there, never participated in the class discussion. Beyond doubt, they had valid points in their minds and even knew right answers, but they kept their mouths shut, only due to fear of embarrassment and lack of confidence.”

It’s ironic that four languages—English, Urdu, Arabic and a regional language are taught in the Matric system at the secondary level, but not a single one can make its way to the students’ mind. Everyone knows early childhood is an ideal age to learn a language but when a mind is overburdened with as many as four languages, it is difficult to grasp even one.

The Director of Planning Development and Research in PACC told us that a number of doctors, engineers, MBAs, MAs and even PHDs get themselves registered in their language programmes, but quite often they like to hide their identity. The PACC teachers simply help them by focussing on spoken English since it is the yardstick by which the ability of the candidates is judged in most offices.

According to a spokesperson of the British Council Teaching Centre, “People want to study English language for different reasons. Some to meet the professional and academic requirements like students who seek higher education abroad, businessmen to compete in the international market, scientists and technicians to keep up with the latest developments, and professionals to feel confident in participating in international seminars, to travel abroad, and others to simply improve their lifestyles. Almost all of them have the potential understanding of the language, we simply provide them a controlled environment under experienced teaching staff to overcome their flaws and fears and meet their requirements.”

Whenever the dilemma of medium of education arises, cynics start giving examples of the great personalities in history who studied in ordinary government schools and colleges and yet made their mark in various fields. But, what they forget is that a majority of the people is born with an average intelligence level and can do wonders with proper guidance and schooling. They can utilize their energies in more constructive activities than simply learning a language half of their lives and the rest regretting their failure. Therefore, it is important to have one medium of education, (either English or Urdu), one curriculum and one system all over the country. It might sound quite idealistic but not impossible.

What do you think???

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