THE RUSH TO USE ENGLISH as a medium of instruction in school, starting from the primary level. In Pakistan and India.........[as in many other former British colonies] was triggered by the failure of government schools in maintaining their once competitive learning standards.

A major factor in this failure was that as school enrolment rose, governments did not provide adequate resources, trained teachers, a merit-based reward structure, proper curricula and infrastructure.

The falling standards of public schools became the basis for the growth of private schools that claimed a better learning experience using English  as the medium of instruction. The global use of English in professions and business and the profit motive were the other driving forces.

Several recent studies in different countries have shown that the learning outcome in private  [English-medium] schools is at best marginally better than in public schools that use the vernacular as the medium of instruction.

Some studies have shown that students who have studied the  first three or four years in the vernacular tend to outperform those who had English as the medium of instruction from the beginning.

It makes sense that the vernacular should be the medium of instruction  at all levels in school. For one thing, most  of these children are part of social milieu in which the mother tongue is the primary means of communication at home and outside.

Interaction in the vernacular serves as the source of identity, social cohesion and cultural continuity. If the children in this milieu learn in English at school they develop a sense of otherness, even alienation.

Since access to private schools - they vary a lot in quality and expense - is unequal, it comes at a high social cost. There is good evidence that this course is not healthy for the individual or the family and community. Why not do the sensible thing?

This takes me back to the British colonial model in the Indian subcontinent, of which I, like many others, had a happy experience.

A vast majority of children were enrolled in  government funded schools - there were few private schools - in which the medium of instruction was one of the vernaculars. In my case it was Urdu.

The school curriculum included English and Urdu [or Persian or Hindi] along with arithmetic and geometry, geography, history, basic science and crafts.

English was a required subject after the third year in school. The emphasis was on building a  sound foundation for the language through grammar, composition and reading.

At the end of  the tenth year [matriculation]  a student was ready to transition to to other practical life or post-secondary education in which English was the medium of instruction.   

At this stage, one was well equipped to work in the English language : four years at a  college or university were enough to cope with spoken English.

The post and publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author and researcher Mahmood Hassan Khan, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Canada.  


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