Friday, July 23, 2010

Language Policy

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
DAWN Monday, 19 July, 2010
LANGUAGE plays a central role in the process of learning and the achievement of educational pursuits. Besides being an instrument of communication and of access to education, language is also the marker of identity at the personal and societal levels.

This role of language was quite evident during the Pakistan movement when different languages were used as distinguishing identity markers for the various populations of united India. Urdu was associated with Muslims while Hindi and Punjabi were tagged with Hindus and Sikhs respectively. After partition Pakistan, with its colonial past, had the choice of either adopting the language of its erstwhile masters; English, as its state language or the language of the majority, Bangla. The choice made, however, was Urdu because of an emotional association with it as well as for other reasons.

This declaration of Urdu as the state language disappointed the majority of the population, the citizens of East Pakistan whose mother tongue was Bangla. They overwhelmingly demanded that Bangla be declared the state language in addition to Urdu. The Bengali language movement was accompanied by violent protests resulting in Bangla being finally declared the second language of the state. The movement underlines the significance of language as a symbol of identity.

The other local languages spoken in the provinces, including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi, were unfortunately either ignored or relegated to an inferior status. This attitude was manifested in the lack of institutional support offered to these languages. A case in point is Punjabi: it is the mother tongue of about 50 per cent of the citizens of Pakistan but is not taught as a subject at school level. Thus the children of Punjabi families cannot read or write in their mother tongue and are literally cut off from the rich literary heritage of their language. To a lesser extent this is true of other Pakistani languages as well.

Interestingly, the declaration of Urdu as the state language had no adverse impact on the English language, which continued to be the most powerful language in offices, courts and the corridors of power, including the bureaucracy, army and the judiciary. The major role played by English as the language of power had multiple effects on Pakistan’s educational domain. A number of the country’s leaders — Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq — issued political statements in favour of Urdu but did not take the concrete step of introducing it within the domains of power.

With this meaningless lip service to Urdu, we saw the emergence of some scholars who vehemently opposed the English language and English-medium schools in Pakistan. Although this opposition could be based on good intentions, it ignored the global role played by English in terms of jobs, higher studies, trade, etc. Since 1947, we have witnessed tension between adherence to the national linguistic heritage and a compelling desire to reach out.

The two competing schools of thought tend to totally reject the other in Pakistan. The school of thought that is in favour of Urdu or the local languages does not see any role for English. The other school of thought, which favours English, considers native languages insignificant. Since the latter is in power, local languages are either ignored or their potential underestimated. No institutional support is provided to them and they are being subjected to a slow death. The painful fact is that many students who are being educated in English-medium schools find it difficult to read a book written in their mother tongue. Many do not know how to count in Urdu or in their mother tongue. The reason is obvious: they are exposed to English primers before any other reading material. They start learning the English alphabet before any other.

As stated before, English is an important contemporary language and to oppose it would amount to depriving the people of a passport to enhanced opportunities for success in life. Pakistanis must learn English but not at the cost of rejecting local languages. In fact, we should be striving for a balance between English and the local languages. Such a balance can only be achieved if our local languages are given respect and validation through institutional support. This would mean introducing them in primary classes as a subject.

The significance of exposing students to their native languages lies not just in providing them with additional linguistic tools for communication but also in helping them associate with their cultural roots, of which language is an important manifestation.

We have seen a number of educational policies instituted by different governments but never has there been a comprehensive document on language policy. Excerpts from different documents refer to certain claimed objectives but they were not bolstered by institutional support. There is a serious need to carve out a policy that is realistic in nature and that makes the attempt to preserve local languages and cultures.

The writer is a professor & director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Identification and Desire

Desire (the desiring subject) does not come first, to be followed by an identification that would allow the desire to be fulfilled. What comes first is a tendency toward identification, a primordial tendency which then gives rise to a desire . . .; identification brings the desirous subject into being, not the other way around.

 (Mikkel Borch-Jakobsen)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Development Indexes

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Dawn, Monday, 05 Jul, 2010

HUMAN development is a significant component of the notion of development. Development that does not enhance the quality of individuals’ lives is incomplete in its essence.

Renowned Indian economist Amartya Sen links the idea of development to freedoms. It is this human and social development that prepares the human capital which is vital for any society. The concept of human development underlines the areas of education and health. Highly developed countries have effective systems of education and health since they realise their significance. In Pakistan, however, we observe a narrow view of development as every government makes claims about economic development but completely ignores the areas of education and health.

Since its birth, Pakistan has faced challenges in the education and health sectors, which it has not been able to overcome. At the governmental level there is merely lip service and no serious effort is made to bring about positive changes in people’s lives. Education, which is considered to have a close link and positive correlation with development, is dealt with in a casual manner. A number of policies in this regard were announced by different governments but they were not supported by the political will of the state. There were no effective inbuilt monitoring systems or accountability mechanisms. The result was that some heavily funded educational projects could not materialise.

The seriousness with which the state regards this issue can be gauged by the fact that Pakistan’s allocation for education is the lowest in the region. The most recent allocation for education in Pakistan is 2.1 per cent of the GDP, which is less than Bangladesh (2.6 per cent), India (3.3) Iran (4.4), Nepal (3.2), Thailand (4.5), Malaysia (4.7) and Indonesia (3.3). This low allocation for education has resulted in Pakistan having the lowest literacy percentage in the region. The country’s current literacy rate is 57 per cent as compared to Sri Lanka (90 per cent), Malaysia (92.1), China (93.7), Vietnam (92.5) and Nepal (57.9). This low literacy rate contains further problems of rural/urban and male/female discrimination. In Pakistan, the male literacy rate is 69 per cent while that of females is only 45 per cent. The Gender Parity Index (GPI) is 0.64, which shows a sizeable gender gap. Similarly, there is a wide difference between the urban and rural areas of the country.

A number of schools remain in a miserable condition. According to statistics provided by the Economic Survey of Pakistan, “37.7 per cent schools up to elementary level are without boundary wall, 33.9 per cent without water facility, 37 per cent without latrines and around 60 per cent are without electricity.” This pathetic situation reflects the low priority our governments have assigned to social development in Pakistan.

It is shocking to note that while other countries have been increasing budgetary allocations for education, in Pakistan we see a decline. In 2006-07 the allocation for education as a percentage of GDP was 2.5 per cent. It dropped in 2007-08 to 2.47 per cent, to 2.1 per cent in 2008-09 and two per cent in 2009-10. This is a highly disturbing trend. Yet even this low allocation is seldom fully utilised, mostly because of complex bureaucratic procedures and the lack of organisational capacity. Similarly, there is always scepticism about the appropriate use of funds.

Health is another important aspect of human development. Like education, it is a much-ignored area in Pakistan. Instead of a rise in the allocation for the health sector, we see a decline during the past three years. In 2007-08 the health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP was 0.57. In 2008-09 it dropped to 0.56 and in 2009-10 fell even further to 0.54. Such a meagre amount being allocated for the important area of health is simply appalling.

Some of the health indicators speak for themselves. In Pakistan, for example, the life expectancy rate is 66.5 per cent, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 is 65.1 per cent and the mortality rate for children under the age of five per 1,000 is 95.2 per cent. These problems are likely to be further aggravated by the high rate of population growth in the country. In 2009, the annual percentage population growth in Pakistan was 2.1, higher than any other country in the region: India 1.55, Sri Lanka 0.94, Bangladesh 1.29, Nepal 1.28 and China 0.66.

The growing population and low budgetary allocations are perpetuating the miseries of the common people. According to figures quoted in the Economic Survey of Pakistan, in 2009-10 one doctor is available for every 1,183 individuals, one dentist for 16,914 individuals and one hospital bed for 11,592 individuals. Such insufficient healthcare facilities in modern times are simply embarrassing.

This brief review of two important components of human development suggests that the situation in Pakistan is far from satisfactory. There is need to work on these fronts on an emergency basis. We have seen a number of policies, plans and projects fall prey to political interests and bureaucratic formalities. Basic education and health are the fundamental facilities a state is obliged to provide to its citizens. Claims of development remain incomplete and deceptive if there is no improvement in the lives of the people. Such qualitative improvement is closely linked with the quality of education and health indicators.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.