I enjoyed reading the article ‘English ain’t my tongue’ by Momi Qazi, a very interesting and unique idea, expressed in a humorous style. While reading and pondering over it I recalled an incident which I want to share with the readers. It is not only an eye opener but also provides some food for thought.
Unfortunately our educational system ever since our independence in 1947 – has been in an un-ending state of crisis, the results of which we see in the form of growing intolerance, injustice, lack of democratic norms, and lack of an educational foundation in our society. This educational divide has, over Pakistan’s history, manifested itself in several shapes and forms and has divided our society into factions at odds with each other. Be it ‘Religious’ vs. ‘Modern’, ‘English-medium’ vs. ‘Urdu-medium’, or ‘Matriculation vs. O Levels vs. International Baccalaureate’. The end product of all these schemes, without an exception, is an education system that creates differential access to educational opportunities for children and hence to economic opportunities later in their lives. These multiple streams of education systems prevalent in our society have become a cancer that has not only acted to deprive every citizen from benefiting from an equal opportunity but also the right to know and think.
The incidence that I am going to narrate is a real-life incident.
It was, I think my first two three days of joining a school as a teacher. The principal called a staff meeting and announced that a new section of class IX has been opened. He asked for a volunteer teacher to take responsibility of that particular section. Strangely, in a staff of over forty teachers of senior section not a single hand was raised. Without giving a second thought to what may be in store, I raised my hand. The principal looked at my rather thin disposition (I was not as bulky then as I am now) and said, ‘Are you sure you can manage, it is an all-boys class.’ I nodded and said ‘No problem, I think I will manage.’ He wasn’t too sure so he said ‘Madam! You have a very soft voice’. ‘Sir! This tone can change any time’. He smiled and handed the time-table to me.
When I entered the class my confidence disappeared. They were not ‘boys’, they were ‘young men’. Some with moustaches and unshaved faces, some tall, big… when they saw me they winked at each other, few started coughing. I could see paper planes flying and pieces of chalk being hurled in different directions. My legs felt like jelly; they refused to carry me any further. I took a deep breath and with all the strength I could muster, said ‘Good Morning students!’
Not to mention what went through in the next fifteen or twenty minutes, how I managed to convince them that I was their teacher… but convince I did. Actually the school followed a policy where in students who were weak in studies were not allowed to take Board Examination as regular candidates. Their examination forms were sent as private students. This particular section consisted of such students.
I taught biology – a subject that requires not only understanding but a sharp memory as well. To cut short, I had taken the responsibility as a challenge and I had to prove my ability and perseverance. It took quite some time to gain confidence of these young men who were not ready to take studies and life seriously. Their short coming was their inability to express in English.
I taught them, dictated small to-the-point notes, gave tests, made them learn, punished them, and encouraged them. Finally, at the end of the term when I thought that I had done my job satisfactorily, I invited the principal to the class to come and see how much my students had learned. He came rather hesitatingly. I told a student to explain the digestive system of frog to the class. The boy drew the diagram on the board and started to explain. Everybody could see that he was struggling with words. There could not have been a worse display. The principal looked at me as if ‘See! He is good for nothing.’ I told the boy to switch to Urdu. The child was so eloquent that the whole class became charged. The scene had totally changed. They all knew the system so well that each one of them wanted to participate and say something. When the Exams were held, they all passed but none got marks that they deserved, they knew much more than what they had written and got in return.
The Board result was not the reflection of the knowledge they possessed, in fact it was the reflection of their inability to write and communicate in English. I felt very bad. The future of these children depended on this result. Opportunity to study in a good college and the subject of their choice was missed because of English. But this is not the story of just 30 or 35 students that year; it is the story of hundreds of students who pass with average or below average marks every year.
By giving them English we had snatched their tongue and power of speech. I could not dissolve English or feed them as a pill. Schools such as the one I was teaching have children from nearly all strata of society. There are children of high-ups, of highly educated and sophisticated parents, of the not-so-educated and illiterate parents, the children of the gardeners and peons as well. These schools do a wonderful job of providing access to education. But the misery of the children of who cannot cope with language and their in ability to reinforce studies at homes is pitiful.
It is these students who appear so inadequately educated when they grow up, they mimic their privileged counterparts and in doing so, make a fool of themselves. Instead of taking pride in speaking their national language they prefer to speak broken English.
We as a nation need to set our priorities straight. Our education system requires a complete overhaul. For a system so deep in trouble, only intelligent and well reasoned measures can have any scope of success, otherwise … the outcomes are already so blatantly visible.