Many children in Pakistan are not able to read a single sentence even after years in school, says a study conducted by a Wilson Center global fellow Nadia Nawiwala.
“Children are able to learn concepts and express themselves better in their mother tongue,” she said on SAMAA TV’s morning show Naya Din on Thursday.
Nawiwala believes most students in Pakistan are a product of the ‘rata’ system (rote learning). By adding a language barrier, we are restricting the creativity and thoughts of a child, she said.
She explained that children in Pakistan do not feel comfortable speaking a foreign language and it affects their education because schools put so much pressure on them to learn English. “Children all over the world study in their own language,” she said, adding that we are killing the child’s creative thinking abilities.
The study highlighted that 77% of primary aged children go to school but aren’t learning much. Many “cannot read a sentence after years in school,” Naviwala added.
She said that this is a global problem but it “is only worse in Pakistan because of the use of foreign languages in education”.
Quoting a British Council survey, she said 94% of private English-medium school teachers in Punjab do not speak English. “Imagine what happens in that classroom where teachers and children do not know how to speak English and study from books that are in English,” she added.
Naviwala remarked that in those schools, students aren’t learning anything other than how to memorize lessons. Explaining the difference between language and education, she said, “English is a way to express ourselves, but we consider it superior to education”.
She added that we are mentally and educationally stunting our children. Talking about her experience with a Peshawar student, she said the child was not able to explain his daily routine in Urdu.
“He was giving me one-word answers when I asked him what he likes to do after school,” she said. “He was not able to express himself in Urdu but when I asked him in Pashto, he opened up and told me he loved to play hide and seek.”
Naviwala said that if we want our children to develop 21st Century skills, we have to remove this language barrier.
She conducted the study by visiting over 100 Pakistani classrooms and interviewing teachers and students. She added that it addresses fundamental questions, such as why so many Pakistani children don’t learn and why so many of their teachers can’t teach. It also shatters myths about girls’ education and education budgets in Pakistan.