Education and Development: Urdu, English and Pakistan

Posted on May 23, 2007
Filed Under >Pervaiz Munir Alvi, Culture & Heritage, Economy & Development, Education, Society, Urdu
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Pervaiz Munir Alvi

Pakistan is blessed with number of beautiful regional languages and language-based local sub-cultures. This diversification along with many other regional nuances and historical developments has given Pakistan its colorful and interesting overall national culture. On lingual side, in addition to its regional languages, Pakistan also has Urdu as its national language and English as an official language.

Normally having a singular national language would generate a cohesive nation capable of conducting open dialog on any subject of national importance. Also having a singular official language will open doors of opportunity equally to all regardless of their own regional language.

But in Pakistan that is not the case.

During a time of any region-based national controversy Pakistanis from various parts of the country are just not capable of opening up an amicable national dialog. Also not all graduating students have equal opportunities of advancement in their chosen fields. This lack of open and free communication between people of various parts of the country contributes towards regional tensions and misunderstandings. The lack of equal opportunities of advancement creates resentment. There is need to understand reasons behind these national deficits.

While the regional languages of Pakistan are centuries old and are rooted in the soil of their respective areas, Urdu is a relatively younger language that had initially emerged more as a necessity than as a result of an organic process. Similarly Pakistan inherited English from its latest colonial past and has retained it for the convenience of the officialdom. However both Urdu and English have been under-utilized in Pakistan as tools for mass communication, national integration and economic advancement.

The birth of Urdu coincides with the arrival of Muslims in the area. Muslims of Arab origin first arrived in Southern Pakistan in the eighth century. Later in the eleventh and consecutive centuries arrived Muslims of neighboring Persia and Turkic Central Asia. Each one of these three new arriving groups brought their own languages and cultures with them. The result was that not only most of the locals converted to the religion of the new arrivals, they also took in many words and phrases of the languages of the new comers into their own regional languages. Urdu language and Pakistani culture is a direct result of this synthesis that took place over a prolonged historical period.

Muslim rulers held their courts first in Arabic, then in Turkish and finally in Persian language while Urdu over the period developed as a non-official language in the shadow of other three consecutive official languages. However the end of a central Muslim authority in the beginning of the eighteenth century also saw the end of Persian as the official language. For the next one hundred years, in the absence of a central authority, each local government conducted its official business in a language it saw fit. Things however changed when in the mid nineteenth century British took over the areas that would later constitute Pakistan. British installed English as the official language while encouraged use of Urdu as a medium of instruction for the Muslims. At the independence of Pakistan in 1947, while the official business continued to be held in English, Urdu was adopted as the national language of the new state.

Today each region of Pakistan, at various levels, operates in three and some times in four languages. First each region has its own regional language as language of every day communication; then Urdu as the language of instructions in official schools and English as language of official business and language of instruction in the private schools; and finally Arabic as language of learning and performing Islamic religious rituals. One would imagine that after sixty years of official patronage of Urdu and English all Pakistanis, regardless of their own regional language, would be able to communicate with each other freely in one or two languages; all educated Pakistanis will have equal opportunities of learning and advancement. But that is not the case.

The main reason for this deficit is the lack of universally available education and unequal educational systems. Since at the national level only two-thirds of the children enter school and only half of them reach middle school level, the possibility of the entire nation learning Urdu and being able to communicate with each other at the national level is only limited. Also since instructions in English are available to only lucky few, not every student is able to enter into the fields of science, technology and administration which have created further economic stratification and social alienation. It is to be realized that members of a nation who are not able to freely communicate with each other are unable to develop a national dialog and forge a national thought on any subject of national significance. Also not being able to function effectively in the official language of the country virtually shuts down all doors of personal and economic advancements for most.

Not being able to read, write or even speak ones national language is a national tragedy. To have doors of opportunity open to select few is unjust. And that in essence is one of the many problems of Pakistan.

18 responses to “Education and Development: Urdu, English and Pakistan”

  1. BitterTruth says:

    The issue is not what is “designated” as National Language and what isn’t. Urdu is the de facto and the only communication language throughout Pakistan. Sindhi is taught in Sindh, similarly other provinces can teach respective languages upto 8th grade. Regional language lovers should come forward and help to make their language progress.
    The issue with Urdu is if you leave it you cant communicate with other provinces, and its good as it gives a feeling of unity.
    The problem is with Pakistani mindset, we consider English speaking person superior to one who doesn’t know English.

  2. khairsoomro says:

    I cannot understand the logic behind the classification of languages used in this post. Why Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Brahvi, Siraiki are demoted and left aside by labellings them as ‘regional languages’, even though these languages are spoken by 90% percent of the native population of the country? And why, Urdu is classified as ‘national language’, though it is spoken by only 8% percent of people who migrated from Northern India after partition? In my opinion all major languages spoken in Pakistan like Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto, Brahvi, Siraiki should be given status of National Languages. These languages should be taught in schools upto secondry level. English should be the language of learning at higher level of education. Urdu should be language of communication and English should be used for academic and official purposes. The three language strategy is adopted by many countries as is being successfully carried out with wonderful results. We should accept the fact that Pakistan is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country as most of the nation in the world are. We should give dignified status to the languages spoken by sons and daughters of soil. We should be proud of our linguistic diversity instead of trying to impose a single language that developed in those areas which are not in Pakistan and is not spoken by 92% people of Pakistan.

  3. Adnan Siddiqi says:

    In the presence of community like Open Source, it’s not hard to make softwares in regional language. LInux distros already provide languages like Punjabi,Urdu[Arabic version].

  4. king_faisal says:

    no need to turn the language issue into another mussla-ay-kashmir. most educated pakistanis are at minimum, bilingual. no reason why lower tubqa cannot follow suit.

    my vote would be to have urdu as the medium of instruction with english being taught as a subject to enable pakistanis to communicate with rest of the world. sciences can also be taught in english given that no research work takes place in pakistan. i would also favour teaching of arabic from an early age so that pakistanis can communicate better with our neighbours – the iranians and the arabs. the main advantage of arabic however would obviously be proper understanding of our din which is taught by mullahs who in most cases is jahil.

    more important than the language question is the issue of of low standard of education in pak. without radical improvement in this sphere no progress will be achieved in pak. the fact that this most important issue is never discussed either in the media or on the web tells you that there is little cause of optimism in the short run.

  5. Now with advanced media revolution, English is a major language being used by computer softwares and websites but on other hand most Pakistanis don’t have access to internet yet. So if we use English as a medium for internet, we can reach only to limited population and if we use Urdu, then there are not too many people who know Urdu and have access to internet.
    Its government responsibility to force people to learn one common langauge but as we all know so far our governments were not loyal to Pakistan and that’s why as per their big-boss’s wish, they wanted us be illiterate and divided. It’s our tragedy that we haven’t yet picked up a single government who would be loyal to our country.
    We hope current crises may bring revolution and unite the nation at one plateform after getting rid off dictator government.

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