By Khaled Ahmed
April 22, 2017
Leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan, recently criticised the education system in the country, saying there were “three different systems of education, an English-medium system for the elite, an Urdu-medium system of schools and religious seminaries for the rest of the country”. He expressed his opposition to the English-medium schools because they distanced students from “Pakistani culture” and recommended that “education should be imparted in the English language only at the higher levels and even then, the syllabus should be in line with the culture in Pakistan”.
Khan’s opposition to “English-medium” schools is clear. He is certain that English-medium schools inculcate a culture that is not Pakistani; the other two systems inculcate Pakistani culture. His government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last year “granted” $3 million to Madrasa Haqqania from where many Taliban terrorists now killing Pakistanis had graduated, and where the killers of Benazir Bhutto stayed overnight.
His statement implies a change in the country’s education, brought about in English-medium schools, possibly through their closure, because he is not in favour of starting English from grade one. His objection boils down to one point: Don’t teach English from grade one because that prevents the inculcation of Pakistani culture. The question is: What is Pakistani culture? History shows religion opposed to culture, as proved by the terrorists blowing up shrines in Pakistan because of their culture of (mystical) song and dance.
If Khan came to power, he would not respond to the job market to teach English from grade one in state-run Urdu-medium schools. He’d instead abolish the vast, demand-driven, private sector English-medium school system. He’d have two streams: Urdu-medium and the madrasa. He won’t be strong enough to prevent the madrasa from penetrating the Urdu-medium system in the name of ideology. Will the culture thus developed be Pakistani? Will Khan reform state schools to make them deliver to market demands? Will he investigate why India with three educational streams is not as bothered about culture as he is? Why is India producing high-quality scholars? In India, 17 per cent of schools are English-medium, mushrooming because of the middle class and the global market. India has “three streams” (English, Hindi, a state language) and is apparently not bothered about culture like Khan.
The two streams Khan wishes to retain are Urdu-medium schools and foreign-funded madrasas, some of which distribute the “alternative constitution” penned by al Qaeda leader Aiman al-Zawahiri in The Morning and the Lamp. Raza Rumi, editor of Lahore’s Daily Times, suggested a “reform” of Khan’s two approved “streams” in his recent article: “General Science, Urdu and English should only teach relevant content… there is little need to insert ideological instruction into these… History, Social Sciences, Islamic Studies need to be more inclusive.. ensure that students are taught respect for minorities. Content against non-Muslims needs to be expunged… inclusion of ideology of Pakistan in Urdu, English, Civics is irrelevant… Non-Muslims should be exempted from compulsory teaching of Islamic Studies… the notoriously familiar factual and content errors ought to be cleaned up, especially with respect to distorted histories…”
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’