The PTI chief’s latest attack on English-medium schools prompts troubling conclusions.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan has once again criticized Pakistan’s education sector, claiming the current system is discriminatory because there are “three different systems of education: an English-medium system for the elite, with Urdu medium and religious seminaries covering the rest of the country.” He went on to say that English-medium schools distance 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 of Pakistan.”
Khan’s opposition to “English-medium” schools is quite clear. However, he has voiced little criticism of the other two systems—presumably because he thinks they don’t need any improvement. According to Khan, English-medium schools inculcate an “alien” culture in Pakistan. By implication, the other two systems inculcate Pakistani culture. Khan’s exhortations to bring about a change in the country’s education sector, therefore, are squarely targeting English-medium schools. Perhaps he would prefer they shut down, as he does not want them teaching the English language at the primary levels because it prevents the inculcation of Pakistani culture. A question that is almost impossible to answer then arises: what is Pakistani culture?
Based on Khan’s statement, its clear he would abolish demand-driven, private sector English-medium schools if he were to come into power. Instead of reforming the struggling Urdu-medium system, he would end up with a two-tiered system built around the Urdu language and madrassahs. The “single” system he wants would continue to prove elusive. No single politician has ever been strong enough when in power to stem the rise of the madrassahs, which are propelled by the ever-thorny issue of ideology.
Will the culture thus developed be Pakistani? The Urdu-medium system currently starts with “compulsory” English from sixth grade. Unsurprisingly, this instruction tends to be of poor quality. Will Khan reform state-sector schools nationwide to ensure they can fulfill the demands of the job market, which increasingly requires proficiency in the English language? Will he ever investigate why India, which also has two educational streams, is not as bothered about its culture as he is? Or why it is still able to produce high-quality scholars for the global market from this defective system? Perhaps its time Khan did some homework of his own.