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Linguistic Inequalities: The Urdu-English Medium Divide in Pakistan

Linguistic Inequalities: The Urdu-English Medium Divide in Pakistan

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Linguistic Inequalities: The Urdu-English Medium Divide in Pakistan

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  1. Linguistic Inequalities: The Urdu-English Medium Divide in Pakistan Dr Fauzia Shamim Professor, Dept of English University of Karachi, Karachi

  2. Outline • Introduction & Background • Role and status of Urdu and English • Educational context in Pakistan • What’s the issue? • The study • Research questions • Methodology • Preliminary findings • Conclusion

  3. Role and Status of Different Language in Pakistan • 1) The National language of Pakistan is Urdu and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day. • 2) Subject to clause (1) the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu. • 3) Without prejudice to the status of the National language, a Provincial Assembly may by law prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of a provincial language in addition to the national language (Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, Article 251).

  4. Role and Status of Urdu & English • Urdu- national language and lingua franca (MT of only 7%) • English- official language and gatekeeper for entry into prestigious higher education institutions, high salaried jobs; also the language of military and bureaucracy • Regional languages- used mainly in informal social interactions

  5. ‘Truisms’ in Pakistan • English is necessary for individual and national development • English is a passport to success and upward social mobility • English is the key to national progress

  6. Educational Context in Pakistan School level • Three parallel systems of education • Urdu-medium schools (mainly state operated) • English-medium schools (mainly private) • Elitist • Non-elitist (so-called English-medium) • Madrassahs (mainly Arabic) (Rahman, 2004) • Two tracks within English-medium • O/A level • Matric/intermediate

  7. Educational Context in Pakistan Higher Education • English is the medium of instruction in all prestigious private higher education institutions (HEIs) • Both English AND Urdu allowed as medium of instruction in public sector HEIs • Textbooks and other reading material mainly available in English, particularly in Sciences, Business Studies etc. (see also Mansoor, 2005 & Shamim, 2007)

  8. Higher Education Commission’s ELT reforms project “envisages revolutionizing the socio-economic indicators of Pakistan and will contribute considerably to supplement the efforts of government to improve the standard of higher education and scientific learning”. “will help the graduates of public sector universities and institutions of higher learning, to compete for good jobs in Pakistan”. (Source:

  9. What’s the issue?

  10. What’s the issue? • Linguistic (and social) inequality mediated through kinds of educational institutions, and educational practices in Pakistan • MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION • TRACKING at secondary and post-secondary level

  11. Therefore, need for: • systematic situation analysis • debate and dialogue about relative ROLE(S) and STATUS of Urdu, English (and regional languages) • improving quality of teaching-learning of English in schools and HEIs (Mansoor, 2005; Rahman, 1996; Shamim & Allen, 2000; Shamim & Tribble, 2005)

  12. The present study • Aim of the study: To explore learners’ perceptions and experience of the Urdu-English medium divide in Pakistan

  13. The present study • Research Questions: 1. How do bi/multilingual learners experience the Urdu-English medium divide in the context of a higher education institution in Pakistan? 2. How do their experiences (and perceptions) affect their desire to acquire and manage high and low-value language assets?

  14. Definition of terms • Linguistic assets: Languages are assigned value according to the context in which they areused- so the same language may be considered high value in one context and low-value in another

  15. Methodology • Setting: A large public sector university in Karachi, Pakistan • Bilingual language policy • English is the dominant language in Sciences (and other high profile departments in Social Sciences such as IR); Urdu is mainly used in low profile departments • Bilingual classroom discourse in ALL depts • Mass Com department- Two separate sections, i.e., English and Urdu-medium

  16. University of KarachiBilingual policy!

  17. Methodology • Purposive sampling: Three students from the English and Urdu medium sections of the mass communications department with varied linguistic backgrounds/opportunities for learning English in school • English-medium section: 2 students (Intermediate and A level tracks each) • Urdu-medium section: 1 student • Narrative Interviewing

  18. Data Analysis Identity as analytic lens • Four kinds of identity • N-identity- a state (developed from forces in nature); also the kind of household re social status in which a child is born and brought up • I-identity-a position (authorized by authorities within institutional); also the kind of educational institution (English-Urdu medium) to which you belong • D-identity-an individual trait (recognized in discourse/dialogue with “rational” individuals) • A-identity-experiences (shared in the practice of “affinity-groups”) (Gee, 2000: 100-107)

  19. During school years Farina’s I-identity English medium “Mera jo school thha wo English medium ke naam se jana jata he [my school is known as an English-medium school]” [However, no focus in school on developing linguistic skills - learnt English mainly at home through help & encouragement from older siblings]

  20. During school yearsD-identity English: a high value asset in construction of D-Identity “I was the ice candy for my teachers, for my English teachers especially. . . . I was always raising my hand, answering questions, writing good character sketches. There was discrimination. They [the teachers] used to like me better. Girls wanted me to read out.”

  21. During school yearsD-identity • “Although I studied in O’ levels till 7th grade, I had other cousins who were studying in renowned and prestigious schools like X and Y. They used to judge me ke how much do you know of English. And I don’t know why but they always concentrated on this particular language and did not want to judge me on my Science capabilities, Mathematics capabilities. They always wanted to know ke how much English do you know. And basically I’m not a very good speaker. They used to question me ke what do you call chowkidar in English? They used to test me. Because their children were in much advanced schools. . . When I was not able to answer their questions, I used to feel that I was not a good person; I was not a good learner. I was an ordinary child. I don’t know anything. I used to feel like that.”

  22. During school yearsD-identity • “I didn’t feel good when they were questioning my capabilities. It was like they were questioning my identity.” [re social class]

  23. N-identity: Family income & its role in learning English “I can tell from my childhood experience that a lot depends on your schooling. If your schooling has been good you’re definitely going to make it. If you have had your schooling in the English language you will definitely thrive.You will definitely get proficiency in English. And I acknowledge that there is a lot of difference in schooling. My friends who don’t know English- they didn’t have good schooling. Mine was relatively better-just relatively better-less that A level students.” (Translated)

  24. N-identity: Family income & its role in learning English • “O’ levels A’ levelski peRhai tu sab ko pata he keexpensivebhhe hoti he comparatively tu saat saat hazar, tu womiddle class familyjo kamati das hazar he, woseven thousandagar apne sirf ek bache kifeesme~ de raha he, how is it possible; wosurvivekese kere~ ge? So ultimately status symbolban gaya. Jo parentsker sakte he~, wostatuswale he~.Tumhareparentsnahi~ he~ bhhaee; tumintermediateker rahi ho.” (key words spoken in English have been highlighted)

  25. University level: Changing identities I-identity: English-medium [Matriculation and] Intermediate track “They [A levels stream] are entirely different people. I don’t know for what reason. . . . They consider it as a privilege to be there; to learn English; to learn Sciences better; to learn advance Mathematics . . . they consider us ke matriculation ke students; kia aage in kya future he [they think matriculation students do not have a bright future] So I think that is the barrier. . . . My friend has got admission at IBA but he’s not satisfied with it. For an intermediate student, it’s a privilege to be an IBA graduate, doing BBA from there. They think that you know we have opportunities, bahar jane ki [to go aboard]. We [A levels stream] are privileged; you [intermediate stream] are not.”

  26. University level: Changing identities Construction of D- identity in relation to current and future life chances • “[i]n the English class, there are very few students who are proficient in English. They’re one year older to me because A levels students are always one year older so they have good vocabulary because they have gone through SAT preparations and IELTS as well.” • “They [teachers] always go for people who can converse better in English rather than my group.”

  27. A-identity • Mainly has friends “who are more inclined towards Urdu” • Seems very impressed with A level students • A bridge between English-medium [A level] and Urdu-medium students in her dept.

  28. A-Identity • “ . . . many people from the English section moved to the Urdu section because it has now become common that the Urdu media is boosting. So many students shifted not on the basis of language but because of the practical approach. Urdu students are much better at Mass Communication abilities because they’re always writing letters to Jang [a leading newspaper] etc. but we’re still at the elementary stuff.”

  29. A-identity • “I think I’m standing somewhere in between [Urdu and English-medium]. I’m in the middle. I’m more inclined towards Urdu because I don’t think I’m qualified enough, especially after entering Mass Communication where . . . we have many A levels’ students. My school teachers used to encourage me that you’re good at English, at least you are good at English but now that I’ve come to the university, things have changed. I now feel that the competition is quite tough. My vocabulary needs to be improved.”

  30. Crossing the Language (Social) Barrier! • “I’m the only one from amongst my group of friends] who has connections with the A levels’ students as well. Otherwise, there’s a lot of space between the A’ levels students and us [English-medium Intermediate track and Urdu-medium students].”

  31. Farina’s perception of her English proficiency • “Basically whenever I read Anjum Niaz’ articles, I have to keep a dictionary on one side and then read it. I think that I do not use the language properly. Somehow, misuse of tenses happens and the only reason is my schooling. Had their been a better approach towards English in my school, I would’ve written better articles. When I go through these articles and see my own writings, I find huge differences.”

  32. Future aspirations Improving English Language Skills • “My elder brother always wanted me to master English language and it’s his wish that I enter Dawn News some day. So I see myself in the English section, in the English media. My brother and sister are the only reasons why I’m here right now. ThhoRi si bhhe jo mujhhe ati he, wo un ki wajah se ati he. [Whatever little I know is because of them.] Had I listened to them and continued to practice, I would have been much much better. Whenever my brother calls me, he says “Fatima, please improve your English.” He’s really good at it. His friends are very impressed when he converses in English.”

  33. Sense of Loss? • “I started concentrating towards English. Urdu I thought was my mother language; I’ll learn. I was wrong enough. I think one should know, especially a journalist. I’m an aspiring journalist. So I should be mastering each and every language.”

  34. Summary Farina’s Linguistic Assets • Urdu: home language, high value asset for family and social interactions (e.g. shopping and with friends at KU)- • English: second language, high value asset in academic domain and for future career prospects; also for higher social status within family • Wants to improve her English language skills for improved life chances in future

  35. More generally . . . • Social class shapes learners’ access to different kinds of educational institutions and, therefore, their access to English (and Urdu) • Differences in educational opportunities lead to linguistic inequalities, which in turn, affect learners’ perception of self/others and their future life chances

  36. Conclusion (tentative) • Different kinds of school types in Pakistan lead to linguistic inequalities which, in turn, help perpetuate social inequalities (cf. Willis, Why do working class kids become working class?) • However, some ‘discourses of resistance’ can be heard. (see Canagarajah, 1999:22-26)

  37. Major Challenge! How can linguistic inequality based on parallel systems of education be addressed, or more important, a more equitable education system developed in Pakistan?