Why Should a Child not be given Primary Education in English?
A few days ago I was reading an article on local languages. The article was well written, but the author’s logic regarding language and learning surprised me.
According to the article, 17 languages are spoken in Punjab, but only two, Punjabi and Saraikis, will be formally counted in the census, while other languages have been included in the ‘Other’ box.
The writer of the article expressed the fear of extinction of these languages and urged the government to protect them for their survival.
Even so, because the future of small languages is now a global concern it. But one paragraph needs to be read in its entirety:
“There are some experts who believe that a child should be educated in the mother tongue in the early grades, only after which he chooses another language in the later grades. This argument is not valid because the process of learning a language becomes more difficult with age. So your child should pick a language from childhood and master it—whether it’s a local language that has no importance in the job market, or a language that will help you in your career or can`t help you in your development.”
This idea also informs Pakistan’s language policy and understanding of parents, it is time to explain why this is a misguided idea. But in this way the small problem of undermining the original intention of the writer arises. Only living languages thrive—languages cannot be preserved like museum artifacts. Languages abandoned as useless for employment will gradually lose their existence.
Read: Bill to grant national language status to regional languages is rejected
The big problem is that the above argument also rejects an important logic of linguistics and learning. First, the decision to choose and master a language at an early age does not have to be made with a career in mind. Rather, it is important to choose a language that can help children learn.
There is a lot of evidence that children learn and understand better in their own language—subjects such as math are much easier to understand if children are taught in their own language.
Second, it is wrong to assume that because language learning becomes more difficult with age, a child can only master one language better.
In fact, there are many examples where we have seen that children who start reading in their own language learn the second foreign language better than children who start reading in the second foreign language from the beginning of their growth.
After much research, Europe has now adopted the ‘Mother Tongue plus Two’ formula, whereby children are given primary school education in the mother tongue, while learning two more languages before completing high school.
Thirdly, it is also wrong to think that to master a language you have to learn it from day one; this idea is due to a misunderstanding of the learning process.
Children learn their first language effortlessly because they are surrounded by it and use it to communicate their needs to survive. This ‘on-demand language learning process’ cannot be transferred to other non-languages.
For example, if children in a Saraikis neighborhood are taught in Chinese, the children will not be as fluent in Chinese as they are in Saraikis. Rather, trying to learn in an unfamiliar language will greatly affect their learning and comprehension abilities.
Read more: Why only one national language?
Fourth, adults learn non-languages quite easily; although their pronunciation is not so clear, but still they master the language very well. Just look at the number of Urdu intellectuals in Western universities who did not have Urdu as their own language but are doing excellent work today – Ann Marie Shimal did not master four Eastern languages as a child. Adult Pakistani students in France and Germany also learn their languages later.
Fifthly, career decisions are not made in nursery and KG. Rather, such decisions are made keeping in view of one’s ability, which is known only after childhood and ability is acquired only through better education. Dr. Abdul Salam and Allama Iqbal did not know their future careers during their early education, nor did they receive their early education in English. If he had studied in English language, he might have become a big babu in a British office.
The importance of language in primary education has been recognized many times before. Lord Macaulay introduced English as the medium of instruction for the Indian elite in 1835, the demand for the English medium increased tremendously due to its importance for employment.
But in 1904, when the policy itself was revised by the British, the following conclusion was reached: “It is true that the English language is of commercial importance and that the final high school examinations are conducted in English, so secondary schools There is little pressure to teach and teach English prematurely. But this trend must be corrected now to improve education. As a general rule, by the time a child learns English as a language should not be allowed until he improves his elementary education and acquires complete mastery of his mother tongue.”
More than 100 years later, when the British Council conducted research in Pakistan, it found that “negative attitudes towards local languages and making Urdu and English the medium of instruction can have far worse consequences, including these include increased school dropout rates, reduced academic achievement, linguistic exploitation and the threat of language extinction.” The research concluded, “There is an urgent need to highlight the importance of mother tongue in primary education.”
Know: What role can languages play in economic development?
The parents who need this message most, whose children are tricked into early education in poor English, don’t read such studies. Educationists should spread awareness about this and convince the authorities about it.
Also see how the Chinese have made great progress without using English in primary education, while we have lagged behind them even with English as a primary language. While Chinese people who need English to advance in their careers, they are also able to master English.
In fact, the message is simply that in order to master English, it is not necessary to have primary education in English, because doing so affects the process of learning and understanding.
Parents may have a little trouble understanding this, but if the decision makers don’t understand it, it proves that if you know English, you don’t necessarily have to be smart.