By Nasir Dehwar
English, being the global language of knowledge production, is increasingly becoming important for Pakistanis looking for jobs in services and other high-tech sectors both within their country and abroad. A view adopted by the Provincial Governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when they announced to make English language the medium of instruction in schools, in 2009 and 2014, respectively. Outside the Government education system, English-medium schools have sprung up in every nook and corner of the country. They form a major part of private sector education that, according to a report by Islamabad-based Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, has seen a 105 percent rise since 2000.
The linguistic divide between private schools (imparting education mostly in English) and Government schools (mostly Urdu-medium) is widening the gap between rural Pakistan (where majority pupils still go to Government schools) and urban centers where private education has become, arguably, the norm. It is similarly complete existing class divides between the English-speaking haves and the Urdu-trained have-nots and generating new ones between the expensively educated and the cheaply qualified. Linguist Dr Tariq Rehman has written about these divisions in his 2005 paper titled Passports to Privilege: The English-Medium Schools in Pakistan. “All the products of English schools, even those that are English-medium only in name, agree in regarding themselves as elite with regard to talent and knowledge,” he wrote.
As English ensures surer and faster social and economic mobility than Urdu does, who wouldn’t want their children to study in English? Competitive examinations for civil services manifest how resort to Urdu is no longer a judicial or a constitutional affair alone. The Supreme Court judgment mentioned these exams as an area where Urdu should be used. In February 2017, Lahore High Court went a step ahead and issued a verdict, directing the Federal Public Service Commission to conduct the 2018 Central Superior Service exams in Urdu. The commission appealed the decision, saying time is a constraint. A different bench of the same High Court repealed the decision on March 29, 2017.
The 18th Constitutional Amendment could also have a role in delaying Urdu’s implementation. It allowed the provinces to make their own decisions about syllabus and medium of instruction (that is exactly what Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have done concerning English). No central authority exists in the country with the constitutional power to implement a particular syllabus in a particular language citing them as prerequisites of national ideology and cohesion as was the case with reference to Urdu and religious subjects in the not-so-distant past.