Education / 15.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, In my last letter, I had spelled out the way a child learns his or her first language so well at home before even getting to school. This process needed to be articulated because, while it is so obvious, it does not get the attention it deserves as it takes place on its own without any need for experienced teachers. For the same reason, because it is so successful, it should serve as the model for how new languages should be taught at school. You would recall that the four essential stages in this learning process are LISTENING, SPEAKING, READING, and WRITING. Equally importantly, they must be IN THAT ORDER. For home languages, this order is imposed by nature -- a child does not begin to speak till at least six months of age and is immersed in listening to sounds of the...

Education / 05.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, With regard to the teaching and learning of English in Pakistan, I have been making six points: First, that as long as the present socioeconomic system in Pakistan remains unchanged, the learning of English is a necessity for those who aspire to higher education and certain types of jobs in the public and private sectors. Whether the system needs to change so that brilliant students who are not adept at English are not penalized is a separate question that I will address in a subsequent letter. For the moment, keep in mind that that is also an alternative which exists in countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, and Iran, all of which are more advanced and more prosperous than Pakistan. Don’t be fooled by the argument that we will be left behind if we do not learn English -- the truth is...

Education / 01.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent,  In my last letter I had asked you to think whether your child would learn anything at school if, from his or her first day in Grade 1, everything was taught in a foreign language, say Arabic. Related to this thought experiment, I came across something relevant in an Urdu short story by Bilal Minto, an excerpt of which I am going to reproduce today. There are two reasons for this. First, in my own life I have gained more from fiction than from textbooks. For example, I have read a lot of books on the history of the subcontinent but nothing has yielded as clear as understanding of some aspects of it, especially the social ones that deal with real people, than the novels of Quratul Ain Haider. Second, these stories by Bilal Minto are among the most refreshing I have read in...

Education / 01.06.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, Let me summarize the main points of the discussion thus far: First, and most importantly, no one is suggesting that children in Pakistan should not learn English if they or their parents want them to. But, experts recommend that early childhood education should be in a language that a child understands and is able to communicate in easily. Here, one must be very clear about the difference between learning a foreign language as a SUBJECT and using it as a MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION, i.e., using it to teach other subjects like arithmetic, science, etc. Parents often overlook the great significance of this difference and its implications for learning. Children can start learning English as a subject from Grade 1 although that early a start is not recommended for students whose home language is not English. The best practice recommended for such children is to start learning...

Education / 17.05.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, We are dealing now with what is perhaps the trickiest issue in early childhood education in Pakistan, one which probably has the most impact on what a child learns at school. It is the place of the English language in school education. You need to pay special attention to this because the responsibility for what exists is laid squarely on the shoulders of parents. All questioning is countered with: What can anyone do when this is what parents want? Even those who concede that the way English is being used is not good for learning shrug their shoulders and pass the blame on to parents. Let us look at this argument in several different ways. First, parents want a lot of things. They want clean water, safe sanitation, less pollution, better public transport, more accessible health care, cheaper and more reliable electricity, reasonably...

Education / 06.05.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, I have been trying to convince you that you need to pay attention to the quality of the education your child is receiving in return for the money you are paying for it. I have also alerted you to the fact that, based on all available evidence, one can make a strong claim that the general quality of education being provided to children in Pakistan is quite poor. In this connection, I had mentioned in my last letter that there were some things that are being done completely wrong in our method of education and unless they were identified and corrected no improvement in inputs like the quality of teachers and textbooks is going to make a significant difference. In this letter, I will start with one thing I believe is completely wrong and that is the LANGUAGE in which a child begins to...

Education / 23.04.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, So far, I have made the two following points: Education is like any other commodity that you buy for your child by paying money for it. It is up to you to find out if the quality of the education you are buying is good or bad. The future of your child, and collectively of the country, depends on the care parents exercise in this choice. In general, the quality of education being provided is poor and below an acceptable level. The evidence for this is the huge learning gap -- students in grade 5 knowing only what a child in grade 2 should know. Add to this the very high number of children who are not even in school, and this amounts to a national crisis that no one is paying attention to -- not parents, not teachers, and not governments....

Education / 19.04.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, In my previous letter, I made one central point -- that, just as for any other product you purchase, you pay money to buy education for your child. And just as you are careful in buying other products, you should be careful to make sure that the education you buy is the best for the money you spend. You should be concerned about the QUALITY of the product. We live in a market economy and just as there is adulterated milk, adulterated medicines, and low-quality merchandise, there is a lot of variation in the quality of education available. But it is much harder to judge the quality of education compared to that of milk. Unfortunately, there is no agency that protects you or watches out for your interest. You are on your own and the future of your child depends on the care...

Education / 08.04.2021

By Anjum Altaf Dear Parent, I am writing directly to you because you care about your child more than anyone else. You, more than anyone else, want your child to be successful in life which his why you invest a lot of your hard-earned income in his or her education, not just in school but in private tuition as well. You invest this money in your child’s education because you believe that for the majority of people a good education provides the best chance for success and upward mobility, for your child to have a better life than you have had. If you did not believe this you would have apprenticed your child to a tailor or a mechanic to learn a trade which would not only guarantee a steady income for life but also add to the households income during training. Real money would be coming into...

Education / 15.03.2021

By Anjum Altaf How convenient it is for people to earn brownie points at the cost of others and with no cost to themselves. The neocons in the United States postured as super-patriots while sending young people to die in Iraq using fabricated evidence on weapons of mass destruction. Our legislators have at hand an equally easy way to earn free hasanat at the cost of children by posing as champions of Islam. The Senate approved, with just one dissenting vote, the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 mandating the teaching of Arabic in primary and secondary schools in Islamabad. Within six months, the language will be taught in all schools in the city from grades 1 to 5 while its grammar will be taught through grades 6 to 12. The proposer of the bill claimed that "we would not go through the problems we are...