Mother languages in schools

Notwithstanding a great step forward, there are a number of issues and bottlenecks associated with the Balochistan government’s decision of introducing mother language in primary education

Mother languages in schools

It was a bold decision taken the second time in 2014 after the failure of same initiative in 1990. The Balochistan government has, after all, initiated the great step of offering the province’s children primary education in their mother languages. The ball was set in motion when the Balochistan Assembly passed "The Balochistan Introduction of Mother Languages as Compulsory Additional Subject at Primary Level Act, 2014" on January 25, 2014.

It was a great decision in many ways. Not only the long awaited demand of the people of Balochistan was fulfilled, but there was more to it. For example, in addition to Brahui, Balochi and Pashto, which are the main languages of the province, the Act also makes it compulsory to also offer the children of other minority ethnic groups their universal right to education in their mother languages. The children speaking Sindhi, Persian, Punjabi and Seraiki in Balochistan also have the right to receive primary education in their respective mother languages. This is a unique step which no other province in Pakistan has yet taken.

The Act also talks about ensuring availability of textbooks in the above mother languages in each district, and also "capacitating the teachers to impart instruction through the prescribed languages". Further, the Act says that the "government shall make mother languages as an integral part of pre-service teacher education and each student and teacher shall have the right to opt for any mother language".

Once the Act was approved, the provincial government instructed the Balochistan Education Department to make necessary arrangements with regard to the implementation of the law. The Balochistan Textbook Board took the initiative of reviewing the old textbooks which were prepared in 1990 when Akbar Bugti was the Balochistan’s chief minister. With the support of the local experts, the initial Alphabet books of Brahui, Balochi and Pashto were reviewed, edited and re-printed to ensure that education in mother languages is initiated in the province from the academic year 2015.

Notwithstanding a great step forward there are a number of issues, challenges and bottlenecks associated with the decision. The key issue being a major flaw in the law: The Act unfortunately has not made mother languages as the "medium of instruction." The mother languages have been introduced as "additional compulsory subjects."

This has created two important concerns and criticisms, namely that the medium of instruction is still Urdu and English in primary education (which would continue to hamper the process of quick learning growth of the children with their mother languages being Brahui, Balochi, and Pashto etc.). Second, studying the books of mother language in this situation as "additional compulsory subject" seems to be somewhat additional burden on the children of the underdeveloped province, where education standards are already poor.

The other problems are mainly related to the implementation process. For example, it was somewhat easy to review the old curriculum books of Brahui, Balochi and Pashto, which resulted in their timely reprint and distribution. However, getting curriculum books of other languages especially Punjabi, Persian and Seraiki, written, printed and distributed yet remained a dream not fulfilled this year. Interestingly, even in the case of Brahui, Balochi and Pashto languages, there are massive reports of primary schools in different districts having either received very few books or in many cases having not received a single one.

The provincial Education Department and the district level Education Department especially EDOs have been blaming each other for this mess. The district education authorities have been blaming the provincial authorities for not dispatching them adequate number of mother language books timely, while the provincial Education Department has been saying that the stock of the books was available timely and that it was the responsibility of the district authorities to collect the needed quantity of books, which they did not. The result: thousands of children in hundreds of primary schools in different districts of Balochistan were deprived of receiving education in their mother languages in the first year (Katchi class) of their education.

Wherever, these mother language books have been received in schools, there is another challenge: the local teachers are not properly trained to teach their students in their mother languages. The process for teachers’ training was initiated at the provincial level and master trainers were trained to impart trainings in different districts. However, due to lack of resources, remote populations and lack of monitoring, few of the teachers were lucky enough to get training. Thousands of teachers were expected to teach children in their mother languages yet they remained untrained.

Another key challenge, which if not addressed in a timely and judicious manner, may result in backfiring of the whole programme. Which language should be taught as mother language in which district/region in the multi-ethnic province of Balochistan?

The population census reports should have been suitable data on which to base the decision. But unfortunately, the census process has also been ‘politically motivated’. The census reports do not reflect the real picture of the proper number and areas of different ethnic groups in Balochistan. The massive reports of ‘Baloch nationalists’ touring every corner of Balochistan during the last census and emphasising on Brahuis, Sindhis, Punjabis and Seraikis in Balochistan to tick the checkbox for ‘Balochi’ as their mother language on Population Census Forms, has certainty made the 1998 population data of Balochistan unreliable and controversial.

With no other option -- or unwilling to go for a reasonable option -- the Education Department in Balochistan went for their own bureaucratic decision, keeping Baloch nationalist forces happy and content. Majority of Balochistan districts have been declared as Balochi speaking districts, giving other languages including Brahui a very small space in different districts of the province. For example, Khuzdar district of Balochistan is almost completely a Brahui-speaking district; however, the Education Department has declared 50 per cent of the district as Balochi-speaking and dispatched the mother language books to the district accordingly. The local Brahui teachers and school management are in a fix how to deal with this unique problem of teaching Balochi language to Brahui children. It is the same case in Kalat and other districts.

Similarly, although the population is divided between Baloch and Brahui in Panjgur district, the Education Department has declared Panjgur district as 100 per cent Balochi-speaking district and allotted only Balochi mother language books to the district. This has increased the possibilities of forcing the local children to study another local language, along with Urdu, as a compulsory subject. If this is the case, it would be a gross violation of basic universal human rights of the children to be educated in his/her mother language.

The way forward: let us secure and further strengthen the positive benefits of this important decision of the government of Balochistan. The matter which needs quick attention is that the provincial government, especially its Education Department, should immediately start work on the preparation and printing of second textbooks for all mother languages as timely as possible. After the completion of first book, these children will start studying the second book from January 2016. Let us not halt this process as a result of bureaucratic delaying tactics. We have only five months left and yet the work on this has not been started.

The Education Department, especially The Balochistan Textbook Board, should move quickly on this project. Moreover, the civil society, parents, teachers and other stakeholders should launch a strong advocacy campaign with the provincial government to make mother languages ‘medium of instruction’ instead of mere ‘additional subject.’

The government authorities should also be called upon to come up with a proper and realistic formula of linguistic identification of different districts/regions of Balochistan, keeping the multiethnic posture of the province in mind. This would be the only way to enable the children of all the linguistic groups of Balochistan to enjoy their universal right of achieving primary education in their mother languages, in a true sense.

Mother languages in schools