How many languages are too many to teach a primary or secondary student? Two? Three? Four? Five? In Sindh government schools, we currently attempt to teach four: Urdu, Sindhi, English, and Arabic. Urdu is the national language. Sindhi, endemic to this ancient land. English remains the international language for the foreseeable future, and Arabic the language of our nation’s dominant religion. Looking forward, a fifth – Mandarin – is slowly entering the dialogue, whose advocates stress the language’s necessity in tapping China’s economic spring.

Many readers may be wary of looking for guidance to the West, to whom we can credit an irreversible devastation to our native tongues. Yet, in answering this question of second languages, Europe can provide a wonderful example, grappling for centuries with many of the questions faced by our education system today. The European Union has 24 official languages and 28 countries. European parents must choose among globally spoken languages such as English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Italian, and Dutch, collectively whose speakers are in the billions in every populated time zone on Earth.

Most Europeans Are Leaning One Language

So, how many languages do European children, beset on all sides by world languages, learn in school? Three? Five? Six? The data is startling. Based on figures published by Eurostat, a research and publishing body of the European Union, only 4.6% of EU primary children study two or more second languages. This is in stark contrast to Sindh, in which all government school children are learning three second languages (at least on paper).

Looking beyond primary, the data doesn’t get much better.  The graph below is a startling indictment of our government language education system. Our ambitions in primary are off the charts: no European country even comes close to teaching so many languages. Our goals utterly out of sync with the policies of major European countries, some of whom themselves, like Finland and Denmark,  lack globally-spoken native tongues. In a comparison of secondary schools, the gap narrows, but remains, with all listed countries save Finland and Netherlands still below the 2 mark. Only Finland, in the highest levels of education, begins to approach what we are attempting to do.

The Masters of None

Education statistics published by Alif Ailaan, an NGO that gathers Pakistan education data, bolster the claim that our attempts are failing. 55% of class 5 students cannot read a story fluently in Urdu. 76% cannot read a sentence fluently in English. In attempting to teach children four languages, they are mastering none.

The decision of which language to keep quickly becomes a political one. Overwhelming research shows that primary schooling must be in the native tongue. Perhaps different provinces or boards can make further decisions. But to improve our nation’s base, this medium issue must be addressed. Something must change.

This article was originally published here and has been taken with permission from the writer.

Mr Uzair Qarni
Director of Academics
NJV Public School