T

he Punjab government’s decision to make Urdu the medium of instruction in all public schools shortly after the previous government just recently made English the language of instruction is a poorly thought-out move that is likely to backfire. The main reason provided by the Chief Minister of Punjab is not good enough; while teachers and students may end up translating their lessons to Urdu, the fact is that parents want their children educated in English at public schools simply because every other school – from the privileged private schools to those that do not charge high fees in the private sector all have English as the medium of instruction. If the government cannot extend this policy to all schools, then it should be revisited.

This means that anyone studying in Urdu as the core language is bound to lag behind in pursuing higher education and finding employment in the job market, with their competition having an edge with regards to proficiency in another language. Public schools are a means for lower income groups to educate their children and by changing to Urdu, the Punjab government is increasing stratification. The government has to ensure that the field of education provides a level playing field for children across the country, instead of increasing the gap between the poor and the rich, finding steps to bring public schools up to the level of the private ones is important.

This move comes a year after the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government changed the medium of instruction in public schools to English after specialist consultations and research – not only will this decision waste the money spent on research but will undo the work done in increasing attendance rate and the provision of better education for students in public schools.

One of the reasons for changing the medium of instruction to English were the rising dropout rates in public schools; parents naturally want their children obtaining the best education possible and with private schools mostly offering English as the primary language, it is no surprise then that public schools are not the preferred option.

The ruling party’s manifesto does state changing the medium of instruction in schools to Urdu as one of its aims in the education sector, but a look at many of the more expensive private schools and their ability to churn out students that can compete internationally begs revisiting the idea of removing English as a language of instruction. The ultimate aim has to be to improve education, does changing to Urdu achieve that? There is no reason to suggest that it does – and if that is not the goal being fulfilled, then this policy is meaningless.