Should Pakistan have English Medium Classrooms in Primary Grades?

tuition english math sciencehe-books-as-symbol-of-education-step--milestoneThe recommendation, according to the “Policy and practice:  teaching and learning English in Punjab schools” report, is that Pakistani students should not have an English medium education until Grade 6.  Students in the primary grades 1 to 5 should have an English course only, and then be introduced to English-medium instruction in the higher grade levels.  Research was conducted in several major cities including Lahore, Sahiwal and Multan.

It seems that much of the problem with English medium classrooms is that the teachers are not adequately equipped to teach in English, especially in Maths and Sciences.  Mixed language usage, or Urdu utterances only account for some of the problems in an English-medium classroom.  Teachers themselves are not competent enough in English to teach math and science concepts so the student is disadvantaged.

By waiting until the student is older, the researchers believe that the students will achieve better marks in maths and science if they can learn in Urdu first.

Scientists cannot agree on what is the best age for a child to learn a second language.  Some say that the child should learn the language before the age of 6 or 7 and others say that learning a second language should happen before the child is 10 or 11 years of age.  The bottom line is that learning a language as a child makes acquisition of that language easier.  So, if English-medium instruction did start at the 6th grade, then they would still be in that prime age for acquiring a second language.

But as I read over the report and reflected on some of my teaching experiences in Pakistan, I propose that the student’s age level is not the real issue.  Until the English competency of teachers improves, it doesn’t matter what grade is the starting point for English-medium instruction, the students will always lag behind.

The report states that Urdu only utterances occurred in 23% of English classes with 15% in Math and 19% in Maths.  That means that in a high portion of English courses, English is not used sufficiently to make a student competent.  In fact the student might be better off in Maths or Science.  Therefore the student may not have a sufficient knowledge of English to start English-medium instruction, even if they wait for the higher grades.

I have had Grade 8 students give me the wrong definitions of words because that is the definition their teacher gave them.  A read of a Grade 9 English text show grammatical errors.  For example “Blue Mosque reflects the architectural style of both Ottoman mosque and Byzentine church” should read “The Blue Mosque reflects the architectural style of both an Ottoman Mosque and a Byzantine church”.  A question is asked as “Why Sultan Ahmad Mosque is also known as Blue Mosque?”  It should read, “Why is the Sultan Ahmad Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque?”  These examples are not isolated ones, but rather the norm in a system where English cannot be taught properly, regardless of the grade level unless the school board texts are revamped and the teachers, at every level become competent to teach in English.

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