Tag Archives: Urdu

Globalisation: ‘Urdu facing no extinction threat’


Noted writers and literati have observed that even though Urdu is not facing the threat of extinction due to globalisation, some scholars are unnecessarily painting a gloomy picture about its future prospects.

They were speaking at a one-day Urdu conference titled “Globalisation and Future of Urdu Language”, held at the National University of Modern Language (NUML) on Wednesday.

At the conference, arranged by the Department of Urdu Language and Literature, renowned scholars and academics from different universities presented their scholastic views on the future of Urdu as lingua franca.

Renowned playwright Dr Asghar Nadeem Syed, who was the chief guest, said that there are a number of myths and misconceptions about globalisation and its impact on languages, cultures and societies.  “Our intelligentsia and scholars have painted a doomsday scenario with regard to its effects on the Urdu language,” he said, noting that globalisation was a centuries’ old process of labour migration, academic exchanges, technology transfer, trade, and sharing of systems and philosophies.

Dr Syed said there was no threat to Urdu from globalisation, rather “we ourselves were responsible for its decline”.

University of Gujrat Sialkot campus Director-General Dr Anwaar Ahmed said, “Technological developments and modernity should not scare us. We should accept them to keep abreast of the changing patterns and times.”

Islamia University Bahawalpur Faculty of Distance Learning Dean Dr Najeeb Jamal said that Urdu will continue to exist till the time laymen speak it. He urged the need to translate books in other languages into Urdu to understand other societies, languages and culture for our own learning.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2014.

60% fifth graders unable to read second grade English, Urdu or Pashto

KARACHI: Caught  between a declared education emergency and a change in the medium of instruction from Urdu to English, it seems the students of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are losing ground and direction. This year’s Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) shows school-going children who are actually attending school are doing poorly in all aspects of learning.

Rural K-P

The survey, conducted in rural areas of 25 districts in K-P, targeted 14,705 households in 741 villages and assessed 45,290 children, aged between three and 16. Out of these, 39,923 children between the ages of five to 16 were evaluated on their ability to read Urdu/Pashto, English and solve basic math problems.

The report describes the assessment tools for language and arithmetic as “designed to cover up to class two and class three level competencies, respectively, as per the national curriculum.”

The private and state divide

According to the Aser report, 51% of grade five students enrolled in private schools were able to read at least one story in Urdu/Pashto, whereas only 35% of their class fellows at public schools were able to do the same.

Similarly, 56% of private school students in class five were able to read English sentences, while the figure stood at a mere 34% for public school fifth graders. When tested on arithmetic competencies, 34% and 48% of government school and private school fifth graders, respectively, could work out two-digit division.

The ups and downs since 2012

Overall, learning levels of K-P’s students remained as unimpressive in 2013 with just minimal improvement across classes. Around 61% of class five children surveyed could not read a class 2 story in Urdu/Pashto in comparison to the 57% who could not do so in 2012.

However, 37% of third graders could not read Urdu/Pashto sentences, which is a significant drop from last year’s 55%, showing some improvement.

For 26% of first graders, Urdu/Pashto alphabets remained unreadable.

English language learning did not fare any better; only 39% of children in class five could read class-two-level sentences in the language. In the previous year, this figure was as high as 47%. Similarly, only 13% of third graders were able to read class-two-level English sentences as compared to 22% in 2012.

The number of children in grade five who could do two-digit division dropped from 44% in 2012 to 38% in 2013. Even at the level of grade seven, 34% of students were unable to solve two-digit division, highlighting inadequate learning levels.

Gender gap

Incidentally, Aser 2013 indicates boys outperformed girls in both literacy and numeracy skills. The survey comprising 62% boys and 38% girls noted 51% of boys could read sentences in Urdu/Pashto while only 40% of the girls could do the same. As far as the English language is concerned, at least 59% boys could read as compared to 40% girls.

In terms of mathematical abilities, 53% boys were able to do subtraction sums whereas only 41% girls could do the same.


Enrolment rates showed a slight improvement where 86% of students between the ages of six-16 were in schools.

The rate of children out of school has also marginally improved. According to Aser, in 2012 around 16% of surveyed students were out of school, while in 2013 the number stood at 14%.

Apart from learning levels of students, Aser also looked at attendance, school facilities and the qualifications of teachers.

In 2013, student attendance in government and private schools did not differ much at 86% and 90%, respectively. These were calculated based on a headcount on the day of the Aser team’s visit.

In government schools, 14% of the teachers were absent on the day of the visit while only 6% were absent in private schools.

In terms of teacher qualification, both government and private schools were roughly on par. Around 35% of government school teachers had Bachelor of Education degrees, as compared to 33% at private schools.

A roof on my head

Complete boundary walls, an essential for safety, were missing in 44% of government and 12% of private schools. Furthermore, 43% of the surveyed government primary schools did not have toilets while the facility was missing in at least 12% of private schools surveyed.

Drinking water was another basic necessity which was missing – 26% of government schools and 8% of private schools did not have potable water for students or staff.

Academic facilities remained largely deficient in both government and private high schools. Only 24% and 34% of the surveyed government and private institutes had computer labs, respectively. However, books were largely available in the libraries of both types of educational institutes.


The survey teams do not just limit themselves to rural districts. In urban Peshawar, the Aser team assessed 1,379 children (including 37 % girls and 63% boys) on the same tools used on children from the rest of the districts.

The result did not vary much ­­— private school students there outperformed government school students. According to the report, only 11% of fifth graders could read a story in Urdu/Pashto, while at least 31% of private school students could do the same.

In the city, the gender gap was less prominent – 41% girls and 44% boys could read Pashto/Urdu.

English learning remained a major problem for government school students as only 12% of fifth graders could read the language as compared to 37% at private schools.

When tested on basic math skills, only 9% of government school fifth graders could perform two-digit division while 22% of private school counterparts could do the same.

Curriculum revision

For the academic session which began this year, the government rolled out a changed medium of instruction for government schools; science and mathematics are now being taught in English to first graders. However, given the dismal results reflected in the Aser report, which has been surveying learning levels for the past four years, a significant improvement should not be expected immediately.

Aser K-P Manager Afzal Shah told The Express Tribune the government’s effort is laudable, however, improvement in academic performance will not come overnight. According to Shah, for children starting first grade, studying and learning in a new language can be a difficult task as they have only been exposed to their native language at home.

“It further compounds the problem if the teacher is also new to the change,” explained Shah, adding there was a need for smart, long-term and sustained planning on the behalf of the government for the step to be successful in the long run.

Shah, who has been working in the education sector for nearly 10 years, said one-time trainings for teachers are not sufficient to familiarise them with a new syllabus. “In order to bridge the gap been formed after years of teaching in Urdu, the government needs to ensure that it regularly conducts capacity building exercises for teachers and trains them to become proficient in the new course,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2014.

Urdu Times: The news room

In the basement of a brightly lit South Asian video and DVD store situated in a busy thoroughfare of Jamaica, Queens, 61-year-old Khalilur Rehman adjusts his print glasses as he feverishly edits a hand-written Urdu article, which has to be sent to Lahore, Pakistan, where it will then be typed out.

On the opposite side of the cluttered table, his Hyderabadi wife, Anjum Khalil, patiently sifts through sheets of printed Urdu stories and scratches out and re-writes sentences. Old issues of newspapers, a few pens and highlighters, calendars and other office supplies lay carelessly strewn over the L-shaped desk setup, surrounded by four chairs and two desktops. A handful of overhanging wires connecting the computers with a router, scanner, fax-machine and printer dangle from various shelves and walls, giving the place an almost warehouse-like feeling. This is the New York newsroom of the oldest and largest weekly Urdu language newspaper, The Urdu Times. Run by the husband-wife duo, this Pakistani weekly is the most widely read Urdu language newspaper in North America and has 14 print and online editions in the United States, Canada and Britain. It also enjoys the largest circulation for an Urdu paper outside of Pakistan, according to its owners. And the paper’s free availability makes it even more unusual compared to other publications.

To keep up with a rapidly evolving news market, Khalil has also set up a website which allows him to cater to a wider audience. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

Le(a)ding the market

Raised in Islamabad by an upper-middle class family, Khalil says he had “no real job” before he migrated abroad. “It was around 1979 and I worked in the floor covering or carpet business,” he reminisces. “I had no intention of publishing or doing any newspaper business.” His trajectory from an odd-job immigrant to the founder, editor and publisher of The Urdu Times has been remarkable for someone without any journalism background or publishing infrastructure.

At the time, Indian immigrants in New York had started publishing newspapers centred on South Asian news, which usually had a negative angling towards Pakistan. “Now I am a liberal person, but misrepresenting my homeland and community is not justified,” he says. He also recalls that during the 1980s there was a vacuum in the market for Pakistan-centric news. Both reasons spurred him to start his own newspaper, The Eastern Times, an English language weekly, as there was no typesetting or calligraphy for Urdu at the time. The paper eventually folded, but Khalil had set the wheels in motion. He had single-handedly “self-taught and self-made” a publishing business, in an environment where he had to rely on borrowed teleprinters from the Pakistani consulate.

The New York newsroom for The Urdu Times where news is procured from various sources and reworked for a Pakistani American audience. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

This venture eventually paved way for The Urdu Times in 1991, at a time when there was a dearth of Urdu journalism. “I moved shop from Manhattan to Jamaica, Queens, and stopped carrying bags containing sheets and rolls of faxed news from the Pakistani consulate,” he explains. Instead he started toying with existing technology to get him his news. With his number 286 basic computer, he managed to churn out stories for the tabloid-sized Urdu publication from Pakistani newspapers and utilised the then newly developed 12-point font Urdu typecast and stencils for headlines. Every week he booked a call to Lahore, where he would have had someone record five or six Urdu stories emerging from the local media and phone record the clips. He would then transcribe those stories, develop new angles and re-write them. “My subject matter was anything to do with Pakistan, South Asia and Muslims,” he says. He would then distribute these papers in a bookstore that existed by Grand Central (now by the MetLife building) in Manhattan. With a staff of 18, consisting of four typists, he tried to sell the paper, but with scant luck. With limited Urdu newspaper readers in the community, who didn’t fully understand the business or anything about local advertising, Khalil had no other choice but to make his paper available for free so he could improve readership. 

Khalilur Rehman and his wife Anjum Khalil, the duo behind The Urdu Times, the most widely read Urdu weekly newspaper in North America.  PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

The Big (B)ad world

For Khalil, combining passion with technological advances was one thing, but using his entrepreneurial judgment to sustain the business was the need of the hour. Post-1995, the newspaper market expanded due to the rising number of Pakistani immigrants to the United States. Using the budding community as a resource, Khalil started procuring local advertisements ranging from halal meat in ethnic grocery stores, local South Asian travel agencies advertising for Haj, to Islamic community centre ads. He slowly progressed onto corporate ads, which consisted of Western Union money transferring, long-distance phone cards and cell phone ads. The engineers and doctors in the Pakistani community were prospering, and so local business advertisements also proved to be lucrative.

Khalil’s team in Lahore sends him a selection of daily news which he then uses his editorial judgement to pick, angle and handwrite into an article. The articles are then scanned and sent back to Lahore where they are typed out and resent to Khalil. The final assembled paper is then sent to a printer in Long Island City.  PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER

“Corporate ads brought in some decent revenue and our position as the only Urdu language paper appealed to the community,” he says. For the non-computer savvy older immigrant community that was used to reading Urdu papers, The Urdu Times served as a dual resource — for them to get news in their mother tongue from Pakistan along with staying updated with the local happenings and deals in New York.

Old editions of the newspaper can be found at their office in the form of hard copies. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

Muhammed Farooqi was appointed editor of The Urdu Times, just when Khalil moved to Jamaica, Queens. But soon, he too realised that it was important for the community to get a taste of the day-to-day issues and incorporate hyper local elements. To fill that gap, he started The Pakistan Post, which focused on in-depth, long form community-centric news. “For the older generation, reading a newspaper is a basic, it is a necessity,” he explains.

While Farooqi and Khalil have long since consolidated and set a standard advertising rate so that both papers can mutually coexist, other small-time Urdu papers have sprung up to contend within the South Asian community, which has caused a divide in advertising revenue. Both, The Pakistan Post and The Urdu Times can be found stacked side by side atop racks at several of the city’s community newspaper distribution spots, but often smaller Pakistani weeklies will be strategically moved to the top. Popular spots of distribution are outside mosques, community centres, South Asian grocery stores and ethnic neighbourhoods like Jackson Heights, Murray Hill and even outside the Empire State building.

Overseas sources, local angle

Both papers have moved their major operations to offices in Lahore. This outsourcing has been strategically done in keeping with the rising costs and lowering readership. “Do you know that one man’s payroll here covers the cost of employing four people in Pakistan,” explains Khalil. He says he made the conscious decision of hiring a 10-man team in Lahore, simply because it was more economical to cover staff as well as printing and production expenses.

Free copies of The Pakistan Post and The Urdu Times can be found on various street corners in Queens and Manhattan. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

His crew in Lahore usually sends him a selection of daily news, which he then uses his editorial judgment to pick, angle and handwrite into an article. “I pay heed to the American point of view and what my community here would want to hear,” he says. The articles are then scanned and sent to Lahore where they are typed out, sent back and reworked before Khalil and his wife send in the final pages for layout and graphics back to Lahore. The assembled product is then given to Linco Printers based in Long Island City. This process is repeated weekly and both of them even work through the weekend. “I don’t even know what a Sunday is anymore,” his wife admits.

Farooqi follows a similar pattern of PDF, e-faxing and proof reading. “I am the biggest labourer in my office,” he jokes.

The Urdu Times also has its share of regular columnists and contributors in every city where it is distributed. Professors, students, community leaders and even one-off writers vie to send in a piece. “Look, our contributors do this purely out of passion, we hardly pay them more than 0 a month, so there are minimal op-eds or original content,” says Khalil. He mentions an older gentleman in New York who provides a nazam (poem) on current affairs every week.

Imran, a Pakistani American, skims through the classified section of The Urdu Times. The paper enjoys a large readership in the New York desi community. PHOTOS: PURVI THACKER 

The newspaper’s burgeoning readership across cities such as New York, Washington DC, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto, Bradford, Montreal, Manchester and Birmingham is a testimony to its outreach and influence. While the paper’s Toronto and London office have a staff of 10 each, most of the American office branches don’t have more than a team of two. “Our Canada and UK issues are flourishing,” he says. Hence, there are more pages in their issues as compared to New York. Khalil is blatant about the fact that “ads are the master” for a market like New York where circulation is estimated to be around 15,000 copies weekly. Sometimes if there are more classifieds (featuring property and rent ads or marriage ads), the pages can even go up to 16 or 17. Canada, on the other hand usually has an issue of 25 pages as the city pages featuring community-centric events and news are far more popular than the international news items.

All 14 editions of The Urdu Times are scanned and posted online as PDF versions. While the front page lead story for each issue is the same, because it is usually an international news item, a marked difference when comparing issues online are the changes in advertisements on the cover page and minor headline alterations, which cater to the local audience in each country. The masthead also remains uniform, with changes to the flag, depending on the country of issue.

A digital future

To keep up with the pressures of a rapidly evolving news market, Khalil has started a website that “puts all the news under one head”. He admits that it has become more about survival in such a struggling market and feels that the other 10 to 12 Urdu language papers are also ailing under the staggering pressure of digital and online world of news. “My wife is my biggest anchor and it is only two of us here in New York who are sailing this ship,” he says. His long-term vision is to develop a site with daily news updates or “pure news” and then devise various regional and hyper local verticals. “I want it to be like BBC Urdu and VICE.”

Farooqi concurs with the demand for online news, but feels that language-oriented newspapers have a bigger chance of surviving in a declining print market vis-a-vis English papers, which he feel are “already finished.”

Khalil has even incorporated the naskh script from the existing nastaliq script in an attempt to keep up with the recent changes made to the Urdu script and make it more searchable for mobile devices and the web. The nastaliq script is more cursive and ornate, and is still used in The Urdu Times, whereas the naskh script is more angular and straight. “My print reader is confused with this change, but it’s something they have to get used to. Anyways I am only giving myself another 10 to 15 years in this business,” he says.

The fax machine starts beeping and Khalil calls for his marketing manager. “Right now, this man is the most important part of my business,” he playfully adds as he archives yet another old issue in a back room where years of history lies stringed together in yellowing pages.

Purvi Thacker is a graduate from the Columbia Journalism School and currently works as a freelance journalist in New York. She tweets @purvi21. 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 20th, 2014.

Unexplained absence: Urdu daily’s reporter goes missing

PESHAWAR: A reporter of a Urdu daily newspaper has been missing from the city since Friday night.

Reporter Safia Naz’s father told the police that she left for work on Friday morning but when he called her office at night to enquire about her whereabouts he was told she was on leave.

“We have starting looking for her,” said an official of the Yakatot police station while talking to The Express Tribune. “She was working as a reporter for Urdu daily Ghazi for the past year after completing her BA,” he said.

The official added the newspaper is not very well known and its offices are located in Sikandarpura. “Her father told us she left for the office in the morning as per her routine and told him to get her a rickshaw but it turns out she had taken a leave from the office,” he said.

Musharraf Farooqi revives Urdu literature among children

LAHORE: After writing critically acclaimed novels, including the poignant Between Clay and Dust (2012), Pakistani-Canadian author Musharraf Ali Farooqi is embarking upon a new project that aims at popularising Urdu literature amongst children.

Under his children’s publishing house, Kitab, which he established in 2012, Farooqi launched a catalogue in December 2013 with eight books, five of which are in Urdu and three in English. The books comprise his book Tik-Tik, The Master of Time and those by renowned authors Sufi Tabassum, Ghulam Abbas and Mehdi Azar Yazdi.

“I am a writer and don’t really have an avenue to make my books available to kids in Pakistan. They have been published elsewhere, such as in India and overseas,” says Farooqi. “The problem is in Pakistan; we do not have publishing as an industry.”

Part of the initiative has been organising a tour during which Farooqi visited schools and other venues to encourage and engage people in the art of storytelling.

“We started to promote our books in Karachi through storytelling sessions in schools, which became so popular that we had to expand them to local bookshops. We have also held two workshops where we taught adults the art of telling children stories.”

He says the initiative was experimental at first and has grown due to the demand for such interactions. “There is a huge demand for children’s literature. We do not have a sense of continuity of what has been available to us over the years, such as the history of Urdu and South Asia. Recorded history dates back to the time of Aurangzeb; it was meant to educate kids,” says Farooqi.

Kitab is looking to expand by housing 40 different books, including those written by new writers and local adaptations, none of which will be Farooqi’s own works.

They will also be publishing Urdu books as well as promoting local authors whose names will be disclosed at a later time.

“There have been project-based initiatives in the past, which would begin, but wouldn’t continue. The idea with this is not only to meet kids and tell them a story, but to encourage children to read,” says Saira Ali, who is working with Farooqi on the project.

She says that the project has a two-pronged goal: to have schools incorporate literature into their curriculum and libraries, and develop a retail culture where kids will be able to buy books of their own liking.

“We interact with children and tell them stories in Urdu. The response has been amazing. Unfortunately, we have stigmatised Urdu language to a point that if you only converse in Urdu, it is perceived as ‘uncool’,” say Ali.

“But when they see that here is an author (Farooqi), who writes in English and has no problem when speaking in Urdu, it creates a positive impact,” Ali adds. 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2014.

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In awe of words: Rekindling the magic of storytelling in Urdu


In the spirit of reviving the forgotten art of storytelling, an evening of Urdu poetry and prose titled “Baithak” enchanted literature buffs on Thursday.

The guest speaker at the gathering, held at Kuch Khaas, was Tajdar Zaidi of Theatre Wallay, who elaborated on the fond association people hold with Urdu literature, since it is engrained in our history and culture.

Reading from some printouts and hardbound copies, he focused mostly on prose writing, relating a letter, a column, a dialogue and a short story, while also offering some verses.

His first pick was a ghazal by Bahadur Shah Zaffar which portrays a romantic recollection of the past days of glory, while the poet speaks of his impending death to his beloved. The lyrical flow and a principled stand come together to make the piece engaging and bittersweet.

Next up was a letter from the Pakistan Tea House illustrating the candid correspondence between a woman and her fiancé, discussing the pitfalls of modern life, the romance of pre-marital days and the struggles of a long-distance relationship.

A Zameer Jafri dialogue titled “Rooh-e-Iqbal se Muqalma” was also read out loud. Relating the present day social situation with Allama Iqbal’s idealistic poetry, the piece is a hilarious read. Listening intently, the small, albeit enthused, audience responded with well-syncronised grins.

Before reading Wasatullah Khan’s column “Amma ka dil aisa hee tha” from BBC, Zaidi shared that the piece on motherhood was close to his heart, by virtue of its emotional and provocative nature. “It is more than just a column,” he added.

In this piece, Khan recalls being brought up in a modest household where his family of seven could ill-afford to have proper meals, leaving morsels for the mother. The naïve woman, as the writer illustrates, was a tailor, a housekeeper and a beacon of love and light all in one. Told from a child’s perspective, the piece tugged at the heart in narrating the unconditional and undemanding support of a woman who put up with circumstance without a sigh.

His rendition of Noon Meem Rashed’s “Hassan Koozagar” garnered applause, rekindling love for the soulful poetry. Another poem by Majeed Amjad “Lahore Mein” reeked of nostalgia for a chance meeting with the beloved at the post office.

The final poems by Qatil Shifai, “Mutharma” and “Gayee ruton ka jhonka”, reflected the loss and longing experienced in love etched in the lover’s heart.

“Noom Meem Rashed was a surprise for me because I’m in love with his poetry,” said Huma, an audience member and fiction writer. “There was a whole tradition of storytelling but you can’t find it anywhere, which is very unfortunate. Still, it is encouraging to see someone take the initiative,” she added.

The event was organised by Theatre Wallay in collaboration with Kuch Khaas.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.

Did you know? : My Name is Red translated into Urdu

Nine snowy days in Istanbul, 1591. This is the setting of Orhan Pamuk’s widely red novel, Benim Adım Kırmızı. The story revolves around Eküre, a beautiful woman with two sons, who decides to look for a new husband four years after her own never returns from war. Enter three potential suitors — and chaos. Mystery, love, murder and the supernatural, these are the elements which, when combined, make up an enigmatic plot which haunts the reader long after the book has been put down.

Written by Pamuk in 1998, the book was translated into English in 2001 and is now commonly known as My Name is Red. This book not only helped establish Pamuk’s international reputation, but also contributed towards the Nobel Prize in Literature the author received in 2006.

Now, Jamhoori Publications has announced that the book has been translated into Urdu, under the new title Surkh Mera Naam. The foreword to this translation has been written by none other than renowned novelist Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and it is now available for purchase online at www.jumhooripublications.com for a price of Rs780.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.

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Love the language: Conference on Urdu kicks off


The three-day International Conference on Urdu and the 21st Century opened at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur on Monday.

More than 50 delegates from India, Bangladesh, Egypt, UK, USA, Qatar, Turkey, Australia, Sweden and Denmark are participating in the mega event. Islamia University of Bahawalpur Vice Chancellor Muhammad Mukhtar, Federal Urdu University Vice Chancellor Zafar Iqbal, and novelist Intezar Hussain spoke at the conference.

Mukhtar welcomed the delegates and said that the IUB was honoured to play host to intellectuals from around the world.

Iqbal said he was happy that the conference had been dedicated to Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq. He said he added that the conference spoke of the IUB’s commitment to preserving and promoting Urdu literature.

Hussain said it was heartening to note that the IUB had made the effort to highlight Urdu’s importance. He said the university was known wherever Urdu was spoken. He paid rich tributes to the nawabs of the formerly princely state of Bahawalpur for patronising Urdu.

Professor Dr Najib Jamal spoke on the aims and objectives of the moot and thanked the vice chancellor for his support in organising the International Urdu Conference. Academics and scholars attended the event.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2014.

Medium of instruction: English to Urdu and back


The government’s decision to revert to Urdu as the medium of instruction in public schools up till Grade 3 this year has been met with reservations by some teachers who insist that it should apply up till Grade 5 at least.

In February this year, the provincial government announced that it would revert its decision [taken in March 2009] to implement English as the medium of instruction in public schools from Grade 1. Amidst pressure by teachers, the Punjab government announced that after reviewing the decision and learning outcomes, it has decided to switch the medium of instruction back to Urdu for teaching till Grade 3.

Teachers in the Punjab have welcomed this decision, but with reservations. They have claimed that specifying English as the medium of instruction from Grade 4 onwards would have a “detrimental effect” on children and their learning.

The Punjab Teachers’ Union says the government must revise its decision to make Urdu the medium of instruction only till Grade 3.

PTU Secretary General Rana Liaquat Ali says the government should make Urdu the medium of instruction till Grade 5, and later give students an option to choose between Urdu and English as the medium of instruction. “Children in primary schools are more receptive to learning in their own language,” says Ali.

He says that teachers not only teach in Urdu in classrooms but also in other regional languages. “Whichever language helps a child learn better is most productive for the teacher,” he says. “But a flexible education system and curriculum books that allow children and teachers to work as they feel that is what the government should strive for.”

Razia Aslam, a public primary school teacher of grades 3 and 5, says since most of the students in public schools are from low income households, classrooms should offer a learning environment they can relate to. “The schools should focus on improving the teaching of English as a language or subject – this will help children learn the language and understand concepts of other subjects in their native languages,” she said.

A 2013 report by the Society for the Advancement of Higher Education (SAHE) and the Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) titled Policy and practice: teaching and learning in English in Punjab schools indicates that while 70 per cent of the teachers found it hard to teach Grade 1 mathematics and science in English, a similar percentage of parents approved of English being the medium of instruction from Grade 1. The survey conducted in six districts had concluded that English should be taught as a subject rather than the medium of instruction at least till Grade 5.

The Education Department says there will not be another review of the matter in the near future. Minister for Education Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan told The Express Tribune that the government will stick to its decision in keeping Urdu as the medium of instruction till Grade 3. He said the department had made the decision in light of several consultations with experts. “We have to understand that there is a right time to introduce English to our children…after that, they might be able to grasp a new language quickly,” he said.

Khan expressed concern over the teachers’ demand to make Urdu the medium of instruction till Grade 5…“Next they’ll demand it be extended even further”. The counter argument here is that English must be introduced as the medium of instruction before the children grow too old, he said there was no end to this debate.

A report by the British Council, the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) and the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi titled Can English Medium Education Work in Pakistan? Lessons from the Punjab said that of the 2, 000 teachers it surveyed, 56 per cent of the public primary and middle school teachers had “no measurable standard of functional language ability”.

ITA Director Baela Raza Jamil says the government is still “stuck in the colonial times”. “Why can’t Punjabi or other regional languages be made part of the classroom?” she asks. Jamil says that while Urdu can be made the dominant language in classrooms, English and Punjabi can be secondary languages in all primary schools across the province.

“We are a multilingual people and our children are accustomed to it…we need to have an education system that incorporates local languages while gradually transitioning to a foreign language at higher levels.” Jamil stresses that English should be taught as a subject at the primary level, but adds that any decision relating to the medium of instruction should contribute to positive learning outcomes. “If it doesn’t contribute to the learning of children, then regardless of the medium of instruction, it is going to be utterly useless in the end.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.

Inventing revolution: The man who gave Urdu its wings


Ahmed Mirza Jamil changed the way all Urdu newspapers and books would be published anywhere in the world; and he did it back in 1981 with his Noori Nastaliq script that gave the Midas touch to desktop publishing.

The present-day Urdu publishing owes its elegant contours to the calligraphic skills of this great wizard of calligraphy.

Before being used in the composing software, InPage, the Noori Nastaliq was created as a digital typeface (font) in 1981 when master-calligrapher Ahmed Mirza Jamil and Monotype Imaging (then called Monotype Corp) collaborated on a joint venture.

Earlier, Urdu newspapers, books and magazines needed manual calligraphers, who were replaced by computer machines in Pakistan, India, UK and other countries.

The government of Pakistan recognised Ahmad Mirza Jamil’s singular achievement in 1982 by designating Noori Nastaliq as an ‘Invention of National Importance’ and awarded him with the medal of distinction, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz.

In recognition of his achievement, the University of Karachi also awarded him the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa.

Narrating the history of his achievement in his book, ‘Revolution in Urdu Composing’, he wrote: “In future, Urdu authors will be able to compose their books like the authors of the languages of Roman script. Now, the day a manuscript is ready is the day the publication is ready for printing. There is no waiting for calligraphers to give their time grudgingly, no apprehension of mistakes creeping in, nor any complaints about the calligraphers or operators not being familiar with the language.

“Soon our future generations will be asking incredulously whether it was really true that there was a time when newspapers were painstakingly manually calligraphed all through the night to be printed on high speed machines in the morning. Were we really so primitive that our national language had to limp along holding on to the crutches of the calligraphers that made the completion of books an exercise ranging from months to years depending upon their volume.”

Noted Urdu litterateur Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi paid tribute to Ahmed Mirza Jamil during his lifetime.

He said, “The revolution brought about by Noori Nastaliq in the field of Urdu publishing sends out many positive signals. It has at last settled the long-standing dispute about Urdu typewriter’s keys that had raged from the time Pakistan was born. The future generations will surely be indebted to him for this revolution.

Dr Ahmed Mirza Jamil passed away unsung on February 17, 2014. May his soul be blessed.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2014.