AS SUGGESTED by the Standing Committee on Higher Education in 2002, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has launched 4-year BS degree programme in certain degree colleges. Among the many problems higher education faces in Pakistan, the non-availability of good students from schools and colleges is of utmost concern.
Students entering 4-year degree programme, first; complete 2-year study at higher secondary level in colleges. The syllabus offered at higher secondary level is split between two streams: Pre-engineering group studies Math, English, Urdu, Chemistry, and Physics whereas pre-medical group studies Biology, English, Urdu, Chemistry, and Physics. A sixth subject is also included and is compulsory for both the groups which includes partly Islamic studies and partly the history of how Pakistan got its independence in 1947 (it used to be five subjects until the mid-eighties). Since colleges remain open for six hours a day, number of subjects included in syllabus at higher secondary level is limited to six. This leads to three inherent weaknesses in the current system: firstly, it does not link up smoothly with the newly introduced 4-year degree programme; secondly, it deprives pre-medical group of learning Mathematics and pre-engineering group of learning Biology; thirdly, it restricts students choices of higher study if they choose to go for graduating in any science subject.
In the following paragraphs, I am proposing a modified scheme of study for higher secondary level which will enable all science students not only to study Math and Biology but also provide them more options should they choose to go for higher education in any science subject.
The inclusion or exclusion of a subject in the syllabus has to be justified at all levels of education. Inclusion of Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Math in the syllabus is justified all over the world as these subjects are pillars of science and technology. Besides, they are believed to be tools for sharpening the intellect and their study helps in the development of rational minds. Similarly, English is justified because of its global importance as a medium of instruction in education and as means of communication between people around the globe in all fields including science, technology, environment and business.
How do we justify the teaching of Urdu to students of science at the intermediate level? There are three purposes that Urdu was supposed to be serving since 1947. Firstly, it is our national language and connects people throughout Pakistan. The question is: up to which level of education must we teach Urdu to adequately address this purpose? Would it be not enough to teach Urdu up to secondary level i.e. ten years of schooling? Of course, at this stage students will not have their Urdu language skills sufficiently polished but cant they hone these skills further through experience outside the school? Opportunities for this purpose are plentiful today: at the workplace, by listening to radio, watching TV/movies, reading newspapers, attending social functions, participating in sports, interacting in the market place, using multiple communication technologies etc. This was not the case fifty or sixty years ago when Urdu was included as a compulsory subject at the higher secondary level. In todays Pakistan stressing the need for teaching Urdu beyond secondary level is stretching the lingua franca function of Urdu too far.
The second purpose of teaching Urdu at intermediate level is more academic: required for someone planning to go for majoring in Urdu at the graduate and post-graduate level. Opportunities for this purpose are available in our education system.
The third purpose of studying Urdu is to use the language as a medium of instruction in education. For this purpose it is necessary to translate all the modern knowledge into Urdu. It is painful to note that the institutions who were assigned this task failed to come up with solution to this problem. In the meantime the use and influence of English has expanded so much that even languages such as German and French cannot compete with English. So our expectation of Urdu to compete with English as medium of instructions seems to be unrealistic today.
For all the three reasons mentioned above it can be concluded that the teaching of Urdu to science students at the intermediate level has become a redundant exercise due to enormous changes that have taken place in the world during the past few decades.
It, therefore, makes sense today to seriously re-evaluate the inclusion of Urdu in the syllabus for science students at the intermediate level. I believe that it will be more fruitful to replace Urdu with Biology for pre-engineering students and with Math for pre-medical students. The change I am proposing will provide the much needed opportunity for all students to study English, Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology at the intermediate level and they will graduate from this level better prepared for the 4-year B.S. degree program. Besides, students will have more opportunities for majoring in subjects such as Chemistry, Zoology, Botany, Pharmacy, Biotechnology, Physics, Math, Engineering sciences, Medical sciences, which is not possible in the present system. The study of Urdu does not require higher cognitive capacity on the part of the learner and, as such, can be learnt outside the school during the eighteen hours for which opportunities are available today. Urdu can also be taken as an elective at the B.S level. The advantages of learning as much about science in the context of internationalization of education are too obvious to be ignored. Let us create more space for them in the programs of our colleges.
The writer is the Associate Professor and Dean in the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering at GIKI. He can be reached at: email@example.com