English Language; A Tool for development or A Mere Remnant of Colonialism.

By: Amna Munir, PRSSCF Fellow, Islamabad.
The colonial heritage of Pakistan continues to define its policies and practices to this day. The 200-year-long occupancy of this land by the British left multiple scars on the region’s governance, culture and mindsets. An unfortunate, lasting impact of colonization was the “Enslavement of the mind”, a concept presented by the Indian Philosopher Bhattacharya, where the aggrieved fail to acknowledge the evil and accept it as the good. (deSouza, 2017) Multiple western practices and standards have been accepted as the norms in this region despite the departure of the British.

The adoption of English as the official language was in part a hangover from the colonial era. The British had been successful in establishing the fact that English was a building block for the road to success. It was the way forward from this “society of savages” to a more “developed, modern world.” English has a colonial, imperialist legacy with a Eurocentric worldview. (Meighan, 2022) It is the language used by civil and military bureaucracies, all state institutions and most academic institutions in Pakistan. It is popularly accepted that knowledge of English is pertinent to be successful and rightfully so. Most opportunities are tied to English proficiency in a multilingual country like Pakistan.

The basis of development, which happens to be research and education, in Pakistan is carried out in English, a foreign language. The Ministry of Education in Pakistan promotes English medium education and all research documentation in English for easy access worldwide (Ashraf et al., 1970) Children from English medium schools tend to have better opportunities to excel. Using English as the MOI (Mode of Instruction) came with its challenges.

Everyone in Pakistan does not have access to English medium schools at the primary level and shifting to complete English in high school leads to a lag in productivity. A common practice in Pakistan is to use English textbooks that contain Urdu translations, which increases the dependency on Urdu and furthers hinders the learning process. (Ashraf et al., 1970) Where children should be focusing on attaining knowledge about the world and further researching more about it, they are left stranded between two languages, fighting to be proficient in one, neither of which is their mother tongue.

The objective of using English as an MOI is to be at par with the rest of the world. But in the race to achieve Eurocentric indicators of “development”, the price this region had to pay was their culture, traditions and languages. In the process, Pakistan accepted English as the superior MOI that can lead them to success. There happen to be huge disparities in the education sector on mere accounts of the MOI being used.

The education system in Pakistan caters to different socio-economic classes differently. English medium schools with good infrastructure and facilities are limited for the rich whereas the poor can only access the Urdu medium government schools, where teachers enjoy paid leaves for months with no accountability. British left behind this legacy of parallel education systems based on socio-economic classes in the subcontinent.

(Umrani & Bughio, 2015) This pattern of education has continued ever since the British came to the subcontinent. English is for the elite, paving a path for them to reach better opportunities and afford an elite lifestyle. Whereas the poor were systematically excluded from the system by denying them the right to English education, which was a prerequisite for development. English was a means to propagate a capitalist system that favoured the elite at the expense of the poor. Hence British left behind a divide in the education system, that exists to date. Initially English created the divide, but now it has risen to become a status symbol.

Apart from English being the state language of Pakistan, it has been accepted by the masses as a symbol of wealth and wisdom. People of the state have accepted English to be a superior language, a language of development and a way forward whereas they tend to look down upon their own regional languages.

Punjabi is considered “rustic, non-sophisticated and lack of good breeding” (Rahman, 1997). This can be understood better in the light of the idea of “Colonialingualism”, which covertly or overtly carries forward the colonial legacies and imperial practices. (Meighan, 2022) Colonial languages similarly have the tendency to propagate colonial mindsets into people.

It leads to a subconscious change in culture leading to people accepting the superiority of the colonizers. (Shakib, 2011) In the quest for Eurocentric development, Pakistan has accepted Eurocentric tools (e.g. English) which have led to the deterioration of its own culture and national cohesion. Is English truly, the only way forward?

Development is not bound by languages. It is an abstract idea, for which indicators can vary for every nation. A nation can choose its developmental priorities and decide what outcomes it expects. China happens to be an example of a country that developed regardless of having English as its national language.

The development trajectory of China has shocked the West, and Mandarin happens to be its official language. Diplomats take translators on all big platforms. Chinese policies have been greatly inward-looking, which helped China develop fast. An important factor to take into account is, that China has never been colonized hence the post-colonial remnants cannot be seen there.

But it can be used as a model to understand that the English language is not a necessity for development. Pakistan needs to move past its Colonial policies, and utilize local talent by not reducing it to mere learning of languages. Only that shall foster innovation that is needed for development.
References: Ashraf, H., Hakim, L., & Zulfiqar, I. (1970, January 1). English for academic purposes in plurilingual Pakistan. SpringerLink. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-6209-752-0_3

deSouza, P. R. (2017, December 20). The Recolonization of the Indian Mind. Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://journals.openedition.org/rccs/6809

Meighan, P. J. (2022, June 6). Colonialingualism: colonial legacies, imperial mindsets, and inequitable practices in English language education. Taylor & Francis Online: Peer-reviewed journals. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15595692.2022.2082406?cookieSet=1

Rahman, T. (1997, May). The medium of instruction controversy in Pakistan . ResearchGate. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240535804_The_Medium_of_Instruction_Controversy_in_Pakistan

Shakib, M. K. (2011, May 24). The position of language in development of colonization – academic journals. Academicjournals.org. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://academicjournals.org/article/article1379500755_Shakib.pdf

Umrani, T., & Bughio, F. A. (2015, January). Language policies and role of English in Pakistan . ResearchGate. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311219269_Language_policies_and_role_of_English_in_Pakistan


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