Academics have expressed reservations over a recently-passed bill from the Senate for making the teaching of Arabic compulsory

Educators and academics have expressed reservations over a recently-passed bill from the Senate for making the teaching of Arabic compulsory at all the educational institutions, saying that the economic prospects of teaching Arabic are low and adding more languages to the curriculum will further deteriorate the teaching standards of mathematics and science subjects.

A few days earlier, the Senate of Pakistan passed the Compulsory Teaching of Arabic Language Bill 2020, to make Arabic a compulsory subject at all the educational institutions.

Talking to The News, a number of educators said the legislators should try to fill the loopholes of the educational system instead of overburdening the students. They opined that about 74 per cent of students from grade I to X were learning two languages — Urdu and English – as compulsory subjects. Likewise, learning their mother tongue in various regions of the country was also compulsory for the students from grade I to VIII or X.

Although the educators did not deny the importance of learning languages in the early age saying that it boosted the students’ abilities, they maintained that the entire schooling of pupils should not be focussed only on languages as it were sciences that the students needed to learn in order to secure a bright future.

The vice chancellor (VC) of the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University Lyari, Prof Dr Akhtar Baloch, remarked that learning a language could not serve as an alternative for science subjects and mathematics. “The perception that Pakistani labourers who know Arabic send more remittances from the Gulf countries is not true. The Arab countries need skilled and professional labourers. For example, Indian labourers, especially in the UAE, make more money than Pakistanis because they are skilled.”

The VC stated that the students of religious seminaries who acquired their entire education in Arabic had access to good jobs neither in the Gulf region nor in Pakistan.

He, however, added that the newly passed Senate bill might not have any impact as education was a provincial subject after the 18th amendment.

Dr Kamal Haider, former dean of the faculty of education at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast), said students in the country right from the primary level to higher education tried to learn alien languages and the irony was that they were not allowed to get education in their mother tongues.

“Making Arabic a compulsory subject at the schools will further complicate the curriculum-related issues as the students will have less time for understanding maths and sciences,” he said.

He added that the legislators should think about the loopholes in the education system of the country and make efforts for bringing the out-of-school children to the schools. He stated that before approving bills for compulsory education of Arabic, the lawmakers should ensure that those children who have studied Arabic in religious seminaries or schools have good jobs.

He pointed out that the state-run schools had no capacity to teach Arabic and would require trained teachers, funding, subject specialists and curriculum experts that were unavailable.

It may be recalled that on September 18, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled against the Federal Shariat Court’s decision to introduce Arabic as a mandatory subject in the national educational curriculum.

Moreover, only a few students have been choosing Arabic as the subject of higher education probably due to low economic prospects.

This is evident from the fact that in the recent admissions at Fuuast, a varsity under the federal government, only seven students got admissions to its Arabic department.

Meanwhile, the falling standards of science education in the country have come to the fore again after Pakistan ranked 57th among 58 countries that participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2019, the results of which were published recently.

The TIMSS results, which were also published by the Pakistan Alliance for Maths and Science (PAMS), show that average Pakistani students enrolled in grade IV scored 328 out of 1,000 in the mathematics assessment and 290 out of 1,000 in the science assessment.

“The results paint a dismal picture. The challenge is not only to address the significant learning gap but to also reset the expectations from a school-based learning environment,” the PAMS has commented on its web portal.

“If our parliamentarians are actually interested in improving educational outcomes, their focus should be on foundational literacy as a start,” said PAMS Chief Executive Officer Salman Naveed Khan.

Originally published at The News