Saturday, 13 July 2013

Attitudes of the youth towards Urdu Language

     My topic of presentation is “Attitudes of the youth towards Urdu Language – A crisis in Pakistan”. On a daily basis, we witness increasingly negative attitudes harboured by the young generation towards Urdu. Most of the people feel proud of being able to converse fluently in English; where Urdu is concerned, people, most of the time, feel ashamed of it and they could be seen employing methods of code switching or mixing – a situation where the bilingual speaker mixes words of one language with another in his or her sentences. However, the youth is not entirely to blame.

     Through my research, I wanted to analyze the causes of replacement of Urdu by English and the extent to which it has impacted our society in general. My aim was to analyze the attitudes of the youth towards our national language or mother tongue. Also, I wanted to investigate the extent of respect that today’s youth gives to Urdu, whether young people make any efforts to preserve the national language and how much do they really enjoy entertainment or infotainment in Urdu Language and give it the importance it is worthy of. Moreover, I wanted to examine whether attitudes varied between students of private and public schools.

     Additionally, language plays a vital role in contributing to the development of a country. Where our country – Pakistan – is concerned, Urdu is a significant means of communication that brings the whole nation together in unison and is highly imperative for us in order to sustain our distinctive national identity. Furthermore, the youth population of this country surpasses the elder and child populations. It would be running this country in the future; therefore, scrutinizing their outlooks towards something as essential is compulsory.  

     I had the generous support of two of my peers who assisted me to perform my research and without whom my goals could not have been successfully accomplished. It took us seven days to plan and finalize the theme, one day for preparing questions, two days for coordinating with interviewees, two days for visiting the site and completing our intended work, two days for compilation and analysis and lastly, one day for finalizing the work. Our intended sites for our project were Government Secondary School in Gizri and the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Clifton.

     Government Secondary School was located near Gizri Mohammaden Ground. A coeducation school, it followed the Matric system of education. I, along with my group members, observed several things as part of our research. First of all, the school building was not huge and the infrastructure was of poor quality. The paint on the structure was worn out and the building seemed to be on the verge of inundation. It was bewildering to see students study in shabby conditions. The school employed ancient methods of teaching, such as using black boards and chalk for teaching students. The school was situated on an empty, muddy plot of land which demanded immediate development for the benefits of students. Also, in a sorry state of affairs, there was a lack of facilities for students such as library, computer lab, internet, air conditioners, proper furniture, playground, and canteen and so on. For students studying in privileged and reputed schools and universities, it would have been an extremely complex task to adjust to such atrocious conditions. Teachers also employed unnecessarily stricter methods of punishment, for instance, hitting students with sticks. Such appalling treatment is totally unfair and lamentable. Students came from working-class backgrounds. Their parents were employed in blue-collar jobs such as driving, tailoring, repairing and plumbing. Sadly, in our country, education is divided on the basis of gender, income and class. People from lower classes could only afford to send their children to public schools because private schools demand very high fees.

     It was noticeable the government spent a very meager portion of the overall budget on education. It was disheartening to witness that the government was negligent of education – the only factor that could lead to the country’s progress and frustrating to observe students receiving substandard education, when it is the young generation today who has to run the country tomorrow. Education has obviously not been the top national priority of the State and it is ignored. If the government does not take immediate precautionary steps to improve the education sector, this country is doomed to failure. Education in these schools has to be standardized according to the modern standards of education. It is only when the syllabi are raised to the standards demanded by today’s professions that this country can truly develop. There is an urgent need to end corruption in all public departments.     

     On the contrary, the Convent of Jesus and Mary was developed just like any other private school. It followed the British system of education; students were well disciplined and groomed and came from respectful family backgrounds. The school building was huge enough to accommodate students ranging from Kindergarten till O’ Level high school. It was neat and clean, well organized and had all the necessary facilities available.  The teachers we came across were considerate and tolerant towards us and benevolently took out time for us to convey their thoughts on whatever they observed in students’ attitudes towards Urdu Language.    

     In order to carry out our research, we handed out questionnaires to sixteen students – eight from private school and eight from public school. We interviewed six teachers altogether – three from each school.  We also happened to interview the Head Mistress of the public school.

     We interviewed teachers because they observe students all the time and are hence, aware of their attitudes. They are knowledgeable, experienced and have a lot to say. They gave us factual information on the subject of discussion. Handing out questionnaires to them would have been insufficient to provide us with the answers that we needed. We gave questionnaires to students because they are more comfortable with writing their opinions rather than having face-to-face conversations with people they are unfamiliar with. Additionally, questionnaires are comparatively simple and straight-forward to analyze and administer data and can be answered quickly by the respondent.  They allow collection of information in a well-organized and standardized way. They are also useful for sensitive topics of which the respondent may feel uncomfortable in speaking to the interviewer. Respondents also have time to think over their answers.  

     The following information comprises of a comparative analysis of our findings of government and private schools. Private school students were mostly multilingual whereas public school students were mostly bilingual. Majority of the students had Urdu Language as their mother tongue in both schools. Majority of the students in private school conversed in English with their parents. On the other hand, students of public school conversed in Urdu with their parents. Students of private school came from privileged backgrounds. Their parents were employed in white-collar jobs such as business, exporting activities, social charity work, law firms, judges, teaching and medicine. Parents of the students of government school were mostly tailors, plumbers, drivers and gardeners etcetera. According to students, it is necessary to learn Urdu because it is our national language. It establishes a unique identity for us and is the ultimate source of our pride and should be promoted. Students of both schools watched Urdu programs. Students of public school listened to Urdu songs and private school students listened to both English and Urdu songs. Public school students read Urdu novels and private school students read English novels. Majority of the students in private school participated in Urdu debate and poetry competitions that were held at their school; public school students did not have any such facilities for extra-curricular activities. Lastly, students said that medium of education in Pakistan should be Urdu because it is our mother tongue and makes communication and comprehension simple. They were also of the view that Urdu should remain in the curriculum.

     The results of our interview with private school teachers are as follows. First of all, they said it is vital to learn Urdu because it is our mother tongue. Mother tongues are significant for countries and avoidance of them would lead to an extinction of languages. They also said that students of junior school had casual attitudes towards Urdu. However, in high school they got serious owing to exam pressure and a willingness to excel. Students usually strived for the positions of prefects, proctors and head girls and for that they had to be outstanding in all subjects, including Urdu as well. They learned Urdu but they did not take any interest. Today’s generation gives more importance to English over Urdu because English is a universal language, we are reluctant to communicate in Urdu and people mostly want to show themselves off as cool. The youth is now more comfortable with conversing in English and this has contributed to a huge generation gap. Teachers further said that learning only Urdu is an obstacle to progress.  This is because today’s professions require adequate fluency in English. If English is avoided, we will not progress.  They felt there should be no Urdu at university level because this is a period when we prepare ourselves for professional lives. English at this crucial stage has to be strong and Urdu has to be good. According to them, both English and Urdu should be learned because everything has to be in equilibrium. Last, but not the least, media plays an important role in influencing people’s attitudes. It should promote entertainment in Urdu to increase our level of interest. The drama Humsafar and the translation of Ishq-e-Memnu into Urdu are good moves towards growth.   

      These are the findings of our interview with the teachers of government school. They said it was extremely important to teach and learn Urdu. It is our mother tongue and a firm base on which the foundations of Pakistan were laid. It is our medium of expression for thoughts, ideas and opinions and can therefore be easily understood. They claimed to be proud of teaching Urdu Language because, in essence, they were establishing a language base which is vital for development. English goes over the head and Urdu penetrates easily into memory. Students also tend to mix Hindi words with Urdu Language, for which Star Plus and Bollywood are at fault. Today’s generation gives no respect to Urdu that it deserves. English is rapidly replacing Urdu and this is because of our English medium of education, the media’s influential role and our adoption of Western customs. Teachers motivate students by teaching them well, encouraging class participation and giving them good Urdu novels. Urdu novels were given to juniors to increase their interest.

     The variation in the responses of teachers of both schools is noticeable. Teachers of private school possessed a progressive mindset. They were not totally against English. They were in favour of it because it is essential for development and everything has to be in a balance. The opinions of public school teachers differed in that they opposed the English medium of education. According to them, English was creating hindrances to the success of Urdu Language. The reality is the country cannot really progress if we do not master the universal language – English and we would lag behind in everything.

     Overall, the goals of our research were successfully accomplished. We were expecting negative attitudes from students but they mostly displayed positive attitudes in terms of respect for Urdu Language. They were willing to learn and promote Urdu. They enjoyed watching Urdu dramas and plays and listening to Urdu songs. They gave more importance to Urdu than we expected. There was not much difference in attitudes of private and government school students.

     Our overall learning consisted of the following: interacting with teachers boosted our confidence. It also increased our awareness of the devastating conditions of the government school. Additionally, our detailed conversation with the Head Mistress provided us with an ample amount of details. Our challenges included locating the government school, rejection by Saint Anthony School and Beaconhouse Defence and Clifton campuses as well. We faced difficulty in getting in touch with the head mistresses of both schools. Also, on our first visit to the government school, teachers were crude towards us. It made us realize how privileged we really were to study in a good school, with good teachers and that we were well-mannered, disciplined and organized.

     There were some interesting things that we found out as part of our research. On the first day of our visit, teachers had a casual attitude in the absence of the head mistress and were mean and unsupportive towards us. We had a detailed conversation with the head mistress who poured all the necessary details of pathetic conditions to us. She told us teachers could not even write applications in Urdu; children could not distinguish between city and country - for instance, when she once asked a girl the name of her country, the girl replied Karachi instead of Pakistan. Repeated complaints were sent to the provincial government but so far no steps were undertaken to alter horrendous situations due to soaring levels of corruption. English subjects were taught in Urdu and new teachers were unaware of everything – they earned for sitting at home. The children of government officials studied abroad; if they studied here, they would be aware of the conditions. Lastly, she said that primary school should be improved, otherwise secondary school would remain stagnant, and hence, the basics had to be good.  

     We have had our strengths, but we were not without weaknesses. We sought to improve our research methodology by selecting a larger sample to provide us with in-depth analysis and a wide range of opinions; going to more schools to conduct research; asking more analytical and qualitative questions and probing more in interviews. However, these do not deny the fact that we have not obtained our required information. Our sample was large enough to give us a reflection of the overall attitudes of students. Therefore, fait accompli – mission has been successfully accomplished! 

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