Medium of instruction: a historical outlook
THIS is with reference to the letter ‘Medium of instruction’ (Nov 22). No nation has prospered without the effective use of its own language. Arabs preserved all learning of the ancient world in Arabic translation and thus produced great scientists, physicians, historians and others of the Middle Ages. They did not resort to learning the Greek language to become the greatest scholars in various fields.
Perhaps if they had, they would not have left the intellectual impression on Europe and paved the way for modern civilisation.
In the Middle Ages, universities in Muslim lands were the greatest centres of learning and European scholars attended them. This period is remembered as the Dark Ages by Europeans. This era of intellectual ascendancy lasted 800 years from the 5th century to the 13th century.
Then it was the turn of the Europeans — the pupils of Arabs. They did not learn Arabic for their intellectual pursuits but translated all Arabic literature into European languages. This exercise of translation continued in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and the centres were Toledo in Spain and Sicily in Italy.
Through Arabic translation they accessed Greek literature as well. All scientific activities that existed in Europe were confined to assimilating Arabic learning.
For ages the works of Muslim scientists were taught in European universities. Then these Europeans started producing their own textbooks. With the publication of their scientific work they took lead in scientific field.
The result of it all was the 15th century Renaissance. Now they are the world leaders.
Let us take the example of present-day China and Russia. The intellectual base of these nations is their own languages. We have already wasted 65 years in teaching English as a second language in the hope of producing scholars in the field of learning.
Instead we have produced managers with O/A level background, thus creating social stratification. The result is that there are no meaningful scientific activities that characterised the Muslims of the Middle Ages.
I suggest that instruction, as well as textbooks, should be in Urdu with technical terms in English till we translate them. The descriptive part is easy to translate and this is where lies the problem. English should be taught as a subject from Class VI onwards while retaining Urdu as a medium of instruction. Sweden also uses mother tongue for medium of instruction with a second language as a subject.
M. HANIF KHAN