Fluency in the English language is a crucial factor in social mobility and plays a seminal role as an economic and educational asset. The challenges amid the diverse cultures that surround us include communication and language barriers, among others. It is clearly evident that English is seen as a passport to the global world in which we live today.
Mawlana Hazar Imam in his remarks at the White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy in 2000 said, “Many of the world's most important cultures cannot communicate in the English language. They are not able to communicate, their resources are constrained in their language; and, in fact, that has become worse due to the policies that were in place at the time of decolonisation, to treat language as a building block for nationhood.
I think there are significant cultures around the world that would need to be assisted to convey to the world their cultures in English. That doesn't mean giving up the national language. It means exposing to global understanding their own culture. It will improve the global understanding, it will enhance their own respect for their own culture.”
Zahra Sher Muhammad and Munir Tharwani, academic leads of the ELEP noted “With Mawlana Hazar Imam's increased emphasis on the English language and his wish for the Jamat to become global citizens, it has become imperative that the Aga Khan Education Board for Pakistan (AKEB, P) scales up the English language programme that was earlier being run by the Aga Khan Education Services for Pakistan. Since its inception in 2015, AKEB, P has strived to train potential Jamati members in teaching English as a second language. Today, ELEP has trained Educators from across Pakistan, ensuring that the classes for English language learning are held in all regions.”
Classrooms are usually attended by 20 to 30 students under the supervision of an educator. The students belong to diverse backgrounds and walks of life - children in their formative years, professionals seeking better job opportunities, grandparents who want to communicate with their grandchildren in English, and individuals who simply want a better command of the language.
Farah Zahiruddin, a TKN educator hailing from Chitral, said, “My classes are student-centred. I want my students to practice their English fluency skills among their peers. They need to have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, to get encouragement from us and to be actively engaged in the learning process.” Some of the strategies she employs include classroom discussions, presentations, visual aids and dramatics. She adds “Witnessing your students’ progress is an immensely gratifying feeling, but working with frugality in a setting with resource constraints often takes its toll on us. There already seems to be a lack of awareness and appreciation for the English language within local members of the Jamat. Lack of access to quality education and the lower social stratum making up most of the local population are additional barriers. Despite this, our team of educators respond to these challenges with smiles on our faces”.
With more Jamati members enrolling in these classes, general awareness about the English language and its importance is also improving. A father who eagerly sends his daughter to the ELEP classes remarks, “English is the official language of over 50 countries today. It can lead individuals to more diverse career opportunities and help them pursue their education from better institutions. It provides them with an open door to communicate as global citizens. Therefore, I believe that programmes like the ELEP are a need of the hour.”
With the advent of COVID-19, ELEP in-person classes have currently been put on hiatus. Imtiaz Ali, another TKN educator from Lower Chitral, said, “The safety and health of our students are our top priority. While students and educators living in urban areas may have access to the ELEP classes online, it is difficult for us to replicate a similar model in the mountains of Northern Pakistan. We hope once schools completely open up, we can eventually adjust to the new normal.” Nevertheless, AKEB, P continues to monitor the progress of the ELEP in these areas and simultaneously devise projects more suitable for the nearby areas.
The significant impact of this programme has been possible because of the exemplary dedication and contribution of a large number of TKN volunteers serving across Pakistan. In the coming years, more Jamati members are expected to benefit from the programme and, in return, serve the communities they belong to.