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Medium of Instruction: English or National Languages?

Whenever some foreign and local experts witness the low standard of Afghan universities and lack of standard and new textbooks, they immediately suggest that both instructors and students should use English textbooks and that the medium of instruction should also be English. Nonetheless, these suggestions seem correct and a logical solution to the problem, but this solution might not be applicable.

Due to thirty years of war, all Afghan institutions have been backward in comparison to the global advancement of knowledge. Furthermore, during the 1980s the foreign language taught in schools and universities was not English, but Russian. (I studied Russian from 9th until 12th grade in school.) Similarly, thousands of Afghans and a great number of university professors got their Bachelor’s degree in the former USSR. Still today these lecturers work and teach at most of the Afghan universities.

On the other hand, the instruction of English in schools is not good enough to expect that high school graduates should be able to understand instructions and textbooks in English. Another problem is the level of English sources. The instructors and students may understand English well, but unfortunately they may not be able to comprehend the textbooks written in foreign countries because the educational level of our students is different from that of foreign students. The countries where English is not used in schools do not use English in universities as well. Rather, they use their national languages. However, some higher educational institutions use English for instruction.

Only the countries where English is used in schools adopt English for universities too. In such a case, neither students nor instructors have language problems because they have already learned English at school.

It is crystal clear that access to global knowledge is easier with English, but this can be achieved only by people who have learned English; they can get the benefits of it.

Instruction in English is only possible in some universities of Afghanistan. However, this process needs a mid-term strategy, the execution of this strategy and persistent effort.  In accordance to that strategy, the high school graduates should have full command of English, and all the young lecturers of the universities should be able to give instruction in English. Then the prerequisite of using English for instruction will be fulfilled and the strategy will be implemented. Otherwise, the universities should continue using the national languages for instruction. In addition, textbooks will be prepared quicker, published and given to the students. The instructors should gain global knowledge through English. Then, they should prepare teaching material in national languages in accordance with the educational level of the students.

Dr. Yahya Wardak