Kids Corner


A New Challenge For Punjabi:
The Roundtable Open Forum # 148






It did not surprise me when I read earlier this week about Punjabi being axed in the United Kingdom from some of its school curricula.

This is not a local issue or limited to the UK alone. Punjabi language is facing a similar challenge not only globally but right there in the very Land of The Five Rivers too.

However, what actually surprised me was the lack of any discussion about this news item on the wesite. Is it some sort of fait accompli?

Apparently so, as even the Punjabi University, Patiala has turned its back on Punjabi language. 

Mere claims like ‘Punjabi is the third largest spoken language in the UK after English and Polish’ won't solve the problem. It is the laggard mentality that is hitting Punjabi below the belt. We Punjabis seem to have become very good at talking the talk, but do we always walk the walk?

In the aforementioned news item the blame game points towards children not opting for A level exams. Do we have any data about how many students opt for Punjabi at O level and how many are left at A level? Do we know if adults are contributing at all in this instance?  

Yes, adults!

School education and future career planning can put a lot of pressure on children but what happens once you complete a degree and land a job? Did you ever try to hone your Punjabi language skills and ever thought of sitting the A level exam?

Surely you can sit for a Punjabi A level exam as a standalone effort. 

Let me give you an example from New Zealand. Here, substantial funding is available towards "maintaining the mother tongue" initiative. This is for adults and has strings attached. This initiative is not about just attending classes and all the yarning about how rich and widely spoken your language is. For the purpose of audit the funding needs a key performance indicator. And that indicator is a "pass" at Cambridge A level in that language.

So no surprises here; no Punjabi language takers. Of course we adults are afraid of sitting A level Punjabi exam. Once Punjabi is precluded from A level in the UK it would automatically be no longer available globally under the Cambridge system. There is hardly an alternative available anywhere.     

Is A level really that hard? Not really if I go by the local example. Hindi language classes are flourishing. And Hindi at A level is not going to go away anytime soon. There is another reason for it. Many private schools in India have opted for the Cambridge curriculum and examination system. So hundreds of students sit for Hindi A level exams in India.

Is it not possible to have at least five schools in Punjab under the aegis of the Cambridge system? Those sitting Punjabi A level in Punjab would keep the system alive globally. 

But of course this doesn’t mean that Punjabis based in the UK and elsewhere around the globe should shy away from the A level exam. The proposal to have a few schools in Punjab with Cambridge system is just to ensure a lifeline.

Alternatively, the Punjab School Education Board needs to lift its game and provide a globally recognised education framework. With a recognised system will come the facility of cross-credits. But our best effort as a community is some sort of a Sunday Punjabi school where we never really go beyond the "paintee (35)" alphabet in the absence of real performance indicators. 

In the modern mobile world, technology is another area where Punjabi has not even started yet. And they say that only five percent of the current languages of the world are going to survive in the era of technology. But that is a discussion for another day. 

Today I am calling on all the Punjabi adults out there to have another look at your A level and university certificates. If Punjabi is not mentioned anywhere on those certificates let us prepare for and sit A level exams.

This will be our intellectual daswandh


We welcome your thoughts on the above, as well as your personal experience with furthering your Punjabi language skills. And your children’s.

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The author is a strategic planning, policy and security consultant based in Wellington, New Zealand. He has worked for the New Zealand public sector. Before migrating to New Zealand his work experience in India included journalism, university lectureship and security. In 2009 he completed his Master’s in Strategic Studies from the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington.

April 11, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Tony Singh (Canada), April 11, 2015, 12:32 PM.

Thanks for an insightful article, Gurtej Singh ji. It will be an ongoing struggle in the Sikh diaspora communities to formally teach our kids Punjabi due to many demands on our time and our focus on ensuring that our kids master the local language and education (the same issue is faced by all diaspora communities). However, Punjabi culture is thriving in the diaspora due to the popularity of Punjabi music, artists and, now, movies. As much as many of our people dislike these things, they are, in fact, keeping Punjabi culture alive here in the diaspora. It is sad to hear that Punjabi is threatened even in Punjab. While you are much more familiar with this topic than I am, is Punjabi not one of the official languages of Punjab? If so, how do you conclude that Punjabi is threatened in Punjab?

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 11, 2015, 6:58 PM.

Gurtej Singh ji, It is not just incipient but a full blown problem even in Punjab, where parents take pride in speaking Hindi to their children. We now get WhatsApp and SMSs in Hindi. With the surfeit of Biharis tilling for our gentlemen farmers in Punjab we might have to learn Bihari. There is no easy answer in sight.

3: Harcharan Singh (Singapore), April 12, 2015, 3:47 AM.

It's a foregone conclusion to think that Punjabi will thrive anywhere much less in the two Punjabs, its homeland in the past. Good to bring up this article, Gurtej Singh ji. As long as we depend on the Indians in Punjab to handle issues like the growth of the Punjabi language, etc., and that includes Sikhs too, nothing will happen. There are exceptional souls who are doing something for Punjabi. However, India is a place where people are sleeping, dead, stupid, and careless and, worse still, suppressive about any efforts of these sorts. The fact that Punjabi is alive in song and dance, the type which can be vulgar at times, all goes to show that there is no educated rethink, and a well-thought-out reaction to the Punjabi language challenges. This shows the lack of an intelligentsia that is willing to grapple with this problem head on. Never mind the enemies outside, the real enemies are within. I have recently enrolled my daughter who is close to 5 years old in K1 in a Punjabi school. Alas, my doubts and misgivings about Punjabi learning here have been confirmed. I am going to discontinue her studies there because I see her learning in an environment which is sadly English speaking. Even the people at the top of this Punjabi program speak in English amongst themselves even on the day when Punjabi school is on, which is a Saturday. That may be forgivable, but announcements in the school compound are made in English! I have suggested that every week kids learn 5 to 10 Punjabi short sentences and practice them in class and then speak them with their parents when they reach home. The response has been that the kids are too young to do that yet. It seems my girl is only going to learn urrha, airrha, etc. When I asked, is there a syllabus about the conversation aspect of speaking Punjabi, the answer so far is in the negative. True that this Punjabi program is a volunteer program where the main teachers do not get high cash rewards for their teaching, yet this program has been around for many years. Looks like the gossip, complaints and unhappiness about this program may all be true. Disregarding these, I wanted my girl to learn spoken Punjabi in a Punjabi school environment but unfortunately this is not happening. I am sure many parents share my concerns but there doesn't seem to be much dialogue.

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 148 "

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