The English/Urdu-Medium Divide in Pakistan: Consequences for Learner Identity and Future Life Chances

Fauzia Shamim, Uzma Rashid


Both Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, and English the official language are widely used for spoken and written communication in different contexts in Pakistan. In education; however, a linguistic divide is evident in the two-stream system of education - mainly referred to as Urdu medium and English medium - according to the dominant language of instruction in an institutional setting. Urdu medium schools are normally the state schools providing free education to the poorer communities while the English medium schools are private fee-paying schools for the economically well-off sections of society. This disparity in the educational system has loaded the labels English medium and Urdu medium with a range of meanings that constitute self and other’s perceptions of identity, in addition to signaling linguistic capital, particularly in terms of proficiency in English. This paper reports findings of a small-scale qualitative study undertaken to understand how students at a higher education public-sector institution in Pakistan experience and construct their own and others’ identities in relation to their previous and current educational and social experiences of language learning and use. Insights gained from this study further our understanding of how linguistic inequalities can be sanctioned by the state’s language policy and related practices.

Keywords: English/Urdu as medium of instruction, identity, language policy,
linguistic capital, linguistic inequality, Urdu-medium.


English as medium of instruction; Urdu-medium; linguistic capital; identity; linguistic inequality; language policy

Full Text:



Ahmed, N. (2016). An exploration of Urdu medium students’ perceptions of the English and Urdu languages in Pakistan (M.A ELT dissertation). Institute of Education, University of London, UK.

Ayre, J. (2012). Cultural and linguistic capital, standardized tests and the perpetuation of educational inequities (Doctoral dissertation). University of British Columbia, Canada.

Bashir, S., & Batool, F. (2017). English as medium of instruction in Punjab: The 2009 experiment. Lahore Journal of Policy Studies, 7(1), 13-45.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J. C. (1977) Reproduction in education, society and culture. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Clarke, V., & Braun, V. (2013). Teaching thematic analysis: Overcoming challenges and developing strategies for effective learning. The Psychologist, 26(2), 120-123.

Coleman, H. (2010). Teaching and learning in Pakistan: The role of language in education. Islamabad: British Council.

Simons, G. F. & Charles D. (2018). Ethnologue: Languages of the world. Retrieved from

Fareed, M., Jawed, S., & Awan, S. (2018). Teaching English language at SSC level in private non-elite schools in Pakistan: Practices and problems. Journal of Education and Educational Development, 5(1), 80-95.

Gee, J. P. (2000). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25(1), 99-125.

Government of Pakistan, (2009). National Education Policy. Islamabad: Ministry of Education.

Government of Pakistan, (1973). The constitution of Pakistan. Retrieved from http://www.

Harlech-Jones, B., Baig, M., & Sajid, S. (2005). Private schooling in the northern areas of Pakistan: A decade of rapid expansion. International Journal of Educational Development, 25(5), 557-568.

Jalal, Z. (2004). Language policy in Pakistan. In S. Mansoor (Ed.), Language policy, planning, & practice: A South Asian perspective (pp. 23-26). Karachi. Oxford university Press.

Jafri, I. H., Zai, S. Y., Arain, A. A., & Soomro, K. A. (2013). English background as the predictors for students’ speaking skills in Pakistan. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(20), 30-35.

Khattak, S. G. (2014). A comparative analysis of the elite–English-medium schools, state Urdu-medium schools, and Dini-madaris in Pakistan. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Comparative Studies, 1(1), 92-107.

Mahboob, A. (2002). No English, no future: Language policy in Pakistan. In S. Obeng & B. Hartford (Eds.), Political independence with linguistic servitude: The politics about languages in the developing world (pp. 15–40). New York: NOVA Science.

Manan, S. A., David, M. K., & Dumanig, F. P. (2016). English language teaching in Pakistan: Language policies, delusions and solutions. In English language education policy in Asia (pp. 219-244). New York: Springer

Manan, S. A., Dumanig, F. P., & David, M. K. (2015). The English-medium fever in Pakistan: Analyzing policy, perceptions and practices through additive bi/ multilingual education lens. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 20(6), 736-752.

Manan, S. A., & David, M. K. (2014). Mapping ecology of literacies in educational setting: The case of local mother tongues vis-à-vis Urdu and English languages in Pakistan. Language and Education, 28(3), 203-222.

Mansoor, S. (2005). Language planning in higher education: A case study. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Mustafa, Z. (2015). The tyranny of language in education: The problem and its solution. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Peirce, B. N. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9-31.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2013). Identity, literacy, and the multilingual classroom. The multilingual turn (pp. 113-132). New York: Routledge.

Pavlenko, A. B. (2001). Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts. International Journal of Bilingualism, 5(3), 243-257.

Pavlenko, A., & Norton, B. (2007). Imagined communities, identity, and English language learning. International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 669-680). Boston: Springer.

Rahman, T. (1999). Language, education and culture. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Rahman, T. (2006). Language policy, multilingualism and language vitality in Pakistan. Lesser- Known Languages of South Asia Status and Policies, Case Studies and Applications of Information Technology Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs, 175, 71-84. doi:10.1515/9783110197785.1.73

Rahman, T. (2004). Denizens of alien worlds: A study of education, inequality and polarization in Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Shamim, F. (2008). Trends, issues and challenges in English language education in Pakistan. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 28(3), 235-249.

Shamim, F. (2011). English as the language for development in Pakistan: Issues, challenges and possible solutions (pp. 2-20). In H. Coleman, (Ed.), Dreams and realities: English in development. London: The British Council.

Vaish, V., & Tan, T. K. (2008). Language and social class: Linguistic capital in Singapore. Retrieved from

Warwick, P. & Reimers, F. (2005). Hope or despair? Learning in Pakistan’s primary schools. Westport: Praeger.

Waseem, F., & Asadullah, S. (2013). Linguistic domination and critical language awareness. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, 799-820.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License