Teaching Punjabi in the Diaspora – Passion or Compulsion?

How do you teach Punjabi language effectively in a country like New Zealand? Autar Singh, who has been actively involved in development of Punjabi teaching in Malaysia, was invited to share the Malaysian experience at a conference in Auckland

| Auckland, New Zealand  | 23 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Autar Singh (red tie) and some of the participants at the Punjabi language conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 July 2016. = PHOTO
Autar Singh (red tie) and some of the participants at the Punjabi language conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 July 2016. = PHOTO

I was recently invited to a Conference on the Teaching of Punjabi Language in New Zealand – The Way Forward. The invitation was to share the Malaysian experience in teaching Punjabi with local community leaders, academics, and concerned individuals. I share below my observations, thoughts and reflections.

Sikhs in NZ, just like migrants to any other diaspora country, have set up gurdwaras in whichever locality they have settled. Together with the gurdwaras they have set up Punjabi classes. Hence almost all of them have made arrangements to teach Punjabi, albeit without conducive facilities, syllabi, etc.

At the recent Conference, one of the principals of such a school lamented that the gurdwaras are running these schools out of compulsion and not passion. They are afraid to lose their Sanggat to a gurdwara that has a school. The audience applauded his statement.

He seemed to have spoken for those present.

Subsequent sharing by participants revealed that the Punjabi being taught is generally at the elementary level at this point of time. The objective is for students to be able to read Gurbani with the hope that they will remain attached to their mother tongue and hence their way of life, both culturally and religiously.

SEE ALSO: NZ looking at Malaysian Punjabi teaching model 

SEE ALSO: 42 teams in 24th annual Punjabi language carnival

While this objective is laudable, the lack of a comprehensive programme to cater for progression to higher levels of language acquisition means that there are no national standards and no recognition at the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) level. This had been an area of concern among the NZ intelligentsia. The Conference was thus organised to start a community-wide dialogue towards addressing these concerns.

Having looked at various programmes in the diaspora, the NZ organisers found the Malaysian programme to be the most comprehensive and rigourous. That is how I got invited to the Conference.

The Conference was held at the Conference Room, Manukau Campus of the Auckland University of Technology from 3-7pm on Sunday, 3 July 2016. It was organised by Sardar Paguman Singh with the support of all concerned well-wishers of the language. It was attended by about 80pax, including principals, teachers and management of the gurdwara run schools.

Representatives from gurdwaras and Sikh NGOs were also present. The local MP, Sardar Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, also participated in and addressed the Conference.

My presentation took the participants back to early days of gurdwara-based classes to setting up of about 40 SRJK (P) in the heydays to the closing down of the last one in 1999. [SRJK (P) stands for Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan (Punjabi), or primary schools with Punjabi as its main teaching medium].

Some 80 participants took part in a one-day Punjabi language teaching conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 July 2016
Some 80 participants took part in a one-day Punjabi language teaching conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on 3 July 2016

And then I shared our current Malaysian journey that began in 2000 with Khalsa Diwan Malaysia (KDM) setting up the systematic programme of teaching and learning the Punjabi language that is ongoing in our 40-plus Punjabi Education Centres (PECs) nationwide.

Among the issues I shared were:

1. The mandate to manage the teaching of Punjabi language in Malaysia to Khalsa Diwan Malaysia from all NGOs and Gurdwaras.

2. The organisational structure set up to manage this.

3. The support of local Gurdwaras.

4. The unified Malaysian oriented syllabus, scheme if work and lesson plans for all classes from nursery to year 11.

5. The teacher training programme leading to the Diploma in Punjabi Language Teaching conferred by KDM.

6. The locally produced text books for all classes.

7. The use of technology in the classrooms.

8. The Inspectorate and Mentoring Schemes.

9. The standard nationwide exams for all classes twice a year.

10. The workings of the Question Bank.

11. The regular in-house teacher training led by peers and Head Teachers.

12. The record keeping managed by administrative offices.

13. The supporting role of Parent Groups.

14. The extra curricular activities beyond the classroom.

15. The management and administration of a local PEC.

16. The common AWAAZ magazine.

17. Liaison with the Ministry of Education.

18. Financial assistance from Federal and State governments.

19. The conducive learning environment in dedicated, fully equipped and air conditioned classrooms in almost all PECs.

20. Incentives and prizes.

Additionally, I also touched on the supporting roles played by the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) in organising the Punjabi Bhasha Mela for students and teachers to compete in various language activities. I also shared that all teachers are encouraged to take up the distance learning Certificate and Diploma in Gurmat Studies, as well as attend weekend Understanding Gurbani Classes conducted by the Sant Sohan Singh Ji Melaka Memorial Society Malaysia (SSSJMMSM).

The Malaysian Experience in Teaching Punjabi received a standing ovation. I assured the audience that we would be happy to share and assist them in whatever way we can.

My thoughts on the long flight home were on the blessings and bounties that we enjoy here that we take for granted and fail to appreciate, or even acknowledge. The Sikh Diaspora has long been importing our expertise and experience in organising and managing excellent programmes.

I salute all our tireless and dedicated sewadars who serve the Guru passionately and selflessly, without any concern for recognition and applause. Stay blessed always, all of you. Guru raakhaa.

CMSO-Autar3-RavsStudio-3b2Autar Singh, who have been actively involved in the development of Punjabi language in Malaysia, is a former Jathedar of SNSM and the current Secretary General of the Coalition of Malaysian Sikh Organisations (CMSO). He is also chairman of the Punjabi Education Centres (PECs).


NZ looking at Malaysian Punjabi teaching model (Asia Samachar, 6 July 2016)

Bilingual babies get head start in language skills, Singapore study finds (Asia Samachar, 17 May 2016)

Punjabi in Pakistan (Asia Samachar, 15 March 2016)

In Vancouver, Punjabi language becomes a job-getter (Asia Samachar, 29 Jan 2016)

3,000 students begin Punjabi classes at 47 centres in Malaysia (Asia Samachar, 10 Jan 2016)

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Asia. How to reach us: Facebook message or WhatsApp +6017-335-1399. Our email: editor@asiasamachar.com. For obituary announcements, click here]


  1. I m very impressed at how much the articles written are so relevant to d sikh communities around this region.I always enjoy reading n learning about our Sikh history culture n heritage.N even when u r coverings sports on d former greats of hockey football badminton MSSC Games is very exciting.Being an ex national hockey captain of Singapore,I look forward to yr reporting on more of our sikh sporting legends around our region.Well done n much appreciated!

  2. One of the reasons the British were able to rule Malaya for so many years administratively was because of good documentation. This was stated by Tun Dr Mahathir. So the writing of Sardar Autar Singh on our experience is very important. It should be spread far and wide. Of course when we do that we also have to document any shortcomings – don’t expect the Administrators to come up with that – it is going to be the ordinary folks – you and me. Sometimes it is going to be harsh – take it with a pinch of salt and move on. Sometimes it is overdone, hardly intentional, don’t give up the good work you are doing and walk away. As my good friend, Idris Abdul said in 1975 – to avoid criticism is easy – do nothing, say nothing. Idris later got his PhD, many years later became Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs) of University Putra Malaysia and a Dato. No no, I am not trying to drop names (maybe I am).