[Introduction to Series: Dr. Anjum Altaf, former Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS, is writing a page-by-page review of the model textbooks (Pre-I to Grade 5) accompanying the recently implemented Single National Curriculum. These detailed reviews intended to involve parents in the education of their children will appear as a series in Sindh Courier. Parents would benefit by having a copy of the primer under discussion in front of them while reading the review.]
SNC Model Textbooks: Pre-I Mathematics Primer
By Dr. Anjum Altaf
Arguments over the model textbooks accompanying the Single National Curriculum (SNC) have generated more heat than light. I have therefore decided to read them page by page to highlight specific issues related to teaching. There are other important aspects of the SNC and the textbooks but I will restrict this review to assessing their merit as tools for teaching.
I begin with the Pre-I Mathematics primer which is to be taught in English to children between the ages of 4 and 5. The specific learning outcomes are not mentioned but I can deduce that the primary objective is to familiarize children with numbers from 1 to 50. Other objectives are to introduce the processes of addition and subtraction and some notions of relationships, e.g., big/small, tall/short, etc. These learning outcomes are quite standard and appropriate.
I will assess the primer against three criteria: First, on the appropriateness of the content and its focus on the subject; Second, as sated in the Guidelines for Teachers, that it should “lay a strong foundational basis for further learning in the time ahead;” and third, against the quote from the Quaid-e-Azam printed inside the front cover — “Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without requisite advance in education, not only shall we be left behind others but may be wiped out altogether.” Since this is a single national curriculum with uniform textbooks, the reader should imagine the teacher-student interaction in different sorts of schools and settings including extreme ones like village schools in Khuzdar or Bajaur districts.
The beginning of the primer is devoted to general introductory material: First Day at School (p. 1); My Belongings (p. 2); How Can We Be Kind to Others? (p. 3); I Take Initiatives (p. 4); My Protection (under which a note tells the teacher to “Reinforce the key message given on the page throughout the year”) (p. 5); and, Equality and Inclusion (p. 7). There is nothing wrong with this material except possibly its place in the Mathematics primer. Nothing about the nature of mathematics connects especially to it. For that reason, it is generally considered more effective to keep such material separate in a form that allows for regular repetition. In some schools, it is part of the morning assembly; in others, of the first class period of the school day. There are only three primers (Maths, English and Urdu) in Pre-I so there should be enough time for other activities some of which could be devoted to these important aspects of social behavior.
Page 6 (Problem Solving) comes across as odd. At the top of the page, below the title, is the statement: “If you have a problem.” Underneath are 9 pictures with suggested responses: Take a nap,” “Pray,” “Talk about happy things,” Take exercise,” “Count till ten,” “Tell an elder about the problem you are facing,” “Read a book,” and “Play with toys.”
The appropriate response to a problem depends upon its nature and we should be teaching children that the first thing to do when faced with a problem is to assess it and then match the appropriate response to it. Suppose, a child is bitten by a snake — the appropriate response cannot be to take a nap or pray or count till ten or play with toys.
The notes for teachers at the bottom of the page are not helpful. The first tells the teacher to give “different examples on how to solve problems like, what we use if it rains, we use an umbrella, wear raincoat, and rubber shoes.” In general, rain is not thought of as a problem — it is an act of nature and often people pray for it because it can be a blessing and vital for agriculture. When rain is actually a problem, there is very little that children can do about it. Finally, how many children in Pakistan use umbrellas, or wear raincoats and rubber shoes? Most children love to splash around in the rain especially in the summers.
The second note for teachers is off-topic and simplistically wishful: “Tell children that we can resolve conflicts by discussing/talking about them and saying sorry to each other.” A child, exposed at home to TV and the bitter arguments of elders, would want but would be afraid to ask why Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan do not resolve their conflicts by discussing/talking about them and saying sorry to each other. This is the kind of moral teaching disconnected from reality that makes teachers lose credibility and turns children into cynics by losing faith in what they are told. It is also out of place in a Mathematics primer for Pre-I.
Pages 8 to 17 take a turn to colors and coloring — Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple, Orange, Black, and Pink. On page 8, children are required to color a fish; the note for the teacher says: “Discuss the benefits of eating fish with the children.” This is very useful information but does it belong in a Math primer? And, would the teacher be aware of the nutritional benefits of eating fish? What would happen if the teacher hates fish? On the page for Yellow (p. 11), the teacher’s note says “Make lemonade with the help of children in the classroom and tell them about the health benefits of lemon.” Do math teachers know about nutrition and what vitamins are contained in a lemon and what they do in the body?
On the page for Green (p. 14), the teacher is asked to “tell the children about different green objects like spinach, trees, plants, coriander, mint, cucumber, olives, etc.” How many have seen an olive in Pakistan? And will the teacher talk about it and coriander and mint in English, Urdu, or the home language? The teacher is then asked to “Let the children explore how to make green color by mixing blue and yellow colors together.” This is a wonderful activity but shouldn’t this be in the recreation class rather than the math one? The second part of this instruction is the following: “Ask the children to wash their hands with soap after this activity for at least 20 seconds.” This is quite appropriate after mixing colors but how much of the math period would be taken up by dozens of children going out to wash their hands? And what will happen in schools without bathrooms or water connections?
Under Orange (p. 16), the teacher’s instruction is to ask the children “to eat oranges and tell them about the health benefits of eating oranges.” Under Black (p. 17) the teacher is instructed to guide the children “to clean their shoes in the classroom. Ask them to keep their shoes and uniform clean.” Again he has to “Ask the children to wash their hands with soap after the activity for 20 seconds.”
Just before the section on colors, there is a page (p. 13) with no title, just a long poem as follows:
“Rainbow, rainbow, on my way, / The red apple is on the tray, / Rainbow, rainbow, is it true? / The sky we see is really blue, / Rainbow, rainbow, is there ink? / The flower in the vase is pink. / Rainbow, rainbow, see the turtle, / The dress I am wearing is purple. / Rainbow, rainbow, the duck is yellow, / I want to play with my classfellow. / Rainbow, rainbow, the ground is clean, / I like the grass that is green. / Rainbow, rainbow, I like to eat, / Oranges that are very sweet. / Rainbow, rainbow, see the bird, / It is black, so I have heard.
Asides from the quality of the poem, of which you can be the judge, doesn’t it belong in the English and not the Math primer? There are no instructions for the teacher to indicate why it is there and what is to be done with it. Are the children supposed to memorize it?
On page 15, there is an exercise titled “Make a Tree” with a tree trunk on which students are expected to add branches and leaves. The instructions for the teacher are as follows: “Tell the children the advantages of planting trees. Help them to do hand painting with green color. Ask the children to wash their hands with soap after this activity.” And, “Conduct tree plantation activity in the school.” All this is commendable but should it be in the Mathematics primer?
Pages 18 to 35 are devoted to concepts of relativeness — big/small, tall/short, thick/thin, etc. as well as to shapes, all of which is fine. Page 27, however, is titled “Find the Way” in which a bird has to be guided along a path into its birdhouse. The teacher’s instructions include the following: “Help the children find their way from the classroom to the school library/computer room or playground.” I presume all the children would leave the class at this point to go to the various destinations but what will happen in schools without any of these facilities?
After these preliminary lessons, on page 36 the primer finally arrives at the introduction to numbers which one presumes is the main learning outcome of the course. I will assess this section in the second part of this review.