Single National Curriculum: Review of Model Textbooks – Part-II

Arguments over the model textbooks accompanying the Single National Curriculum (SNC) have generated more heat than light.

[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

The introduction to numbers is fairly standard, i.e., starting from 1 and progressing in order to 50. However, the introduction to each number is unusual. The pedagogical choice is to introduce each number with a poem which, it is important to recall, is in English.

Take the page for the number 1 (p. 36), as an example. It has a big picture of a cat in the middle. At the top right is printed the number 1 with a sentence below it — “Cat is a pet animal.” On the left is the introductory poem: “Once there was a furry cat / Had blue eyes and was a bit fat / Drank milk and sat on the mat / Oh! How she loved chasing a rat.” On the bottom right is the take-away message of the lesson in a balloon — “Tell the name of your favorite toy.” This take-away message has nothing to do with the number 1.

The teacher’s instructions direct him/her to ask the children “What is the color of the cat” and “What pet animal do you have.” It is quite an interdisciplinary introduction but without any conceptual discussion of the number and why it has the name it has. The two following pages (pp. 37-38) are devoted to tracing and coloring the number.

This pattern is repeated for the numbers 2 to 10 (pp. 39-86). The only items of interest in these are the messages in the introductory poems and the instructions for teachers. The poem for the number 3 goes as follows: “Horse, horse, horse, what do you say? / Three people riding to go away / Fast, fast, fast they all ran / Leaving behind all the clan.” It was hard for me to picture how people riding horses could run — they could trot or canter or gallop but running while on the back of a horse would be quite a feat. But, more importantly, the text violates a cardinal rule of good pedagogy — not to include unfamiliar words. I can imagine children grappling with ‘clan’ and the teacher explaining how it differs from family or tribe.

The poem for the number 4 takes this problem to a much higher level: “Four friends who are very tall / Together they achieve it all / Day and night they worked hard / Success of Pakistan is their yard.” I tried very hard to figure out the conclusion but success was not my yard. The teacher’s instructions only compound the disconnect: “Show the children a video about provinces of the (sic) Pakistan and provide information related to that” and “Encourage patriotism in children. Ask them to sing Pakistan’s national anthem.” I could not figure out what in the number 4 triggered these otherwise random associations.

And so it continues all the way to 10. The poem for 5 begins as follows “Five friends had a plan / Playing together as a clan” — ‘clan’ seems to be a clear favorite. The number 6 is introduced with the following ditty: “Six kids decided to study hard / They played games in their backyard / When they needed a book / Library was the place to look.” This would make the children in all the schools without backyards and libraries feel quite deprived. The teacher’s instruction follows: “Take the children for a library visit and read them a story book.”

The primer gets to the number 8 with the following: “Eight yummy mangoes, eight yummy mangoes / Oh my Dad! Help us gather / Eight yummy mangoes, eight yummy mangoes / wash before eating together.” Teacher’s instruction: “Arrange mango party in the classroom. Encourage the children to eat fruit and tell them the health benefits of fruit. Ask the children to wash fruit before eating. Tell them about hot and cold weather. Let the children conduct an experiment in the classroom to experience hot, cold and normal temperature…” All these are great ideas for the recreation period but the connection to the number 8 in a Math primer is tenuous at best.

Number 9: “Nine people are on the boat / The boatman will make it float / They will row it far away / Everyone will say, hurray!” Teacher’s instructions: “Let the children practice digit “9” by using an abacus.” Has every school been issued an abacus? If so, that is to be commended.

Number 10. “Nadia and Sana saved a lot / Ten rupees pocket money in the pot / Helping others they don’t mind / Everyone knew they were kind.” The takeaway question: “Why is saving money important?”

In order to break the monotony in the journey from 1 to 10, there is on page 57 an exercise to “Match the animals with their correct body halves.” Teacher’s instructions: “Show any cartoon/animal video to the children or take them to the zoo. Ask the children to critically analyze the given pictures to match the animals with their correct body halves” and “Help the children to make different animal sounds.”

The end of the progression from 1 to 10 is marked by another poem (p. 90):

“One, two, one two / Birds are in a queue / Three four, three, four / They are many more / Five, six, five six / They know lot of tricks / Seven, eight, seven, eight / They are flying straight / Nine, ten, nine, ten / Let’s count them.” Instruction: “Sing the poem aloud with the children.”

There are no poems for the numbers 11 to 20 (pp 93-105) — perhaps the rhyming became too onerous. Each number has a page to itself with no explanation, just tracing and writing exercises. From 21 to 50 (pp 109-129), there are three numbers to a page except for 30, 40, and 50 which have a page to themselves. Each of these numbers is explained by nothing more than a box containing the numerical equivalent of images — 27 clocks or 31 butterflies or 45 fishes, etc. They all have to be traced and written 18 times each.

The primer ends with an introduction to shapes (p. 124), a few pages each for introducing addition (pp. 134-136) and subtraction (pp. 137-139), a couple of pages on money (pp. 140-141), a page on ordinal numbers (p. 146), a page on word problems (p. 151), and a page showing the January calendar on which the year is not mentioned (p. 153).

This gets the primer to its end. The inside back cover has the number of the Child Protection Bureau Helpline (1121) and the following messages: “Cleanliness of our locality is our collective responsibility” and “Early to bed and early to rise is a good habit.” The back cover has the national anthem in Urdu.

This is a content-heavy and concept-light, tedious and joyless Mathematics primer with an extraordinarily mechanical introduction to numbers with no attempt at explaining any underlying logic to the number scheme. But the most inexcusable treatment is reserved for the zero, the most important and pivotal number in the number scheme. This deserves an article by itself and I will address it in the next part of this review.

Dr. Anjum Altaf

Dr. Anjum Altaf is the former Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS. He is the author of Plain Truths About Early Childhood Education: Letters to Parents (available as an e-book from Little Books) and of Critical Reflections on the Single National Curriculum and the Medium of Instruction (forthcoming).

Click here for Part-I 


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