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

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 English Primer — V

 By Dr. Anjum Altaf

 The letter “Ee” is introduced on pages 28 to 30 with the following verse:

“e” letter, “e” letter, eat, eat, eat / “e” letter, “e” letter, cook some meat

The picture below shows an eagle sitting by its nest on the branch of a tree, two elephants floating amongst the clouds, and a cracked egg lying beside the tree trunk. The accompanying story provides the narrative: “An elephant and her calf lived in a jungle. One day the baby calf saw eagle’s eggs (sic) in the nest. He touched the eggs and one egg broke. Mother eagle got upset. Mother elephant asked baby calf to say sorry to the eagle.”

The real motivation of the story seems to be to teach children the importance of saying ‘sorry’ which is reiterated by the takeaway balloon massage: “Ask children how the eagle felt about the incident” and by the first instruction to the teacher: “Discuss animals, their habitat and their babies. Discuss the moral of the story.” Unless this is intended as a fantasy story, which certainly has its place in teaching children, the likelihood of a baby calf reaching an eagle’s nest is close to zero.

The second instruction for the teacher is a sharp digression as usual: “Ask children to bring boiled egg (sic) for lunch. Make them peel the egg and share the health benefits of it.” The logistics are puzzling — would the eggs appear instantly ready for peeling as soon as the teacher asks the children to bring them for lunch; or is this planned well in advance? I have my doubts that the exercise would ever be carried out in the class but I could be mistaken.

The sight words include email and eel along with envelope, engine, and electricity.

By now the reader would have a good sense of the design of the primer: three pages per letter, the first with text and the last two for tracing and writing. There are some interspersed pages to provide a break from the relentlessness of the pattern. I find the accompanying verses of interest and will list them along with some of the instructions for the teacher that come across as unusual.

Ff: “f” letter, “f” letter, fan, fan, fan / “f” letter, “f” letter, wash a pan

Take away message: “What is the color of our flag?”

There is a break on page 34 with a poem on Festivals:

“Festivals, festivals, on my way / I am happy, Hurrah! Hurrah! / We celebrate the days in hundreds of ways / We eat, we meet, we love to greet / We dress, we play, we have fun all day / Festivals, festivals, on my way / I am happy, Hurrah! Hurrah!”

I couldn’t figure out what “Festivals, festivals, on my way” really meant but perhaps the awkwardness was forced to find a rhyme for ‘day.’

Teacher’s instruction: “Sing festival rhyme with children and discuss significance of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. Encourage children to share what festivals they celebrate, e.g. (Christmas, Diwali, Nauroz, Baisakhi, etc.) Guide children to respect other religions and their festivals.”

Page 35 is a ‘Reinforcement Activity’ (there is one such after every six letters) in which the children are asked to “match the capital letters with small letters and color the pictures.” Note that this is the first mention of capital and small letters. Their explanation is left to the discretion of teacher.

Gg: “g” letter, “g” letter, glue, glue, glue / “g” letter, “g” letter, give me some clue

Take away message: “Tell health benefits of eating grapes.”

Hh: “h” letter, “h” letter, hen, hen, hen / “h” letter, “h” letter, give me a pen

One of the illustrative pictures is of a hat which is the kind Queen Elizabeth would wear to the Epsom Derby. The ‘hut’ also looks nowhere like a hut one would expect to find in Pakistan — it is on stilts with a ladder leading up to the entrance door.

Page 42 is on ‘Handwashing’ with 10 pictures illustrating each step in the process. The accompanying verse elaborates: “Let’s wash away / The germs everyday / I rub my palms / and wash away / From front and back / I rotate my thumbs / I rotate my wrists / and wash away / From front and back / Let’s wash away / The germs every day.”

Ii: “i” letter, “i” letter, eat ice-cream / “i” letter, “i” letter, it’s my dream

Take away message: “I Spy (sic) with my little eye, what other things start with letter “i”.) Teacher’s instruction: “Help children draw a picture of a ladybug and let them color it.” The ladybug is one of the pictures on the page (above the label ‘insect’) along with an igloo, an inkpot, and four ice cubes. The sight words include iguana and iceberg.

Jj: “j letter, “j” letter, jump, jump, jump / “j” letter, “j” letter, hit the stump

Take away message: “Which fresh juice do you like?” Teacher’s instruction: “Discuss health benefits of drinking fresh juice.”  Sight words include jelly and Japan.

Page 49 is about ‘Junk and Healthy Food’ with pictures of an apple, a carton and a glass of milk, a cheese hamburger, a box of what appear to be fries, and two unidentifiable eatables. The children are required to mark them H for healthy and J for junk. The teacher is instructed to “Discuss with children the benefits of eating healthy food and drinking plenty of water. Always chew the food properly while eating, Do not waste food.”

Kk: “k” letter, “k” letter, king, king, king / “k” letter, “k” letter, ring, ring, ring

The illustration has a king on a horse and Kashif and a kitten on the ground. The story reads as follows: “Once upon a time, there lived a king Kamran with his son Kashif. The king was very kind. One day the king visited the kingdom and saw a kitten which was sick. The king took the kitten to the doctor. The kitten was very grateful to the king.”

I am no longer five and maybe these kinds of stories do appeal to children. The take away message is “Do you think people liked the king and why?” The teacher is instructed to “Do role play of the king and the sick person in the class.” There was no sick person in the story but I guess this substitution is necessitated because no one might want to play the role of a sick cat. The sight words include kangaroo.

Ll: “l” letter, “l” letter, leaf, leaf, leaf / “l” letter, “l” letter, eat some beaf (sic)

This is notable only because the rhymers got carried away and matched leaf with beaf.

Page 56 is devoted to a discussion of ‘Living and Non-Living things.’ The teacher is asked to “explain the difference between living and non-living things” and to “Encourage children to identify living and non-living things in the environment.” I couldn’t help thinking of the Ministry of Education’s most recent characterization of the Single National Curriculum as a “living document.”

I will keep the rest of the versification for the next part of this review while mulling over the difference between the living and the dead and the quickest way of transforming the former into the latter.

Note: In 2011/12 USAID gave a grant of $20 million for a local version of Sesame Street, Sim Sim Hamara, dubbed in Urdu. The grant was cancelled because of alleged fraud and corruption after $7 million had been disbursed.

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 Part-IIPart-IIIPart-IVPart-VPart-VIPart-VII, Part-VIII


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