[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 — II
The cardinal rule for interacting with children is to respect their intelligence and not abuse their innocence.
By Dr. Anjum Altaf
Onward to page 6 of the Pre-I English primer which has a poem titled ‘My Country’:
“Pakistan, Pakistan, love you Pakistan / Your fields are green / Your streams are clean / Your mountains are high / Where eagles fly / Your people are brave / Courageous and kind / helping others, they don’t mind / Your cities are buzzing / your villages are humming / your wells are sweet / where birds tweet / Pakistan, Pakistan, love you Pakistan.”
This kind of cloyingly sweet verse based on patent half-truths is par for the course in the SNC model textbooks. Perhaps they reflect the hope that just wishing would bring about the desired outcome but the sooner children learn that is not the case, the better it would be for them. The cardinal rule for interacting with children is to respect their intelligence and not abuse their innocence.
I can envisage two scenarios, both unfortunately negative. Either the child swallows this mythical vision in which case one would have doubts about his or her perception. Or, he/she sees through the delusions after contrasting them with the polluted streams outside their houses and recalling the slaps received by their fathers at the hands of unkind policemen. In the latter case, they would begin to believe that everything taught at school was a similar untruth to be remembered only for the sake of passing examinations.
It is not beyond the bounds of imagination to foresee a question in a test that asks “What are the streams of Pakistan like?” This question will admit only the sanctioned answer — anyone writing ‘unclean’ would know that he/she would fail. The Single National Curriculum would have succeeded in achieving a Single National Answer but at a very high price. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem. I have seen similarly loaded questions in the CSS exams (here). ‘Teaching’ the officially approved answers is one of the selling points of the CSS prep academies.
Let’s proceed to the teacher’s instructions for ‘My Country’:
“Sing the rhyme aloud with children. Discuss with children that there are four provinces of Pakistan (Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab). Tell them that our national hero is Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah; national poet is Allama Muhammad Iqbal; national language of Pakistan is Urdu and national dress is shalwar kameez.”
“Celebrate Independence day (14 August) in school. Make a flag of Pakistan in class.”
One wonders if this is class in English or one in geography, history, and arts and crafts, all of which are useful for children but perhaps not thrown together like this.
Another poem, ‘My Day’ awaits on Page 7:
“Let’s see my day / Let’s see my day / It is full of fun / Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! / I wake up, I wake up / I pray, pray, pray / I brush my teeth / I smile all day / I eat my breakfast / I go to school everyday / Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! / Let’s see my day / Let’s see my day / I study, I play, I sleep / I love my day / I love my day / Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”
How exactly does one “see” my day? And “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”? Is it only there because it happens to be an easy, albeit far-fetched, rhyme for ‘day.’
Teacher’s instructions: “Sing the poem aloud in class. Ask children about their daily routine and also tell them why it is important to follow a routine.” And, “Exhibit healthy routine at home and encourage children to follow it.” The instruction neglects to inform how the routine has to be exhibited at home.
Page 8 introduces the weather — cloudy, windy, rainy, sunny. Below the four pictures are the teacher’s instructions: “Talk about the pictures and ask children what they see. Introduce four kinds of weather to children. Take children outside to discuss weather conditions, (clody, windy, sunny and rainy) and talk to them about the use of umbrella, raincoat, sunglasses, etc.” In all my years, I have rarely seen children using any of these items.
“Make a weather wheel with recycled material, observe and mark daily weather on it. Display it in the classroom.” And, “Show video of weather conditions (cloudy, windy, rainy and sunny, where applicable).”
Pages 9 and 10 are devoted to seasons with short poems on Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Teacher’s instruction: “Encourage children to talk about different seasons and their characteristics. Talk about seasonal clothes, e.g. (coat, shorts, etc.), their special food, fruits and festivals. Take children out for a walk and ask few (sic) questions, e.g. Is the temperature cold, hot or freezing? What do you feel when it rains, hails or there is mist?”
I presume the children are being asked to answer these questions in English. Imagine the quality of interaction if they were to respond in their home languages. One is not sure what the objective is here: Is it to teach English or an appreciation of the seasons or an appreciation of the seasons through English? If it is to teach English, what is one to make of the sloppy language in the primer?
Page 11 elaborates the notions of ‘Hot and Cold’ with pictures of a heater, an ice-cream, an iron, and an ice-cube. Teacher’s instructions: “Give children the concept of hot and cold with real life examples. Ask children to differentiate between hot and cold things.” “Let children draw picture of an ice-cream and guide them to cut it with the pair of scissors.” “Show video of hot and cold things, if possible.”
Once again, is the objective of the lesson teaching English or inculcating a sense of hot and cold. If the latter, wouldn’t it make sense to move all such knowledge-transfer lessons to the Urdu primer where the children would absorb it much more fully? And why presume five-year-olds don’t know hot and cold already? What is new that is being added to their knowledge?
Page 12 is titled ‘Describe’ and has an apple ringed with five bubbles with the words ‘when, what, why, where, and who’ inside them. Teacher’s instructions: “Who, What, Why, When, Where the 5WS (sic) questions are used to gather information about a story or subject matter. 5WS technique is used effectively to organize children (sic) thoughts on the topic, (graphic organizers can be used, e.g. mind mapping, venn diagram, cause and effect etc.).”
“Teacher will make a 5WS wheel involving children and display it in the classroom. Teacher will read a story to the children. He/She will call the children one by one to spin the wheel. He/She will ask question (sic), where the arrow of the wheel land (sic) on one of the 5WS.”
After the initial reaction of puzzlement, I got it that 5WS was a reference to the 5 W’s.
Finally, on page 13, the primer arrives at the alphabet which will be the subject of the next part of this review.