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

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

[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 — III

A foreign language has to begin with a lot of listening to familiarize children with its sounds, followed by having them articulate simple words and sentences.

By Dr. Anjum Altaf             

On page 13, the primer arrives at its primary task of teaching the alphabet. I am not an expert in this aspect of pedagogy and will confine myself to general observations that might hopefully elicit further commentary from domain specialists.

My first observation is that the section begins much too abruptly with the immediate introduction to the letter A. I would like to distinguish between two types of children in Pre-I: those who do not know the full alphabet from A to Z but know what an alphabet is, perhaps from having books read to them at home; and those who don’t know what it is. The introduction is alright for a child in the former set but not so for one in the latter.

The proportion of students in the two groups would certainly vary from place to place. Therefore, having just one textbook for both, as is the case in the Single National Curriculum, could be detrimental to the learning of many children.

I believe it would be a much more interesting alternative for all to begin by discussing why one needs an alphabet in the first place. This would be kind of a short history of writing and why it needed to be “invented” and how it is a key part of every language system. Once children understand the logic of the alphabet system, they would approach the letters with a lot more interest much as children relate to games whose objectives they are aware of.

My second observation is that the primer also gets much too quickly into writing. There is one page introducing each letter followed by two for tracing and writing it. From what I know, there are four stages to learning a language — Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing — and they follow each other in that sequence. All children have completed the Listening and Speaking stages in their home languages before they enter Pre-I and some may have also been introduced to a bit of reading. But very few have done any systematic writing.

Given the above sequence, it may be alright to go straight away to writing if the language being taught was the home language. But the case of English is entirely different. Except for the very few households where some English is spoken in the home, the vast majority of children have not gone through the Listening, Speaking, and Reading stages. To plunge them directly into writing would result in a very mechanical introduction to the language. They would most likely “know” by the end of the year how to write the alphabet from A to Z but it would mean very little and they would probably end up bored and hating the language instead of being excited by it and loving it.

In my thinking, a foreign language has to begin with a lot of listening to familiarize children with its sounds, followed by having them articulate simple words and sentences — me, you, this, that, etc. It is only then that one progresses to having texts like stories and poems read out before one finally arrives at writing. One must remember that children in countries where English is the home language enter school knowing a lot of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Teaching the alphabet to them is completely different from teaching it to children with no prior exposure of a similar nature. I find this critical distinction missing in the design of a Pre-I English primer which is to be used for every single child irrespective of the preparation with which he/she enters the school.

Be that as it may, let us now look at how the primer proceeds, beginning with the letter A. At the top of the page is written “A a” with a verse on the side. This is followed by a short anecdote about an ant: “Once upon a time, there was a hardworking ant. She kept on collecting food in the summers for winters. She advised her friends to collect food too. Her friends do not listen to her. Her friends were upset when they did not have any food to eat in winters.”

Given the majority of students unfamiliar with English and the vocabulary in the text, there is little doubt that the story would have to be translated to be understood. I can only presume that it is serving the purpose of familiarizing the students with the sounds of the language. But, in that case, isn’t the vocabulary too advanced?

I am also perplexed with the nature of introduction to the letter as “A a” at the top of the page. This is reiterated in the first instruction to the teacher: “Introduce letter “Aa” with phonic sound.” There is no such letter as “Aa.” There is no explanation that each letter in the English alphabet has two symbolic notations and the reason for that. If this is considered too complex, perhaps the upper case and lower case letters could be introduced separately. I am sure there is some best practice for teaching the two but surely introducing the letter as “Aa” and copying it 31 times as such is not recommended.

I had expected the first teacher instruction to elaborate a bit on this aspect but it moves away in a completely different direction with “Discuss facts about ants and apples.”

The second instruction is not very helpful either in figuring out the letter Aa: “Take children outside, let them observe the environment and spot an ant and make (sic) apple in the classroom with paper plate / paper / newspaper / recycled material.”

The third instruction is to “Teach vocabulary as sight words: apple, ant, axe, ape, aunt, acorn, ambulance, astronaut.” I looked up ‘sight words’ on the Internet and found the following: “Sight words are the words that appear most frequently in our reading and writing.” I doubt if axe, ape, and acorn are among them. In fact, the Internet also has a list of sight words for kindergarten and none of the words listed in the primer for letter “Aa” are included in that list.

The take-away balloon at the bottom of the page has this message: “Ask children what other things they see in classroom that start with the letter “a”.” Given that children are just beginning to learn the language, it is not clear how they are expected to know the names in English of things beginning with a particular letter. Once again, there seems to be some confusion about the kind of student for whom the primer is designed. I wonder if it has been pilot-tested in various types of classrooms and if there is a report on it that can be shared to reassure parents and teachers that the method really works.

On the second page of ‘Trace and Write’ (p. 15), there are two additional items. The first is a circle with a set of letters (a, e, B, C, A, g, A, a) with the instruction: “Encircle “Aa”.” Since there is no “Aa” in the set, I am not sure how a child would proceed. Second, there is pairing illustration with pictures of a butterfly, rabbit, and dog on the left joined with dotted lines to those of a rose, a carrot, and a bone, respectively, on the right. There is no instruction to the teacher pertaining to this exercise so it is hard to figure out the connection to “Aa.”

This leaves just the verse used to introduce “Aa” which reads as follows (p. 13):

“a” letter, “a” letter, ant, ant, ant

“a” letter, “a” letter, let’s all chant

This is the generic verse style for all letters from Aa to Zz and I will have more to say about it in the next part of this review. However, it just so happens that I have a two-minute video clip of “a for ant” being taught to a child and I would urge readers to view it before we proceed on the remainder of the journey from Bb to Zz.

[author title=”Dr. Anjum Altaf ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Anjum-Altaf.jpg”]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). [/author]

Click here for Part-I Part-IIPart-IIIPart-IVPart-V, Part-VI