[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 Urdu Primer — II
The Pre-I Urdu primer matches the pattern of its English counterpart which is not surprising given that both have the same authors. It therefore shares most of the weaknesses of the latter
By Dr. Anjum Altaf
The Pre-I Urdu primer matches the pattern of its English counterpart which is not surprising given that both have the same authors. It therefore shares most of the weaknesses of the latter — the joylessness, the moralizing, the random distractions, the indifferent versification, etc. This leaves less need for a painstaking review and I will confine myself to points I found of special interest.
Given that we feel more religious in Urdu than in English, the primer begins with a hamd and a naat. This is followed by Iqbal’s lab pe aatii hai dua, a poem of welcome, a page on classroom and playground etiquette, a lesson on caring for the disabled, an introduction to feelings, a poem about hamara des, another on apnii hifaazat, and a page of self-introduction.
This takes us to the alphabet. Fortunately, Urdu doesn’t have two cases so negotiating that complexity is spared. The accompanying verses are also less meaningless — none of the litany of “a” letter, “a” letter, ant, ant, ant. The poetry is less avant-garde, more traditional. A page of text per letter is followed by two of tracing and writing.
Still, some quirks deserve attention. For example, Alif is introduced with aik anaar bara mazedaar / khaane waaley is ko hazaar. For as long as I can remember the associated saying was aik anaar sau biimaar. Perhaps, this rankles because I am an economist — the extant saying was a reference to excess demand which is quite understandable. The variant has transformed that into an impossible act of mass consumption. One thousand people cannot eat one apple no matter how they divide it. Replacing khaane waaley with chaahne waaley would have lent more meaning. It’s a fine point but nurturing intelligence is all about fine points.
The accompanying text is what one would expect. Akram goes to the market with his father to buy fruit and gets a lecture on why washing it is important. The takeaway message reiterates the lesson: “Think and tell: Why should we wash fruit before eating it.”
After Alif comes Alif al Madd which has the traditional association of aam. But this is followed immediately by Islam ke Arkaan with the use of heavy words like تعوّذ and تسمیّہ. The intention seems to be to introduce them early to children whether they grasp them or not. The five pillars of Islam are described and the teacher’s instruction is to spread the pillars over five weeks with one week dedicated to each. Urdu has morphed into religious studies and I can understand the dilemma faced by non-Muslims. Would they participate in this instruction or opt out? If the latter, where would they go? If the former, why should such instruction be one-sided? Why, by the same logic, shouldn’t Muslim children be introduced to the pillars of, say, Christianity? This argument cannot be resolved by recourse to majoritarianism and requires serious consideration. The simplest solution would be to consolidate religious instruction in a separate primer.
Bey is for bakri and Babar teaches Badr not to tease the bandar. Pey is for palak and it is time to discuss its health benefits. The soft Tey is for titlii and Tania’s mother instructs her to admire butterflies but not to catch them. The hard Tey is for tamatar whose health benefits are conveyed to children by the teacher cum nutritionist. The children are also instructed to make a model truck with low cost / no cost materials.
A break is marked by a lesson on traffic signals and a poem — tanga, riksha aur motor. Children are introduced to traffic sounds and instructed to make a toy train. Returning to the alphabet, Se is for the standard samar via which Sana is taught that visiting the sick (عیادت) and giving them fruit earns blessings. The children are to role-play visiting the sick and the Think and Tell asks “Why one should visit the sick?”
I felt that عیادت would be tough for children in Pre-I but the authors don’t share that view. We had arrived at what was the ‘Reinforcement Activity’ stage of the English primer where the letters completed have to be practiced. The Urdu title is اعادہ which is no less difficult than عیادت. I looked it up in the dictionary and it means ‘repetition.’ The page could just as easily have been titled دہرایئے or مشق had one wanted to treat children as children.
There follows a story about dostii in which Maryam advises Zahida not to harass Ainee. By the end, Zahida says sorry to Ainee and they become friends. The teacher is to reiterate the importance of apologizing. Jeem is for Jalebi which Jamal distributes to poor children on Eid. Jamal distributes all he buys walking back from the shop and happily returns home. A model child, indeed. The teacher reiterates the importance of helping the needy on festivals and also, lest one forget, of avoiding to spread germs.
Che is for a chirya that does not figure in the accompanying story which is about a buzurg who helps Chand cross the street when the latter wanders off the footpath while eating chocolate. The illustration shows a zebra crossing instead of a footpath. It’s all the same. He is for halwa / halwaii and the Think and Tell asks “Why is it necessary to cover eatables?”
Khe is for a very nice Khala who provides the opening to go over family relationships. There is then a page on chaar dost, they being jeem, che, he, and khe. And this brings us to another اعادہ, a much-needed resting place since getting to khe had emptied me out and left me staring into space.
Click here for Part-I , Part-II, Part-III, Part-IV, Part-V, Part-VI, Part-VII, Part-VIII, Part-IX, Part-X, Part-XI, Part-XII