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

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 Urdu Primer — IV

By Dr. Anjum Altaf

I am still mourning the displacement of the perennial tota from its perch on toey and its replacement by tabiib. Granted we are relics of a bygone age and things inevitably change. The loss of habitat has made totas rare and the spread of sickness has increased the importance of dawa and dua. But tabiib is even more of a relic. When the tabiiat is nasaaz, we head for the daktar, pir, or hakeem. Not to forget that the rare tota has gained a new salience — when it alights on the shoulder of ordinary mortals in Pakistan, it transforms them into leaders of great stature. We are forever wondering where the tota will land next and it is the staple of the discourse children hear at home and see on the screen.

But bigger displacements were in store. The alphabet was being shepherded along gently with knick-knacks, fruits, and harmless animals and one had expected fey to be more of the same with the tried and tested fawaara and fakhta but in an unexpected step-up of intensity both have been sidelined for fauji — fauji sarhad ke nigraan / apne mulk pe ye qurbaan. Fie on you fey.

This is no inadvertent slip because the teacher’s instructions are not to convey the health benefits of cornflakes. Rather, they are to make children understand the concept of the defence of the nation. They are to be clear about the various responsibilities of the armed forces of Pakistan and educated about the naval, land, and air arms of the service. In addition they are to be reminded of the sacrifices of our elders for the attainment of our dear country. The Think and Tell asks “Who defends our borders?” The only let-up is in the vocabulary list where fauji is coupled with football, fawaara, faqeer, and falah.

It is generally considered advisable for a Pre-I primer to stick with facts and avoid opinions no matter how widely held. The concept of qurbaanii children are most familiar with is associated with baRi Eid which is hard to relate to the immense work put in by Ayub Khan during the Decade of Development. Adding more complexity is the fact that people did not appreciate his qurbaanii and forced him to quit. The point is that these are complex issues that ought to be broached when the mind is mature enough to deal with them. “There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Till then, it might be best to heed Wittgenstein’s advice: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” I know that all the fawaaras have run dry and the fakhta has become as rare as the tota, but still there was no need to reach for the hip — children would have been delighted with faluuda and the teacher would have had another opportunity to explain its health implications and the need to cover it properly overnight to avoid a visit to the tabiib.

There is more in store. The qaaf that used to be about the humble qainchii is now about Quaid-e Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, baani-e Pakistan — quaid kii ye baat azeem / iimaan, itehaad, aur tanzeem. The accompanying text states: “Quaid-e Azam bahut qaabil insaan the. UnhoN ne tamaam mussalmaanoN ko iimaan, itehaad, aur tanzeem ka sabaq diya.”

The danger here is much the same as for the preceding letter, perhaps more so. Even a five-year-old, given what he/she sees every day, might be tempted to ask why all the Muslims did not accept the lesson? This would leave the teacher hemming and hawing which would erode his/her credibility for the other lessons as well. The Prime Minister is to be commended for forming the Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen Authority. As he has very perceptively observed “Our whole nation loves the Prophet (PBUH) but we are not following the orders in the Holy Quran to follow his life.” What chance do the orders of the Quaid-e Azam and the poor teacher stand? This is another complex issue that cannot be untangled by telling five-year-olds to love everyone and keep themselves clean. The RLA Authority would have to look into the causes of the rejection of authority as soon as they have completed their research on “whether our divorces have increased and what is the impact of this.” It is quite reassuring that the scholars in the Authority would “be charged with monitoring the schools’ curriculum.” On this score, madrassahs do a far better job — students learn exactly what they are intended to learn and do what they are told.

The Think and Tell enquires “What can you do for your country?” It would be much more interesting to ask “What can your country do for you?” which would provide excellent input for the policymakers. But, yet again, such lofty discourse is interspersed with some incongruous instructions: “Assign to children daily tasks like turning off the lights and fan at closing time, tidying up the classroom, distributing the books, etc.” The authors might have wondered what the Quaid would have instructed the children had he been amongst them but they should know by now that following orders is out of favor.

The descent from the heights of qaaf rapidly returns the discourse to the plains. Kaaf is about a kitaab that is issued out from the library but not treated well by the borrower who is gently made aware of proper etiquette by the librarian. Then it is borrowed by another child who is much nicer and the book loves him. The teacher is asked to arouse the love of books in children and make a library in the corner of the classroom — his/her task is made harder by the quality of the textbooks he has to handle. Gaaf introduces a story about the cow and the farmer in which a child learns that it is not wise to sell a cow to buy a bicycle because the cow gives milk and the bicycle doesn’t. The Think and Tell asks “What are the benefits of milk?” This teaches the very important distinction between needs and wants that we economists leave far too late in a young person’s life. In the midst of this important lesson the teacher is also to remind the children that zid karna bahut burii baat hai.

Laam is for libaas — shalwar qameez hamara qaumii libaas / pehan ke is ko bun jaa’eN khaas. The teacher tells the children about the importance and attributes of various types of clothing. He/She is also to teach children to put on socks and tie shoelaces. The Think and Tell asks “Why should we wear clean clothes?”

Meem follows an اعادہ and introduces the peacock. The Think and Tell asks “What other birds asides from the peacock are unable to fly?” The teacher is to send home a note asking parents to take children to the zoo or show them pictures of animals. Here, I think, an innovation could have been warranted.  Meem for MaaN (mother) could have driven home the much-desired lesson of the qurbaanis a mother makes for children without even asking for perks at retirement which is why we should love her whole-heartedly. This could also have carried over into the English primer where “moon, moon, moon” could have been replaced with “mom, mom, mom” (a ‘yeah’ or ‘hurrah’ could have been added as a reminder that this was the English primer). It would have been another giant step in the quest for uniformity.

Noon is for naaryal and Think and Tell cannot forego the opportunity of asking “What are the benefits of eating naaryal?” That’s something I have also been dying to know. The teacher is to use the naaryal to convey the sense of hard and soft.

Vaw is for varzish and volleyball — varzish karo tum rozaana / ho jaa’o tandurust aur tawaana. The children are to be told the advantages of exercise and being healthy and made to engage in light exercise every morning. They are to be made to walk on a straight line so they learn to maintain their balance. The Think and Tell asks “How do you exercise?” The vocabulary words are vazeefa, vaqt, vaseela, vote, and vaafir.

The gol he is for haathi, by far the biggest thing after fe and qaaf and quite visible since it’s in the jungle and not the drawing room. The Think and Tell is for once fairly simple: “What is the elephant’s trunk used for?” The vocabulary words include Hunza, hotel, and ہُود which I will figure out eventually. Hamza shows a cup of chaai and is accompanied by a poem about the etiquette of eating. The instructor is to teach these, i.e., chewing food while eating, sitting property at the table or around a dastarkhan, not stepping on the latter, taking food only from directly in front, etc. Also, the children have to be introduced to pre- and post-food duas.

The choti ye that had forever been yoked to the yekka is now roped in to represent azaadii ka din. The children are to be told about patriotism and freedom in simple words and shown photographs or videos of important personalities, places, and national ہیروز — ‘heroines’ was perhaps too difficult to transcribe in Urdu or its associations too dangerous, وَاللّٰہ اَعلَم بِالصَّواب.  The vocabulary words are Yasmeen, Yasir, yaqoot, Yemen, and Yameen. The lowly ye, yahaN, yuunhii, yaanii, yaar, yaad, and yaadgaar are all banished. For nought did Faiz proclaim رہِ یار ہم نے قدم قدم تجھے یادگار بنا دیا.

BaRi ye is the appendage at the end of تارے. The children are instructed about the concepts of day and night with the help of the sun, moon, and stars. The Think and Tell asks “Do you know there are 24 hours in a day?” The end of the alphabet is marked by a final اعادہ which is followed by a page of tracing all the letters. There are then three pages (pp. 148-150) of بھاری آوازیں, the aspirated sounds that are shown as independent letters eschewing an introduction to the do-chashmii he (ھ), poor thing. On page 151, the entire alphabet is shown, which is an improvement over the English primer except that the set is not the familiar one but, given the above choice, includes the aspirated letters as well: ا آ ب بھ پ پھ … and so on. This brings Urdu closer to Hindi which is nice subtle signal given the otherwise hostile relationship these days.

Page 152 is about vowels (مصوّتوں کی پہچان) and the four vowels, ا و ی ے, are displayed on the fingers of a hand. The children are asked to join the vowels with the correct letters to practice ارکان سازی, something they have not seen before. As in the English primer, they are told that no word can be made without vowels but this time the error is buried in the instruction itself: بچوں کو بتائیں مصوّتوں کے بغیر لفظ نہیں بن سکتا. The word لفظ, both hands raised helplessly, is the counterexample that escaped the attention of those who signed off on the primer.

Pages 153-155 finally get to ارکان سازی where letters (حروفِ صحیح/مُصمّتے) are joined to vowels ((حروفِ علّت/مصوّتے ( ا – و – ی – ے) to make simple sounds. The teacher’s instruction needs to be reproduced in Urdu: بچوں کو مصوّتوں کی پہچان کروا کر حروف مفرد اور مرکب کے ساتھ ملا کر کاغز پر مشق کروائیں . Page 156 is about Creative Writing (تخلیقی لکھائ) using the words کیا ۰ کون ۰ کیسا ۰ کہاں ۰ کب. Children are to be engaged in mental exercise by showing them pictures of things like an apple, a cat, and a watch and asked: What is this? What does this cat look like? What does a cat drink? etc. Page 157 is about ending sentences (رموزِ اوقاف سیکھیں). These include the period (ختمہ کی علامت کا استعمال) and the question mark (سوالیہ کی علامت کا استعمال).

The primer comes to an end with a red sign of interrogation, perhaps a fitting conclusion. The next and final part of this review will look at all three Pre-I primers together and offer a summary of the key findings, observations, and سوالیہ نشانات.

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-VIIPart-VIIIPart-IXPart-XPart-XI, Part-XIIPart-XIII, Part-XIV 



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