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Your Child Deserves Better – A Letter to Parents – XIV

Your Child Deserves Better – A Letter to Parents – XIV

Teaching Jeem for Jihad from Class 1 will not make your child a devout Muslim just as teaching a child the theory of relativity would not make him or her into a super-scientist.

A series of articles on education in the form of a multi-installment letter to the parents

By Anjum Altaf

Dear Parent,

In this series of letters, I have tried to direct your attention to three aspects that I feel are critical for a good primary school education for your child:

The language in which a child is taught in the first years of school

It is commonsense to argue that this should be a language a child is familiar with and knows how to use. And this commonsense is backed by a lot of evidence – If you feel otherwise, please use the space for comments to present your argument and we can have a fruitful discussion.

The content that is used to teach a child in the first years of school

I believe it is enough to say, and you will agree, that this content should be ‘age-appropriate.’ You know very well that what is appropriate for a teenager is often not so for a child. In fact, many parents agonize over how to keep their young children away from age-inappropriate material, a task made all-the-more difficult in the age of the Internet where there are as many predators who make their living from exploiting children. This commonsense is attempted to be enforced by various type of content filters and, for example, by ratings assigned to movies, some of which are intended for ‘mature audiences only.’

This distinction between age-appropriate and age-inappropriate material is not confined to content related to sexuality. The same distinction can apply in the domain of learning as well, which is something most people don’t pay enough attention to. In this domain, age-inappropriate content is something a child is unfamiliar with and cannot yet understand. To take an extreme example, teaching a primary school child the theory of relativity is not going to turn him or her into a super scientist. It would only confuse and frustrate him or her.

But it is the more mundane examples that parents need to think about. For example, in the Urdu alphabet book, Jeem should be for juuta (shoe) or jahaaz (aeroplane), which a child sees every day, and not for jahez or for jihaad which is an abstract concept that even most adults don’t fully understand (Refer back to Letter XI for an example of this). It does not matter how important jihaad is to you or how much you admire it; any competent educationist will tell you it is age-inappropriate for a child in Class 1. And teaching it from Class 1 will not make your child a devout Muslim just as teaching a child the theory of relativity would not make him or her into a super-scientist.

All that is achieved by pushing a child to ‘learn’ material that he or she does not ‘understand’ is to transform education into memorization at best and indoctrination at worst — both terrible outcomes for the child and for society. But just as there are many who profit by peddling inappropriate material on the Internet, there are many who gain by turning education into brainwashing (Refer again to Letter XI). There is no arguing that abstract concepts like jihaad can and should be taught at the right age. The question to ask is why they should being taught before a child can imagine or understand them. Is it out of fear that if a child learns to think before being brainwashed, he or she would reject what you dearly wish him or her to accept? Such lack of conviction in your faith should itself be a matter of great concern. Can a nation be built on such a lack of confidence that it fears people who can think?

The bottom-line here is for parents to inquire if the material being used to teach their children in the primary grades is age-appropriate, i.e., material that the child can visualize and grasp easily to connect to other things in his or her real life. Keep in mind that it is not just bad things that are age-inappropriate. Very good content like the theory of relativity can be age-inappropriate as well — the two are different things and that distinction is important to be aware of. We are concerned here with age-inappropriateness from the perspective of effective teaching. No judgement is involved on the goodness or value of the curricular content itself which is something that needs to be determined using a different metric.

The method by which content is taught in the early years of school

This is an extremely important aspect of education, especially of early childhood education. Let me introduce it now and keep the full discussion for the next letter.

Consider that your child in Class 1 is to be taught the sound associated with the letter Jeem. How should this learning objective be accomplished? Is there only one way to do so? Or, are there different ways of achieving the same outcome? Can some ways be better than others? Can there be some ways that are completely ineffective or just plain wrong?

I would like you to think over this set of questions so that we can engage fruitfully with the next letter in this series.


Dr. Anjum Altaf

[author title=”Anjum Altaf” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Anjum-Altaf.jpg”]Former Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)[/author]

For previous letters, click on:  Letter 1Letter 2Letter 3Letter 4Letter 5Letter 6Letter 7Letter 8Letter 9 , Letter 10 Letter 11Letter 12, Letter 13