How do children learn in real life? Are subject lines drawn in order to make the learning happen? Obviously, the answer is an emphatic no.
We don’t need to philosophize hard to know that children, before entering a school, have a profound understanding not only of their mother tongue but other languages also present in their social environment. It is common knowledge that children are able to speak three to four languages in a multilingual society. They can think, comprehend and express themselves; they know the right context and their selection of words is perfect. Most importantly, this learning doesn’t take place in isolation in the compartments tightly defined by subjects. A child is learning simultaneously how four bananas can be divided among four siblings; how many toffees are left if he eats up one of the three toffees she had and also how to make fractions of a roti so that two siblings can share it. Science is everywhere around them and they learn very effectively that fire can burn and they need to get away from it; salt and sugar dissolve in water and we can make a drink; water washes away dirt on the body. They can do and undo things. They ask questions of all kinds; what, how and why of everything. And nobody snubs them.
There is a growing tendency to teach literacy in Urdu language using approaches, methods, techniques and strategies employed in teaching and learning English language. As a result, Urdu language teachers have alarmingly low level of understanding how to approach the teaching and how to facilitate learning the language. Even the teachers at expensive schools seem to have very little knowledge of the basic structure of the language. Obviously, they fail to cultivate interest and appreciation of the national language among the learners. In fact, the culture promoted takes pride in being ignorant and illiterate in the language. Countrywide surveys also tell us that half the children in schools are unable to read simple text in Urdu. There seems to be no interest and investment in the basic understanding and experimentation in achieving high standards and quality in teaching and learning Urdu language.
The fundamental reality that our curriculum developers, textbook writers, trainers and teachers need to come to grips with is that Urdu and English languages belong to two substantially different systems.
Recently a comment was made about Khoj methodology that it didn’t follow the alphabetic order in teaching literacy and it was a problem that needed to be rectified. This statement prompted me to raise the following questions:
- Is there a logic in following the alphabetic order to teach literacy?
- Does this order yield sequential milestones in learning? Is a child able to write certain words and sentences after learning a given number of letters in the alphabetic order? For instance, can they make any given number of words after learning from ا to ث ہ or from ج to خ?
- Is learning is at a faster pace if the letters of alphabet are first abstractly learnt?
The answer to all the above questions is an emphatic no.
Education in Pakistan is crying for help. Thirty per cent of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty-having received less than two years of education. At current rates of progress, Balochistan has to wait for the next century to be able to guarantee children their constitutional right to education while Punjab can achieve that only in 2041, Sindh in 2049 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2064.
And those who are able to attend school, only thirty five per cent of rural school children can read a story while fifty per cent cannot read a sentence. They don’t fare really better than out of school children twenty four per cent of whom can read a story showing almost a parallel performance. What a great performance by those at the helm of affairs.
“According to the National Nutrition Survey 2011 conducted by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), around 58 per cent of the population is food insecure”, the Minister for National Food Security and Research, Mir Israrullah Zehri, told the upper house of parliament. And BISP Chairperson Farzana Raja told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance that 80 million people out of a total population of 175.3 million live below the poverty line. These are staggering figures – 45.7 per cent Pakistanis are struggling to make both ends meets.These statements show the gravity of the situation.
It is a reality of everyday life when children come to school, no matter how young they are, they come with a profound knowledge of a language. They have already learnt not only the various elements of a language but also make a very skillful and clever use of it. Even before entering the school, they know how to express themselves in various contexts and situations. They have enviable vocabulary to express a range of complex emotions – their anger,happiness, excitement, love, affection, sadness, pain, likes and dislikes and the list goes on. They know perfectly appropriate use of words with falling and rising intonations to communicate with all kinds of relationships in the family and with a variety of friends. They know the age appropriateness of their expression and the selection of words; they know how to communicate with the younger siblings and friends and if required, how to instantly switch the words and expressions while talking with elders like father, mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts and strangers. They also express the understanding of the nuances of language when they make subtle differences in expression when they communicate with their mothers and fathers; there may be many subtle differences. Their selection of words and expressions may be very different. And the list of the variations is endless; how they communicate with the world.