Children don’t only bring their bags full of textbooks and lunch boxes to schools. They also take with them diverse experiences, knowledge, etiquettes and mother language skills learnt at home.
These experiences will be unique to each child and different from peers, and determine how children learn, behave and socialise in the new setup of schools.
It goes without saying that this transition from home — a place marked by mother’s love and care — to school needs to be handled with sensitivity and care.
For children brought up in a strictly religious family, there may be a lot of importance attached to religious rituals like prayers and fasting and of special occasions. There can be situations where certain cultural norms adopted at home may not go along with the culture of the school, like in many families it is still considered disrespectful if children look into the eyes of adults. Children raised in such families can be left in a fix if school teachers ask them to look into the eyes while responding to questions.
Curriculum in developed countries
In developed countries, early years and primary education are considered the key stage in children’s skill and personality development, behaviour, socialisation and learning. The primary school curriculum in the United Kingdom and in most other developed countries clearly talks about basic needs of children at the primary level. The national curriculum in the UK ‘provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement’.
The curriculum also talks about promoting spiritual, moral, cultural and physical development. It makes it mandatory for all schools to hold daily lessons based on teaching of different religions. The list of subjects for the 5 to 11 years age group is English, Maths, Science, Art and Design, Citizenship, Computing Design and Technology, Language, Geography, History, and Music. These are the standard subjects more or less followed keeping in view the needs of a five-year child.
Our teacher training institutes must specifically focus on courses that help teachers develop language, mathematical, social and emotional skills of pupils
The skills a child is required to learn at the age of five are as follows:
Language development is considered the most important skill. Children are already trained in communicating in their mother tongue. Schools build upon this basic understanding of language by enabling pupils to listen to stories and then retell those stories, to ask questions, follow instructions given to them, tell their parents’ names, recognise different sounds, make up stories on their own, and use language to solve different problems.
Primary education in Pakistan
When we look at our students at primary level, we come across quite a complex situation. The medium of instruction at public schools is Urdu; English as a second language, along with regional languages. Children coming with a basic understanding of their mother tongue have to handle both English and Urdu as challenges.
While the medium of instruction at public schools is Urdu, private schools mostly follow English language as their medium of instruction. The end result is that language development of a vast segment of our children suffers at a very early stage.
In terms of their physical skills, five-year and older children are fully mobile, they are able to coordinate, climb and balance their weight. However, there is no proper curriculum for physical skills that can enable pupils to refine their motor skills to gradual perfection from early on.
The skills needed for promotion of social understanding at an early age are those that enable students to accept and respect others and their opinions; be sensitive to what is fair; understand the need to give and take; chose friends independently; know the difference between fantasy and reality; feed themselves on their own; be able to dress and undress; use a toilet unaided; and be able to show care to other children and animals.
Development of emotional understanding and accompanying behaviour is the next area of concern. These skills make children capable of showing enthusiasm and motivation to learn new ideas, have a wide range of feelings, express emotions and use language to control and express sensitivity to feelings of others.
Last but not the least, there are the arithmetic skills that enable pupil to undertake basic counting of numbers.
National curriculum 2006
In our public schools, as per national curriculum of 2006, the list of mandatory subjects is Urdu, English, Math, General Knowledge/Social Studies, Science and Islamiyat.
The inclusion of art and craft or design and technology to this list is the need of the hour. Alongside, we need to introduce courses on themes like social and emotional understanding for students and teachers handling these students.
Art and creativity in all forms definitely leads to control of behaviour and emotions, and this is all the more important in the current scenario where we can easily observe widespread presence of intolerance and a kind of frustration in all age groups.
A properly planned curriculum for physical training must be developed to meet the needs of physical growth of the children. Music can be recommended, singing as well as learning how to play traditional musical instruments, particularly those that support preservation of cultural heritage. Many traditional and centuries-old arts and crafts are at the verge of extinction. Support for these at school-level can not only help in revival of cultural and traditional arts and crafts but also refine the aesthetic sense and promote ownership of our heritage among the younger generation.
While teaching religion, an inclusive approach needs to be adopted. Currently, there is no option for non-Muslims to study their religion at schools and teachers aren’t trained or sensitised on basic teachings of minority religions.
When we look at our system of education, particularly the primary-level education, a process of reformation seems to be underway as many initiatives have been started at provincial levels. Yet, a lot more can be done if what needs to be done is diagnosed and looked into on priority.
A quick look at statistics of primary schools in KP shows that there are 23,022 schools — 14,469 for boys and 8,553 for girls. In the teaching staff, there are 45,525 men and 25,585 women. In Punjab, the number of schools is 52,231. The teaching staff comprises more than 150,000 men and about 187,900 women.
PITE is the provincial institution for training of teachers. The themes highlighted on the PITE website are: peace, education, school management, financial management, child friendly education, and parent-teacher councils. All of these themes are equally important and need to be reinforced on a regular basis for all human resources involved in school teaching.
Keeping in view the basic needs and good practices all around the world, we must specifically focus on areas like language skills, mathematical skills, social understanding and skills, emotional understanding and behaviour. Since the creativity of children is at peak in early years, curiosity and creativity needs to be nurtured and enhanced by different techniques and methodologies.
For instance, art and craft and music can not only sooth the soul but also help in improving retention and concentration span of a child. A proper set of creative activities of art and craft can be introduced at primary school level. The teachers handling the five to 11 year age group needs to be sensitised on the aforementioned themes.
The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector