Tom Robbins wrote in one of his lesser known novels, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, “Are you aware that rushing toward a goal is a sublimated death wish? It’s no coincidence we call them ‘deadlines.” Deadlines are given and met so that more than four crore students of primary and secondary schools across the country get their new textbooks on the first day of 2017. As praiseworthy as it may sound, a number of mistakes found in different books marred the accomplishment which is customary to every year. Following the embarrassing mistakes in this year’s school textbooks, National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) on 10 January 2017 suspended its artist-cum-designer Sujaul Abedin. I fail to understand, why so hurry? Mistakes are more harmful than missing deadlines. When will this idea sink in to the super powers?
The much talked about discrepancy in Class One Amar Bangla Boi is where it is explained that letter ‘O’ is for ‘Orna’ (Girls’ Scarf), it could have been ‘Ojon’ (weight) or Orangutan. ‘Paraninda Bhalo Na’ - the text decided in Bangla by the Prime Minister’s Office for Class Three books was shockingly transformed to ‘Do Not Heart Anybody’.
A huge number of spelling mistakes in Bengali books of class Five and Seven, along with spelling mistakes even more grammatical mistakes in English Version books will make the teachers’ life miserable as they will have to explain each mistake and argue with the rural uneducated guardians that everything written in textbook are not necessarily right.
When we grew up, we always believed that there cannot be any mistake in written form in books. If challenged by anyone, we would immediately show them the books and then everyone would agree with the resulting decision. But what will happen now? Textbooks are the reference, the Bible or Quran to the students and related teachers. How can there be such silly mistakes of spelling, grammar and even information?
From the perspective of every student, these mistakes are confusing, but when we think about the rural students, where their lifeline is textbooks, the situation becomes ever grimmer. One study found a 15.5% primary school teacher absence rate. (“Roll Call: Teacher Absence in Bangladesh”(PDF). Site resources.world bank.org.2004.
Retrieved 2013-10-25.) According to the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, there were 1,08,537 primary schools in 2014, and in many villages there are at least one more kindergarten schools. Along with the qualified government primary school teachers, the under-qualified, untrained teachers of hundreds of thousands of rural schools completely rely on these books and of course on grade less guide books. That is reason enough why textbooks must be flawless.
The negligence in terms of spelling is very alarming. Learning to spell helps to cement the connection between the letters and their sounds, and learning high-frequency “sight words” to mastery level improves both reading and writing. Joshi, Treiman, Carreker and Moats describe this connection: “The correlation between spelling and reading comprehension is high because both depend on a common denominator: proficiency with language. The more deeply and thoroughly a student knows a word, the more likely he or she is to recognise it, spell it, define it, and use it appropriately in speech and writing.” They also note that “the major goal of the English writing system is not merely to ensure accurate pronunciation of the written word – it is to convey meaning. If words that sound the same (e.g., rain, rein and reign) were spelled the same way, their meanings would be harder to differentiate.” (Joshi, R., Treiman, R., Carreker, S., & Moats, L.. (2008-2009, Winter). The real magic of spelling: Improving reading and writing. American Educator, 9.http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/joshi.pdf p. 10). These students will one day become doctors, engineers, policy makers and leaders. I feel horrible to think that I will have to discuss my old age complications with a doctor who cannot differentiate between ‘hurt’ and ‘heart’.
Another question gnawing at me is, when I would cut students’ marks for incorrect spelling and grammar, and they would argue that their books contain a lot more mistakes than they made, what should be my response?
I often compare the job of a teacher with that of a doctor, as when one takes care of our intellectual health, the other takes care of our physical health. Can you even consider for a while that while operating on a patient a doctor is rushing to finish it soon? Never, right? So why do we have to rush to finish the publication of books? It is great to have books ready on 1st January, but certainly not at the cost of tons of confusing mistakes and misleading facts! I read somewhere that after the final draft is prepared the author and editor cannot even find time to see it for one final time before going for printing. Even worst, the final drafts of some textbooks go missing! Providing half of the books at the first of January and the rest towards the middle of the month might save a lot of trouble. Utter lack of sincerity, time management skills and planning produced this resulting mess. This act of unethical rush for gaining cheap popularity is costing us, Mr. Minister, and it will cost you too. Let me finish with another quote from Donald L. Hicks. “Nature never rushes, yet everything gets done.”
The writer is Vice Principal, Zia Hasan International School, Karotia, Tangail