Too many young minds are being brainwashed with rubbish. Too many hours are being spent memorising gibberish. Too many hands are slavishly penning utter nonsense. Even discerning students are forced to parrot nonsense if they want to succeed.
Recent questions from actual SLC Compulsory English exams:
"Apply for the post of an accountant to the Personal Manger." (Jesus\' box of straw in the stable would love to receive a letter.)
"Travel Broaders Mind" (And Exercise Lengthers Body?)
" Write a few Paragraphs" using these clues: "Rhinoceros 2 tonnes weight 40 KM Speed per hour, good sense of Smell (but clearly no sense of Capitalisation).
To be fair to the examiners, these are all questions from the past. Perhaps the standard has improved. Browsing through this year\'s exam, however, uncovered these doozers. From Science: "In which type of rock do gem stones found?" (They do found in igneous rock.) "What is the advantage of being the wall of ventricle thicker than that of auricle?" (Being the wall thicker of ventricle is for pushing further the blood.)
From Compulsory Mathematics, a challenging word problem: "A (some invisible ink here?) can do a piece of work in 24 days. He alone worked it for 6 days and the remaining work by joining with B (A\'s a welder, right?). If the whole work was completed in 18 days, in how many days can B complete the work?" (2 B answered later.) Instructions in the Compulsory English paper are clear as mud: "Write an essay on anyone (but not everyone) of the following topics." "Write a readable (what other kind is there?) story on the basis of the given outlines". So how are students prepared to deal with the eccentricities of the SLC examination paper?. Quite well, actually. Students are coached in deciphering typos, employing a new lexicon of English, writing tautological definitions, being unintelligibly verbose, making egregious grammatical errors, contradicting themselves, and in perpetuating stereotypical views for two years before the exam if they only read their textbooks carefully.
Typographical errors (for which there is no excuse since any decent software will highlight in red or green on the screen) are myriad. I\'ve included just some of my students\' favourites: a complete anthology would require dozens of volumes. From Health, Population and Environment Education for Secondary School (Rama Pustak Bhandar, 1999): "Eagle and hack eat snakes." (p 220) On p 177 "It [AIDS] is a fetal disease." The Grade X book of the same series claims on p 118 that we should "complete the doze as prescribed" and on p 119 that "tight dress or pencil hill boot may effect on posture".
To draw from other texts, note from Elementary Office Practice and Accounting (Ekta Books and Stationers, 1995 (revised!): \'To know all international language is the bets yet English is enough" (p 8) and from Our Social Studies Grade X (Ekta Books 2000) "Malanchi project has been under construction, at the completion of which it is hoped that there won\'t by shortage of water at last in the Kathmandu valley.\' (p 43).
Okay, so there are a few typos. That\'s not much of a problem; communication is rarely seriously impaired and a lot of (much needed) levity is introduced.
SLC students also get exposed to a brand new vocabulary.
Sprinter English Workbook Grade 9 (Bhundipuran Prakashan, undated) has "aweful" and "pits" as synonyms for "bad" (p 73). It\'s too pits the book doesn\'t explain how to use these words. Equally tickling are the idioms it introduces on p 86: "I hear that Kiran is in hot soup (as distinct from cold soup?) for cheating on the examination" and "the post office is only a kilometer from my house as the bees fly." (Birds and bees- they\'re all the same thing).
Our Social Studies Class EX extols Bhrikuti because she helped Nepal develop a "friendly and matrimonial relationship" with Tibet. The book includes other great stuff: "He was distrusted by his first marriage" (p 372) and "Because of her fatigueless efforts, her health gradually declined" (p 386). Elementary Office Practice and Accounting writes "Tactness: Tactness is such a personal trait which means for solving problems in any condition using mental power, tricks, idea, knowledge, and experience." (p 11) William Safire would have a field day. I\'ve got nothing against extending my vocabulary, but I do like to be intelligible. The SLC text provides great practice in articulating hopelessly entangled definitions. Health Population and Environment Education for Secondary School Grade 9, for example, states: "A healthy environment is necessary to make a healthy place for human beings, animals, and all other living-beings. In this connection, it is necessary to know about environmental health that contributes to keeping environmental components such as land, water, air etc. clean and fresh. It helps to keep the environment healthy. If the environment is healthy, it helps us directly or indirectly to be healthy." (p 215) Basically, the importance of keeping our environment healthy is keeping our environment healthy.
I\'ve heard rumours that writers of SLC texts get paid by the page. True or not, they certainly suffer from logorrhea. (That is a word.) Obviously the writers of Our Social Studies Book 9 have never heard the word \'succinct\'. Typical is their explanation of the difference between physical and mental work: "Some people use me power of their muscles whereas some sit at the table and use their brain in writing, sketching, and planning. When the physical strength is applied, it is called labour. Most of the workers require physical strength. Labour does not mean only those who carry goods from one place to another, dig solid and work with machineries. It also includes those who use their hands and feet in order to make something happen. At the same time, those who read, write, speak or use their brain are also called workers. They also put their labour into something to get a result." (p 80) Got it? No yawning. You need to regurgitate all this on the test and you\'ll still only get 1 mark out of 2. The more I think about it, they more I\'m convinced textbook writers get paid by the word.
Another interesting quirk of the SLC texts is their creation of a novel syntax. Gone by the wayside are articles. Commas are like weeds, flourishing in the wrong places. Agreement between subject and verb is ignored and pronouns rarely have an antecedent. Capitalisation is based on whims inscrutable to us ordinary mortals; proper and common nouns have reached new heights of classification.
An example or two will show you what I mean. Lovely article usage: "A good food containing all sorts of nutritions (another new vocabulary word for you) like vitamin (I guess I forgot to mention plurals), calcium, carbohydrate, etc, develops a good health" (p 31 Health Population and Environment Education for Secondary School Grade 9).
Check out the new comma usage, subject and predicate split: Most people in developing countries like ours, suffer from water born (spelling or typo? You judge.) diseases. Super pronouns: "An unhealthy person cannot make progress in life. Their mind is always occupied with the disease they have, taking medicines and providing for that" (p 30). The new capitals: "Physical Exercise is now pan of education" (p 32).
If students aren\'t confused enough by the grammar, writers make sure they include plenty of bewildering contradictions too. What sense can you make of these examples? On p 205 of Health Population and Environment Education for Secondary School Grade 9 gender equity is explained: "Gender equity is to have notion of equality towards both sexes by acquainting with equal existence between a male and female and to treat and behave in equal manner. The nation and society can not be developed until there is discrimination between male and female." So, do we need to discriminate or not?
Our Environment Health and Population Class X (Ekta) has a similarly confusing statement about the "rol" of parents: "The parents are by nature emotional towards their children. Such kind of tendency can be seen easily in human and also in birds and animals. It is not a new thing but a natural process and a natural law. It is self energetic and strange nature of man in the human race" (p 22). Is parenting unique to humans or shared by other animals?
How do students decide? As almost all of the flaws above are language-based, we might postulate that the Nepali versions of the same texts are better written. What cannot be excused, however, is outright misinformation, and, unfortunately, the texts are filled with the very myths and superstitions that they try to dispel. A diabetic friend of mine, for example, was most miffed to read this description of her disease in Our Social Studies Class EX; "Let\'s think of diabetic patients. Neither the}\' can eat normal food nor can they have a sound sleep. The situation is even worse when they have to take an insulin injection before every meal. They are lean and thin, too weak to work, and live a sort of cursed life." (p 30) A healthy woman who injects herself with insulin every morning, my friend enjoys her life, as do millions of other diabetics.
The teenagers in my class were equally outraged by Health, Population and Environment Education for Secondary School Grade 9s description of their emotional state and I was puzzled by the denial of feelings to anyone under ten: "Emotions like anger, fear, jealousy, curiosity, grief, joy, affection are developed in adolescence. Due to the development of curiosity we want to take part in all sorts of activities. If someone hinders in our activities we become angry. If we are diverted in this stage we may fall in deteriorated activities." (p 141) Oh?
Any couple who chooses not to have children or for whatever reason does not have children will be horrified to read the following: "Sterile people are hated by society. Such couples should always be dominated by the couples or persons who have child or children" (p 49) True, the writers meant that we should not ostracise the childless couple, but that is not the message delivered.
If you\'ve ever had a sip of beer, beware. You are doomed, according to Our Social Studies Class X: "Alcohol does not kill a person instantaneously but in a slow process. Slowly the liver of the user will stop working and in a couple of years the person dies. The user of alcohol alone is not effected.... Financially, the person will become bankrupt, there won\'t be any peace in the family and people living in the surroundings will feel insecure if there is a drunkard in the neighbourhood." (p 132) Talk about scare tactics!
A final example to emphasise the extent of the problem is one my students of four years ago still quote on occasion; for them, only the language is firmly ingrained, but how tragic if the idea, too, had penetrated. The Elementary Office Practice and Accounting text states: "Make-up is a type of ornament of ladies. But gents also can serve make-up to look attractive. Make-up adds something to personal beautiness.... While using make-up materials, one should be careful enough to serve lightly otherwise that may look hopeless-ugly" (p 10).
Although I\'ve only used examples from the texts I teach, I didn\'t have to look hard. I must admit, too, that the books cited are all in English and all were published privately for English-medium schools (although, by all accounts, the content of the Nepali texts produced by the government is no better). Still, all these books have the seal of approval from the officious-sounding Curriculum Development Centre of His Majesty\'s Government. This means they are recommended for use by thousands of Nepali students all over the country.
It is generally known that no textbook goes through an editor. In fact, one of the biggest publishers of textbooks in Nepal confided to an acquaintance that he was not even aware that books are edited before being published.
Too many young minds are being brainwashed with rubbish. Too many hours are being spent memorising gibberish. Too many hands are slavishly penning utter nonsense. Even discerning students are forced to parrot nonsense if they want to succeed. The Sprinter English Workbook writes "He turned a new leaf after his accident" (p.86). Even without the "over", it is obvious that textbook writers, too, need to "turn a new leaf" if education in this country is to experience a much-needed revolution.