RECENTLY I decided to have some fun with books and children. Isn’t
that a paradox? We are perpetually told that our children do not read
books. So how could I even think of combining the two and call it fun?
But believe me, it was fun. I decided right away against any boring
imposition on the children. No speeches on how wonderful books are. Let
them discover this for themselves.
My friend Farida Akbar, a trainer of Montessori teachers, and I held a
session during the summer programme of a school for underprivileged
children where I teach English to Grade 9 students on a voluntary basis.
THE road that takes you to the Khatoon-e-Pakistan School, Karachi, is
a steep one. It has been an equally uphill drive for Shehzad Roy’s
Zindagi Trust to transform the institution it adopted in 2015.
The school was in a shambles a few years ago like all peela schools I
have visited. They have huge buildings and expansive playgrounds
testifying to the vision of their founders from the early years of
Pakistan. But lacking maintenance and good governance, they have fallen
THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.
It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not→
ZM: You have had a diverse career — teacher, artist, publisher, activist and writer of children’s books. Which of these roles have you enjoyed and cherished most? Which gave you most satisfaction?
Rumana Husain: At the very outset you have posed a difficult question! J
However, if I have to choose only one of these roles then I would say writing/illustrating children’s books has always given me the most satisfaction. And I have consistently done it for thirty-two years now.
ZM: Are you satisfied with the book publishing industry in Pakistan? Especially children’s books. Please elaborate.
RH: The answer is “no”, because there are very few writers or illustrators of children’s books to begin with, and by that I am not referring to school textbooks. When I co-founded the Book Group back in 1988, it was prompted due to a dearth of good Urdu books for children. Although the situation is slightly better now, it is still far from satisfactory. In my personal experience of doing over sixty children’s books, none of the publishers have made it financially worthwhile; be it small publishers or large publishing houses. I have done it for the love of it, but monetary gains have always been negligible. Therefore why would people bother about writing books for children? Continue reading Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain→
Zubeida Mustafa’s book is not just for the practitioner and lover of journalism, it’s been written by someone who has worked on raising awareness about social issues
“I also discovered during this phase what the newspaper reader’s habit means. I had been told that it was one of the most difficult habits to break — even more than cigarette smoking,” writes Zubeida Mustafa in her almost-autobiographical book My Dawn Years — Exploring Social Issues. With her work as an editor and a journalist spanning more than three decades, and her columns continuing to appear to date, Mustafa, then, is also a hard-to-break habit for the Pakistani newspaper reader.
THE judiciary in Pakistan has traditionally been viewed as a rubber stamp for coup-makers who intrude into politics. Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry showed the courage to defy Gen Pervez Musharraf — albeit seven years after the army chief had entrenched himself as head of state. In the words of The Economist (August 2009), “Most people do not care to remember that Mr Chaudhry and his colleagues also took their oaths after Mr Musharraf’s first coup … and owe their promotions to him”. Justice Chaudhry won popularity as a David who took on Goliath.
Today Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s judicial activism has found some supporters too. And one can understand why. When a vacuum is created in any area of national life, it is inevitable that it will be filled by one or the other force. Matters of governance have deteriorated to such an extent in all sectors that people here are in a state of despair. Continue reading Justice for all→
THE infamous legacy of ‘enforced disappearances’ that the Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet left behind has, unfortunately, been picked up by Pakistan. This phenomenon is today a source of great human agony in the country with thousands believed to have been abducted, many for political reasons.
Balochistan has suffered much. One cannot be certain about who is behind this torturous form of suppression of the freedom of expression. One hears of the ‘agencies’, Baloch dissidents, RAW agents, religiously inspired militants and others being involved. Continue reading Guns or books?→
When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”
The narrative in this slim hardcover, My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, is quintessential Zubeida Mustafa: direct, understated, deep, nuanced, thorough — and meticulously indexed. Black and white photos, though somewhat grainy, are well captioned, providing a pictorial reference to many of the events and people mentioned in the book. Continue reading Integrity above all→
ON a bright sunny winter day of January in Lahore, Pakistan’s renowned poet Amjad Islam Amjad spoke to a huge audience of young people. “Karo jo baat karni hai. Haan sunn lo dosto/Jo bhi dunya kahay/Uss ko parkhay binaa maan lena nahin (Speak out what you want to … Listen to what the world says/But don’t accept it without weighing it),” he exhorted the listeners. Amjad was speaking at the inaugural session of the Children’s Literature Festival. In a few words he captured the spirit of the CLF.
Launched in 2011 to introduce children to the power of the word — how to think and how to express oneself — the CLF opens for them the fascinating world of books that are the natural kin of words and language. It is appropriate that young readers should also learn to use their mind, which, unfortunately, our education system does not encourage them to do.
Focused on rote learning, schools and teachers resort to a one-way flow of communication in which students are expected to listen and learn. Questions are taboo and, unsurprisingly, children are lulled into a world of conformism where they lap up whatever they are told. Education is not participatory and the students’ contribution to their own learning is minimal.
The festival opens up a fascinating world of books for children.
The CLF, which has had 45 sessions all over Pakistan in big cities and small, is now gradually emerging as a people’s movement offering an alternative narrative to what our education system presents. According to its founder. Baela Raza Jamil, over a million children have been reached in the seven years since its inception. Now schools in remote areas group together to hold such festivals, initially under guidance from Baela’s team. The idea has been taken up in some cities of India and Nepal from where interested people attended some CLF sessions in Pakistan and returned impressed.
The festival held at the Shahi Qila Lahore in partnership with the Walled City Lahore Authority had a different dimension which underlined the importance of such events for the children of this country. Thanks to WCLA’s restoration work at the walled city we have yet another piece of heritage to introduce to our children. The CLF wisely used this opportunity to connect the children with their past, their culture, natural beauty, music, art, et al. Not only would they have returned home on those two January days with serenity in their soul, they would have imbibed love, generosity and tolerance for a lifetime.
According to a widely cited poet, Dorothy Nolte, “Children learn what they live”. A day at the CLF was enough to instil in them all the positive qualities our education system fails to do in 10 years. This holds true especially if the exposure to such an experience is on a regular basis.
The key lesson the CLF offers to our education authorities is that the best form of learning is participatory and interactive. When a child is acting in a play or in a theatre, singing or reciting, experimenting with material related to STEM subjects as she did in Science Fuse and the pottery, sculpture, bookmaking workshops, she is learning many skills much faster than she would have in a classroom reading from a textbook. At the CLF children used all their faculties when they participated in a session.
Take Atif Badar, a passionate actor, director and drama teacher who describes himself as “a children’s person”. He held five interactive theatre workshops and story-singing and dance sessions with hand puppets which were the best learning experience the children could ever have had. Atif not only told his own stories, he also encouraged children to join in with theirs. His stories and puppets were lessons in the universality of love, peace and tolerance.
In a session ‘Socho aur Bolo’ (think and speak) children were invited to share their views and experiences on issues ranging from anxiety, anger and other topics taken from a narrative. Thus they learnt how to analyse and think critically.
With continuous research, the CLF should break new ground. It is important that the organisers do follow-up sessions with schools that have participated in a CLF to assess the impact it had on the students. Thus the CLF can be fine-tuned further. As it is, I found the 45th session that I attended in Lahore was markedly more participatory and interactive from the point of view of the young audience than the first session in 2011.
The Teachers’ Literature Festival was launched in 2013 when its need was felt but only three sessions have been held so far. It is now widely recognised that our education system would improve considerably if teachers were more motivated and committed. What could motivate them better than the TLF? Workshops, discussions, lectures, films and plays for teachers could do wonders.
A RECENTLY launched collection of Hamza Alavi’s papers and speeches should be a timely reminder to us about the role that faith has come to play in Pakistan’s politics. Translated into Urdu by Dr Riaz Ahmad Shaikh (dean of Social Sciences, Szabist), Tashkeel-i-Pakistan: Mazhab aur Secularism leaves no one in doubt about the misuse of religion by our leaders to gain advantages in public life at the expense of the people’s well-being and the national interest.
Hamza Alavi, who was a Marxist scholar recognised in world academia, firmly believed that the founder of this country never sought to set up a theocratic state. Yet that is the direction in which Pakistan appears to be heading. Continue reading Misuse of faith→