Battle of ideas

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS it has gathered steam, the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) — a unique event in Pakistan — has collected around itself a band of devoted supporters sharing the ideals of the founders. A key objective of the festival is to encourage children to read books so that they develop the faculty of critical thinking. Recently Karachi hosted the 11th CLF and on this occasion the question asked was what purpose books would serve in these testing times. Ahmad Shah, the president of the Karachi Arts Council, who generously opened up the KAC’s premises for the children of the city, had the answer.

The basic aim of education should be to change the mindset of people, he said. This can be done by promoting the reading of books — a habit which gives exposure to a variety of opinions and enlightens the readers in the process.

clf2014posterToday the biggest challenge Pakistan faces is extremism and militancy. Ahmad Shah put it graphically when describing various ways of confronting these problems. “One can go and hide like a rat in its hole and get killed in hiding,” he observed. “Or one can go and fight the troublemakers head on. If he is killed he would at least have gone down fighting.”

Given the situation in the country, the time has come for this last-ditch battle. It will not be a battle fought with guns and bombs. It has to be a battle of ideas.

In other words, the need is to develop a progressive and tolerant mindset — an idea the additional chief secretary of Sindh, who also heads the Education and Literacy Department, wholeheartedly endorsed at CLF’s inaugural session. The sponsors of the festival are trying to inject this enlightenment into all related fields. In that alone lies the salvation of this doomed country.

A happy concurrent development has been the growth of the children’s book industry that has expanded rapidly over the last few years. Eighteen new books were launched at the CLF. Book publishing, creative writing, libraries and the reading culture constitute a complex and symbiotic phenomenon. At the centre is education which is vital for all.

Children who are motivated and want to read are disappointed when they find books beyond their reach because of high prices. Publishers who are now venturing into the enchanting world of books for young readers find it difficult to keep their products modestly priced because of the low print runs and high costs. What is missing is the economy of scale that allows publishers to lower the per unit price when demand is high.

Other countries have got round this challenge by expanding their library network which boosts the sale of books and facilitates the economics of publishing. At the same time, the reading needs of children are met. Small wonder the publishers are now focusing on libraries, and NGOs are promoting school library networks.

The concept of mobile libraries is also catching on. The Alif Laila Book Bus Society has been running a library in a colourfully painted bus for 35 years now in Lahore. Its success has inspired the Citizens Archives of Pakistan to set up a library in a van in Karachi.

These innovative ideas must be emulated. What better strategy would there be to promote libraries than to focus on school libraries? Cannot every school in Pakistan have a library?

This may be wishful thinking considering that the Annual Status of Education Report 2013 tells us that only 58pc of high schools in the public sector in rural areas have libraries and the number drops drastically at the lower levels (8.2pc in government primary schools). Private schools are slightly better off but not sufficiently so. Only 62.7pc of private high schools have libraries and a mere 19.3pc at the primary level.

In a session on school libraries at the KLF a fortnight earlier, Zobeida Jalal, a social worker and former federal education minister from Balochistan, identified the lack of resources as a major challenge deterring schools from having libraries. True. The solution lies in enacting a library law that was drafted by the Pakistan Library Association and vetted by Senator S.M. Zafar several years ago but was never adopted. The Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi, whose brainchild is the CLF, could champion the cause of the library law where the PLA failed.

Apart from providing for the establishment of public libraries, such a law should make it mandatory for governments to ensure that every educational institution has a library and a budget for the purchase of books. A library movement could lobby our legislators for the enactment of a library law.

After all, Article 25-A for education, libraries, children’s book publishing and the reading habit are logically interrelated and that is what the CLF is all about.

Source: Dawn

5 thoughts on “Battle of ideas

  1. "—Children who are motivated and want to read are disappointed when they find books beyond their reach because of high prices…."

    "—–Other countries have got round this challenge by expanding their library network which boosts the sale of books – …"

    It is true that books are expensive to purchase !! However, many NEWSPAPERS do have a weekly magazine section . Often one finds excellent book reviews and a presentation of Children's Books in such newspaper supplements. These are not expensive .

    "—— a law should make it mandatory for governments to ensure that every educational institution has a library and a budget for the purchase of books. – …"

    Now ! please let's think !!! How many schools will actually follow such a **LAW** ? Why do I need a law to tell me to stock books for children? It should be a part of our national book-reading habits.

    The problem with a SCHOOL LIBRARY is that very often the teachers themselves do not make active use of the available books .

    For book-lovers the problem ( in old age ) becomes how to dust and maintain ones over-flowing bookshelves. I have tried to switch over to a Kindle-devise. It is excellent . It saves book-space in ones library. The drawback is that Kindle assumes that the reader is only interested in English-books. We need a Kindle for Asian language readership.

    The great advantage of a Kindle is that one can read in bed , late at night , with out disturbing the sleep of one's wife.

    Children need guidance about *HOW TO READ A BOOK * :

    Web Results
    How to Read a Book – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    How to Read a Book was first written in 1940 by Mortimer Adler. He co-authored a heavily revised edition in 1972 with Charles Van Doren, which gives …
    How to Read a Book: 10 Steps (with Pictures) – wikiHow
    How to Read a Book. A good book is one of life's greatest simple pleasures. Whether you are reading fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a big, heavy textbook, this …

  2. this is too good an attempt by the CLF to inculcate such reading habits among children.
    Ma'am is there any way i can attend your lectures where you teach r journalism, I look upto you and aspire to be a writer like you.
    Best Regards.

  3. Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

  4. With the passage of time, high rising price and online studies Books may or may not remain but the Battle of Ideas will remain.

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