LYARI and Boston. A world separates them. But they have a common
connection. Coach Emad. That was the young man of 24 with a passion for
football. He passed away in May 2018 leaving his family shattered. He
died “of suicide”. That is how his mother, Atia Naqvi, a psychologist,
Mental illness is on the rise in our society, she tells me. It can
lead to suicide. Yet we do not want to talk about it because of the
double stigma. Mental illness is “disgraceful” but suicide is worse.
MAHNOOR is 13 years. She studies in the afternoon shift of a school
in Neelum Colony. Mahnoor is often late for class because she babysits
her six-month-old brother. Her mother is a domestic worker and is away
from home the whole day. Mahnoor can go to school only when her
nine-year-old sibling returns home from his school to take charge of the
The failure of population planning in Pakistan has robbed many
Mahnoors of the joy of childhood and has impacted their education. It
has also frustrated our policymakers who have another story to tell. The
backlog of 22 million out-of-school children in the country may never
be wiped out as 4m new aspirants join the list of admission seekers
annually. The government’s capacity to open new schools is limited.
WITH only 42 libraries for a population of 16 million, Karachi can well be said to be starved of food for the mind. It is a different matter that not everyone is interested in
nourishing the intellect. Boutiques and shops selling exquisitely
designed fabrics and dresses outnumber bookshops. The libraries, though
in inadequate numbers, have a vacant air.
Hence, it was a brilliant idea of the organisers of the 60th
Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), held recently in the metropolis,
to include a session on ‘Popularising Libraries’. It was sorely needed.
The organisers claim that nearly 25,000 children attended the festival,
which was initially launched nine years ago, with the idea of
introducing books to children. And libraries are an integral part of
creating a culture for books and reading. It would be interesting to
know if any of the schools that were in attendance considered it
worthwhile to introduce some of the ideas that were discussed in the
ONE reason why our education system is going to the dogs is that our
policymakers earnestly believe that to be meaningful, education must be
serious and dull. They think that a student enjoying herself in class is
not learning anything. That would explain why our classrooms are
generally not intellectually lively and why our students learn so
Having said this, I will ask the question I had asked in my earlier
column, ‘Books are fun’: can a child enjoy any activity in a language
she cannot understand? The answer is so obvious that it amounts to
insulting the readers’ intelligence and I am sorry for raising this
question again. Yet our schools insist on teaching small children in a
language they do not understand and enjoy. In Karachi, with the
exception of public-sector schools and some NGO-run educational
institutions such as TCF, the medium of instruction is either English or
a hybrid of Urdu-English because the teachers know no better. The worst
part is that all the reading and writing is done in English because the
textbooks used are in English.
Was it a coincidence? Or a case of action and reaction? To a casual observer
of the scene, there may have been a connection. That is how the scene
played itself out. It was a balmy Sunday afternoon two days before Eid,
and the occasion was a panel discussion on the economy at the T2F. Former PTI Finance Minister, Asad Umar, was being grilled rigorously about his government’s policy vis-à-vis the IMF. His interrogators were Pakistan’s two top-ranking economists, Kaiser Bengali and Akbar Zaidi.
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
A DISCUSSION on libraries always leads to the chicken-and-egg debate. We have few libraries because there are no readers. Or people do not read books as there are no libraries. In Karachi, both are in inadequate numbers.
Belonging to a literary family, the newly appointed commissioner of
Karachi, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, has rightly decided not to get trapped
in this debate. He has proceeded to address the issue of the state of
libraries by setting up a Council of Karachi Libraries comprising 12
members. These councillors have been tasked with the “restoration,
revival and revamping” of the public libraries of the city and upgrading
them. For this, the members will visit every library and prepare a
report on its working. Hopefully, they will also make suggestions on how
libraries can promote the book culture in our society.
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→