Unlocking the mind

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT what age does a child start thinking? Experts believe that children have a mind of their own since they are born. Some even believe that their cognitive abilities are present even when they are in their mother’s womb. That is why they are more at ease with the language they hear their mother speak.

It is a different — though sad — matter that we, as adults, suppress this creative and critical thinking power of children that nature has endowed them with. Since we are comfortable among conformists who do not pose uncomfortable questions we shape our education policies in such a way that children forget how to question.

Adeel Hashmi at CLF. Picture Courtesy: CLF
Adeel Hashmi at CLF. Picture Courtesy: CLF

It is time we realised that such retrogressive policies are damaging our children. In this age of lifelong education, formal schooling should be designed to create the ability in students to apply their literacy and numeracy skills for acquiring more knowledge, doing research, solving problems and using their creativity.Education should actually be a tool to enable students to proceed on a self-help basis to grow intellectually and master new skills to progress mentally.

This is possible only if students learn how to think which unfortunately not all schools are teaching our youth how to do.

This holds especially true for public-sector schools where 66pc of our primary-level students are enrolled. It is this shortcoming that the Children’s Literature Festival has set out to correct.

Since October 2011, seven sessions of the CLF have been held, the latest being the one in Lahore last week. The idea of the founders has been to “unlock the power of reading” in children by offering them reading material other than textbooks. Thus they hope to revive the activity of reading for pleasure which has gradually been replaced by television and computers. In the process, the child’s mental horizons should be widened.

The CLF was the brainchild of Baela Raza Jamil, head of the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi, an NGO running schools in Pakistan. Baela rightly feels that our textbooks and the pedagogy employed are encouraging rote learning and not inculcating the capacity among students to think. Undeterred, she joined hands with Ameena Saiyid of the OUP and Nargis Sultana of Open Society Foundations to create new avenues of learning for children by launching the CLF.

The idea has caught on and 500 schools participated in last week’s events bringing a huge crowd of nearly 30,000 youngsters to the Punjab Library Complex for two days of fun and leisure in the shape of storytelling, art, discussions, song and dance as well as a bonanza of books for children. Most of the children were from public-sector schools and who are normally not exposed to such extracurricular experiences.

At the inaugural session, Baela rightly pointed out that our education system is too exam-centric which robs children of the pleasure of reading books as a leisure activity. Small wonder parents are complaining that the reading habit in children is on the decline.

Baela described the CLF as being all about “learning and healing”. Mubeen, a young paraplegic child from a government school for special children summed up the value of books beautifully when he said that he wanted to have a lot of books to read because they kept him engaged by giving him hours of happiness.

The public response to the CLF has been impressive. Baela has promised to conduct an impact assessment to determine how it is shaping school policies and children’s attitudes. There are two benchmarks that can be employed. The first is the spread of the idea. There were teams from India and Dubai to observe how the CLF idea can be exported to other countries. It would be a positive development if book reading assumed the form of a movement and CLFs were to mushroom all over South Asia and the Gulf region.

The second yardstick to measure the success of the CLF is the level of participation of children, the key stakeholders. For the first time, the CLF organised story-writing and poetry contests and art competitions and nearly 3,000 entries were received. This was an impressive level of public interest that was generated among the youth.

There are two dimensions of the CLF that make it so important. One is its stimulating impact on the children who get interested in books and scholastic activities. This is an attempt to spread learning and education through an informal framework that promotes the reading habit in a relaxed atmosphere rather than in a rigid classroom setting.

The CLF plays another significant role. In the plenary sessions, many education-related issues are addressed in which policymakers are also invited to participate. This time there were sessions on making education for special children inclusive, curricula and textbooks, peace education, language, gender and power, early childhood education and promoting the library culture. It was virtually an education fest.

One hopes the messages get across to those who control our children’s future through their education. It is an idea worth exploring if two days are devoted entirely to activities for children and the third day is exclusively for adults — educationists, policymakers and, above all, the teachers whose voice seems to be missing in education policymaking.

They need to be provided more space as they are the pivotal element in the education system. It is time an interactive discourse was held with them to improve pedagogy.

Source: Dawn

11 thoughts on “Unlocking the mind

  1. Brilliant article Zubeida. I wish those who frame the education policies would at least try to be learn and see how we are lacking in this A few private schools and dedicated reachers will pursue reading habits in children and many parents who do try but by and large our whole education systm is so exam oriented. I realise that this is the way to judge students for moving on in their studies but it should not be the end all. I have seen over the last few years that students who take oart in extra curricular activities, or are made to think out of the box in a classroom their critical thinking and otherabilities get better. Their skills in other fields excel and as such the student grows to be a matured confident youth. Reading is foremoast–enlightens the mind exposes them to many aspects of a society they may not actually confront but they can learn about it from books.

  2. Today I read about the CLF in your article "Unlocking the mind .I agree with every word that you have written.
    I am no scholar, but I love children and I love my country. I want to contribute what ever I can. I have written a book for children. It is called
    " Chalo Farm Chalo "
    I have printed 1000 copies, and giving
    them free Some people like the book and are buying them. I plan to save the money and print the book again.At
    present I am working on a new book
    which will be called
    Chalo School Chalo

  3. since the first thing we the kids were taught by my father and mother that our ancestor mohamed yar khan came from buner in tribal areas and fought with his eldest son saleh mohamed khan in the third battle of panipat january 12,13.1761was our ancestor-the latter had 2 brothers-one was the ancestor of my mother noor us sabah begum settled in rampur state,the third son was dost mohamed khan the ancestor of scientist dr.abdul qadeer khan.second my mother's tutor was engaged to teach my 2 elder sisters and me-my father built a garden between the zenana house and his kothi a garden called 'chaman' for us -in which we studied,played and it was divided into 5 parts as we kids were 5-that was our favourite place-phool akhbar was subscribed for us-and in italy's invasion of abbysinia(Habsha) there was a conflict between my 2 elder sisters whether it was habsha or jaisha-my mother had decorated a room of only 3 elder of us-the 2 younger sisters were not counted-for each of us was written in his corner like what is your name,religion etc etc.that room was our mini-school in sherpur 12 miles from nepal.food was prepared in 2 parts for us and the servants and many others living with us-.remember it was the period of international economic depression 1929-1939

  4. Endorse the views of Naseema Kapadia.
    You have drawn our attention on inculcating cirtical thinking theninds of the students. Not only students, adults need to learn how to question and how to draw conclusions. Your ariticle is the second one. The first was published last year.
    We have to train out teachers on critical thinking methods. It is gigantic task and need the support of the Govt education policy. The civil society in our country is not focused and not well organised. Your efforts and that of others will take time to generate the environment where the policy makers will realise the need for opening of the mind. Your article is beneficial to the societyand we hope you will continue to enlighten us. iqbalalavi.

  5. Today I read about the CLF in your article "Unlocking the mind .I agree with every word that you have written.
    I am no scholar, but I love children and I love my country. I want to contribute what ever I can. I have written a book for children. It is called
    " Chalo Farm Chalo "
    I have printed 1000 copies, and giving
    them free Some people like the book and are buying them. I plan to save the money and print the book again.At
    present I am working on a new book
    which will be called
    Chalo School Chalo

  6. until the mother-tongue issue is settled,such galas will benefit the urban-based privileged few.gems are being wasted due to this educational apartheid.

  7. Dear Zubeida Mustafa Saheba,

    I do not miss reading your articles for long. The reasons are: you address genuine issues and write effectively. I have just read your most recent article “Unlocking the mind.” I want to convey my heartiest congratulations to the innovators and the organizers for the great event. I would also like to appreciate and thank you for writing such great things.
    Can such events be done in Balochistan by the organizers? Can you make it happen in Balochistan? I can only hope. You are requested to try to draw their attention towards Balochistan. We severely need CLF event in Balochistan too. Should I nurse expectations? I have no doubt in your ability and willingness to make it happen.

    1. Habibullah Sahib,
      A CLF was held in Quetta in Sept 2012. I wrote about it. Perhaps you missed it. Mrs Zobaida Jalal was the key person there. She facilitated the event.
      I will convey your message to Baela.
      Thanks for appreciating my articles.

      1. I hope Balochistan related things would be coordinated in the future. Many thanks for the great pieces of writings.

  8. The opening para itself completes the issue. It has been scientifically proved that a man starts learning when in womb. After birth he learns from her mother and him/herself.

    A kid of around 6-7 months cannot walk and to cover some distance he/she crawls and would reach her mother. In home all adults walk and no one crawls. So crawling is a good example of self-education.

    First mother then self education and thereafter teachers, books, society plays respective parts in imparting good or bad education.

  9. I agree with the premise that the education system has not only failed at teaching students how to think but has effectively worked to curb the thinking abilities. I believe that the grading system is the primary blaming point for this. Additionally, the education is not to create informed and civilized people – the goal of education should be for an individual to be able to think for themselves and if they deviate from a certain society's norms based on some rationale then so be it. Unfortunately, the education system does not reward such behavior – rather penalizes it. Standardized tests are another source of woes – the multiple choice type questions being a classic case of all that has gone rogue with the education system.

    The education system also fails to address qualities that would be in demand in the future. For example, creative thinking, visualization, and problem solving based on this.

    Closed book exams are another issue that further instigate the problem. I believe that the examinations should be open book. Above all, a closed book system would make it mandatory for the teachers to come up with unique examinations. Internet should also be available for students to use in the exam. I believe that the examination system must mimic the real world as closely as possible. Never in the real world is a student faced with the possibility of having no access to internet, digital media, magazines, books, journals, peer opinion, etc.

    These are just some of the issues with the education system that need to be addressed. Above all, the extreme reliance on English as an aptitude "gauger" is also incorrect approach. So, if I am well versed in English does that mean I have a better aptitude than a person of same age perhaps selling tea at a "dhaba"? This is the kind of conclusion that an English emphasized aptitude tests leads to and this is INCORRECT.


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