Children do matter

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is now widely believed that the root of the evils of militancy and extremism in our society lies in the faulty education system of the country. Textbooks preach hatred and religious prejudice against non-Muslims.

Pedagogy is not designed to open up the minds of children, broaden their outlooks, inculcate tolerance and teach them to think critically. As a result, we are rearing a generation of discontented and disoriented youth that lack direction.

Given the shocking state of the education system, it would be a tall order to ask educationists to get children involved in their academic life and participate in education-related activities to keep them away from the clutches of unscrupulous elements who draw them into a life of violence. However, the Children Literature Festival organised by the Oxford University Press (OUP) and the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) in Lahore last weekend brought hope to many despondent hearts.

All is not yet lost in Pakistan. It clearly proved that it is not impossible to turn the system around and give a new meaning to education by providing children with more than the classroom-based instruction most of them are accustomed to at the moment. First a few words about the distinguishing features of the CLF that made it such a success. It was a ‘people’s’ event.

Children browse through books at a stall at the CLF in Lahore. Photo by Sadaf Zuberi
The selection of the venue — the Children’s Library Complex — set the tone. The complex, which is easily accessible, made such massive participation possible. In the words of ITA’s Baela Jamil, the children came in “wave after wave” — nearly 20,000 she estimates — and more than half of them were from public-sector schools that we have written off as being incapable of contributing anything to the child’s cognitive development.

The CLF more than confirms that our children, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, can still think, express their thoughts and achieve a lot provided they are given the opportunity for self-empowerment. Thus no talented lives should be wasted on account of poverty.

Another feature of the festival which made all the difference was that its proceedings were bilingual — English and Urdu but leaning heavily towards the latter. Even the chief minister of Punjab who inaugurated the ceremonies and began his speech in English ultimately came round to speaking in Urdu. The language factor was crucial. It made the CLF inclusive, notwithstanding the unilingual banners in English. If anything, some purely English speakers became the odd ones out. It also proved to be the ‘equaliser’ many of us want our education system to be.

There was some food for thought for the educationists who adopt a hidebound approach to pedagogy. The storytelling sessions, puppet shows, theatre, song and dance unleashed the energies of the three-to-eighteen-year-olds effectively. They became participants as their vociferous responses in many workshops — take the ‘live cartoon presentation and muppet show’ by Nigar Nazar and the storytelling by Fauzia Minallah ‘promoting tolerance through children’s books’ — testified to. That is what education should be all about. One has to do away with the culture of silence cultivated by our English-oriented education system in the classroom.

The idea was to provoke interest in books in the children. The organisers can rightly claim to have succeeded in their mission.

But will this interest be sustained? Many sessions, such as the one on ‘getting children reading’, ‘setting up and running a school library’ and ‘making a book’, evoked a lot of interest not just in the children but also their parents who are the key factor in inculcating the reading habit in their offspring.

This interest will have to be kept alive. Considering the prices of books, not many parents can afford to satisfy the demands of children who are avid readers. It is here that libraries have a role to play. The CLF will only make a dent if its focus on libraries triggers a public drive for school libraries.

The other area that received significant attention was language. Since one cannot talk about books without speaking about language, it was inevitable that the issue of language came under discussion in a number of sessions especially those that had adult participation. One session was entirely devoted to the medium of instruction.

There was consensus that a young child should make his or her debut in the world of education in a language he or she understands i.e. the child’s mother tongue. How various languages and at what stage should they be introduced in the school system needs proper research, planning and a policy. One can only hope that the CLF will get the language in education ball rolling.

Boosted by their success, the organisers have announced that a children’s literature festival will be held every year — in 2012 it will be in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That will be widely welcome but a way must be found to incorporate the ethos of the CLF in our school system on an ongoing basis. It needs to be done through the teachers and their pedagogy.

The importance of involving our teachers in the exercise of creating new bonds between children and books cannot be emphasised enough. Teachers need to be mobilised and motivated to perform as agents of change in the lives of children.

They can use the methods adopted by the festival to draw children to books and knowledge. This again may appear to be a challenging task in view of our decaying education system. It is time something was devised for teachers on a similar scale.

Were their self-esteem to be restored, they may be able to perform better.

Source: Dawn

24 thoughts on “Children do matter

  1. " —–will this interest be sustained? Many sessions, such as the one on ‘getting children reading’, ‘setting up and running a school library’ and ‘making a book’, evoked a lot of interest not just in the children but also their parents who are the key factor in inculcating the reading habit in their offspring.

    This interest will have to be kept alive. Considering the prices of books, not many parents can afford to satisfy the demands of children who are avid readers. It is here that libraries have a role to play. The CLF will only make a dent if its focus on libraries triggers a public drive for school libraries.—"

    There are 2 factors in this. One : the need for a * public * drive. Two : The librarian MUST understand that some books will inevitably be mutilated , " lost ", stolen etc. That's a human and childhood shortcoming ; not a SIN.

    Children usually pick up the * library habit* from their parents and from some teachers. Is it possible to have a pictorial encyclopedia in every home ???

    The other point : Will a library habit and a life-time reading habit , automatically produce a tolerant , non-bigoted
    generation of youngsters ?
    The answer is : PERHAPS ; but first society must learn to honour its school & university **teachers** ; and these teachers must have a spirit of tolerance in their outlook.

    For details , please refer to DAWN , 23/1/2011 an excellent article by Janab Ardeshir Cowasjee
    on * TOLERANCE*

  2. Thanks for writing about our current education system and its implications on our society in general. I have watched this book festival video on BBC and it was really good to see the children involvement and excitement in the activities but it was sad to listen the teachers response regarding Internet and learning. The only thing I want to comment is that why educationalists in Pakistan have negative perception of Internet and they consider it as a distractive force for children rather consider its potentials. The only thing I would recommend to these teachers that they should learn how to exploit the enormous benefits of Internet in learning. I think Internet has lot to offer to children and it can enhance children involvement and engagement in learning through fun way. And it is unbiased towards rural and urban kids and equally accessible to children. I just want to know about your opinion in this regard. Thanks again.

    1. Enjoyed you article. Yes, children should be encouraged to read, especcially the deserving ones. I have some children in my Montessori on sponsorship from the deserving area of Mahmoodabad sent to me from the trust school, Al Meezan Academy. I noted that the first thing they would do as soon as enter the class they would go to the book corner and choose a book, discuss it, talk about it enjoy themselves. This gave me an idea. Every birthday, I would make goody bags for them choosing different subjects, such as animals, fruits, vegetables and the works! India, I must say is doing a wonderful job of picture books for children at affordable prices. Ours are not bad. I am happy to say that my children now have about 12 picture books if not more and the next birthday, I already have books of flags for them to look at!

  3. all is ok with ur piece except the thing tat paki children r being brought up with extremism tat is being incaculated in them via school syllabi..unlike india's teen girl reciting an utter attrocius poem (kasmeer to hoga lekin pakistan nhi hoga), paki teens dont even remotely have any such poems full of hatred and atrocity.. and tell me one single line in our syllabus that propagates the hatred and blasphemy..besides we cant change the facts tat our ancestors were vehemently killed by hindus /sikhs during partition.. every nation has its own history..every japanese kid knows the history of heroshima nd nagasaki.. go nd ask japanese to stop educatiing their children abt that bcoz its bringing up hate for america in them..

  4. dear Zubeida,
    You are absolutely right that this early socialisation becomes a chief determinant of what kind of citizen you are likely to have. Althusser had a lot to say on this. Your tireless resolve to be on the side of sanity is to be applauded over and over again.

    badri raina, delhi.

  5. Can’t disagree more! Even from the very first paragraph. When you say ‘Religious Prejudice’ you keep missing the point: Religion is a prejudice, in itself. Even from the start of Prime Prayer, the other people who deny this message are condemned by the Creator of the Universe. Unless education is secular in nature and religion is taken as a ‘Natural Phenomena’ as defined Daniel Dennett. Pedagogy can’t open young mind with the same wide shut eyes …

  6. @ ahmed41

    Sir, The heavy cost of books viz-a-viz education can be lowered by other means also apart from Libraries. Student can make a pool and may exchange books at scheduled time and day. In our childhood we used to share books – give maths book and take science book and so on. It could also happen that in Library books are not available for all students. Use of Internet is a sound alternative.

    @Alamdar Khan

    Sir, Apart from Internet too many TV Channels are also attracting kids and teens by airing educative programs in a play/fun way. Mindset need to change. Internet is ultimately cheap as compared to cost of printed books.

    @ Ms Mustafa!

    Madam! It is not the 'children do matter' but it is the 'childhood that matters'. Foundation of a person is laid down in childhood. The school books come later on but it is the 'mother' who comes first. As the mother comes first so she has been crowned as GREAT TEACHER OF HUMAN BEING. Now it has been researched by Expert and Doctors that a person starts understanding even in mothers womb. Discovery channel keeps to air such shows. Viewing these would definitely help parents to groom their child in the best way.

    Yes of course it matters as what is being taught to children and in what manner. It may be a topic of Pak as to teach or not to teach anti-muslim subjects but this topic is alive in other countries also but differently. Every Govt sets syllabus keeping in view their main policy – one good example is in our Uttar Pradesh State of India Ms Mayawati is Chief Minister and she like to see that every student should only read about Kanshi Ram (her mentor), Gautam Budh.

    Though your article mainly deals with the situation prevailing in Pak but yet it is meant for all. Congrats and Thanks Madam.

  7. hate begets hate – and love begets love!

    pakistan needs to get out of this self destructive mode of preaching hatred and bigotry against other faiths and religions. the fire shall consume us all if we don't practice and preach tolerance – and this starts right from childhood – and classrooms. congrats to the sponsors of CLF. looking forward to their effort in KPK next year

  8. Ms Zobaida Mustafa
    Have read your article and also the interesting comments from other readers.
    The initiative of OUP is commendable. A tolerant society in Paksitan is possible only
    if the text books of the schools are changed and students are taught that there is no
    compulsion in religion. We must learn to tolerate discent and concede space to
    the opinion and believes of other persons.
    We appreciate your emphasis for change through modern education. Thanks
    Iqbal Alavi

  9. Have Read your article and would like to disagree with your opinion.Text books which are taught in Pakistan are absolutely OK.The very same books have produced ,open minded and tolerant generation which we see in Schools and colleges.It is a fashion to propagate a negative perception about our youth which is as aggressive as any other youth and as tolerant as Indian or westerns.On the basis of few incidents we should not evaluate and describe the entire youth of Pakistan.Wearing T Shirts and sleeveless is not tolerant. The Pakistani Youth in spite of being ridiculed by the Rulers and in spite of being unemployed, devoid of opportunities and several other injustices are still looking forward to work for the country.The tolerance is attitude which our youth has shown.

    1. @Shariq Vohra
      I am glad you have expressed your views on this important subject. No one wants to malign our youth. We all cherish them because they are our future. But when incidents such as those involving violence, anger and also intolerance (yes intolerance) become common we must start looking for their roots. Text books cannot be condoned (have you actually gone through some of the textbooks sir??) and if there are people who are not the worse specimen it is because they have had some neutralising factors in their life– broadminded parents. sensible mentors or the odd teacher who is outstanding. Conversely, there are people who never studied from these textbooks (either they didn't go to school or didn't study when they were in school) and yet they indulge in violence and are intolerant. We have to investigate what has gone wrong and where. Please don't adopt an ostrich-like approach.

  10. European schoolbooks present a distorted image of Islam and Muslims using stereotypes, a five-country study published on Sept 15 revealed showed.

    This slanted view reflects “cultural racism,” concluded Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute for textbook research, which analysed 27 volumes used in classrooms in Britain, France, Austria, Spain and Germany. The report was the first of its kind in Europe. “Islam is always presented as an outdated system of rules which has not changed since its golden age,” Susan Krohnert-Othman, said the institute’s project director.

    The researchers said that Islam is presented as a homogenous entity without reflecting its diversity in different parts of the world. The report did not find major differences between the five countries studied. The textbooks used at the secondary school level frequently depicted conflict between “antiquated Islam” against a “modern Europe”.

  11. Very interesting piece of research on glorification of war and military. Regarding Internet and digital contents there are many countries who are transforming their curriculum from paper based to digital. South Korea is one of the example I think digital contents are not only cheap but more interactive and more inclusive.

  12. In this article by Zubeida, the main idea seems to be the need for book-reading habits to be encouraged . This can be done by books at home, books borrowed from a library, books borrowed ( or exchanged ) between friends, via the internet or through e-books.

    How come, we feel that a well read child is necessarily going to turn out to be a tolerant, non-bigoted member of society ? Perhaps there are cultural factors which determine

    ones intolerance ?? Unthinking acceptance of the tyranny of the majority, for

    instance ?

  13. Dear ZM,

    I am greatful that you read my point of view.This website and your efforts are apppreciated.Yes have gone through the books personally and for sure wouldnt have an Ostrich like approach. Although I am an Industrialist but I personally go to my School almost 4 times in a week and teach the students hailing from the below poverty level families in the sub urbs of Karachi.I think having such a close liasion with the most vulnerable category of students helps me to know the reasons of intolerance.Yes the curriculum should be improved but even the US schools and colleges are not happy with thiers.I have gone through the study reffered by Mr.Isa Daudpota and agree to thier findings that the books contain historical distortions.However no history in the world is ever considered authentic rather it is always a relative reality and is some times biased due to interpretational capacity as well personel prejudices of the historians.In case of Pakistan religous content of the school books is counterproductive due to the lack of understanding by the teachers.By the way can you show me the acts of Intolerance by the School going children of Pakistan ?.Yes Madrassa students are being exploited and thier curriculum is promoting intolerance.

    1. It is not the children who go and commit violence because when they are young they do not have the physical capacity to go and attack people. It is when they grow up and betray the mindset they have imbibed from their textbooks that the trouble begins. The madressah children are also exposed to similar intolerant and dogmatic teachings, but they constitute only 2 pe cent of the schoolgoing children that they do not make the same impact.

      I am glad you visit your school and interact with the children. Actually that is the need of the hour. Even teachers are not interacting with their children . I wish they would.

  14. Dear ZM,

    In my opinion the children should not be taught such religious subjects which are beyond thier understanding. They should be only taught basic things about the life of our Prophet SAW,namaz, Islamic mannerisms,and such materials which helps them to grasp and understand the deatailing at a later stage of thier lives.I suggest the age of the children should be 12-14 years when they should be taught the concepts of Islam as well as the comparisons of different religions.We shouldnt promote secular education any way.

    1. How correct you are Mr Vohra. I hope you observe this in your school. Do tell us about your children's attitudes, from your own observation after following the principles you recommedn.

      1. We keep a detailed profile of each student and often indulge our teachers to provide counceling to the students considering thier background. We have a lot of students from hindu community and we always emphasise to all the students and the teachers to appreciate the belifs our students have. Attitude of our students has improved and we have no issues from such students who are in our school from day one.Let me share an important aspect.Students of our school do not have even 3 meals a day so they are eager to learn and find a livelihood which can improve thier life.Thier intrest in religion is not great.

  15. The point about a * books reading habit * is not just the reading. Education has to be quality education with quite a bit of value-education and moral-lessons.
    Similarly , kids need to be taught to summarize in a separate ongoing notebook, ever book and every article which they read . The summary would end with the central idea of the book. Finally a section of the notes would contain what the reader thinks are the positive and negative points of the book.
    Was the book worth reading ? Why ? Does it have any shortcomings ?

    Not every child will do this, but those who do so may turn out to be scholars.

  16. Being a teacher, I am in a position to closely observe the mindsets that the middle and lower middle classes of our society are beset with. Not having done any research study that would allow me to make any conclusive comments, my judgements are based on the responses given by students in the classroom. According to the drift and spirit of these responses it appears that the factors now effecting and influencing these mindsets are not solely based on what is studied at school in textbooks. The electronic media, the consumerist culture, the multiple perceptions created by forces that seek to distort realities in the pursuit of vested interests all aim to cultivate values in homes which become powerful enough to influence behaviours and thought paradigms. Thus, the 'blame' so to speak rests heavy on the shoulders of the establishment that commissions textbooks. It also rests heavy on our self righteous media that is led again 1)by the power it wants to divest itself with as the un-coverer of truths, half-truths and non-issues that detract from more pressing ones and 2) by the powers that be for the most obvious reasons of manipulating public thinking to suit their own purposes . So, a much more complicated situation is the outcome based on lack of a thought process that perpetuates irresponsibility and is lethal for our children and their future.

    1. Absolutely. The textbooks do matter but while focussing on the textbooks we should not forget that other factors are also at work. The media, the preachers in the mosques and religious gatherings. Everything has to be addressed and the dissemination of opinions encouraging violence should be discouraged.

  17. Thank you for very interesting articles!

    I work with education projects (teacher training, vocational level, eLearning) online and had one in Pakistan. Your subjects are intereresting also from a global perspective too. I work for the UN goal "Education for all" and especially the excluded. In the ICT development today, I see how important social skills and language is. Both locally and globally. I think pedagogical methods that stimulates both theory and practices, can create a holistic learning. The latest research about learning tells about "brain based learning" and intelligences. If the teacher map and use this with the class, learning get stimulated. With help of ICT as tools, the teachers and class can create and share learnng, locally and globally.

    From Pakistan perspectives, I have seen positive examples in Multan with Babar and children in his school. They work with childrens rights in practice and solve cases for example about health, traffic safety etc. With videos the children present what they learn, while the teacher make the movie. In this way the children get self-confidence and take more responsibility in learning. The get actors and not only sit still and listen all the time. They are the future so therefore we need to support their creativity, talents and ideas.

    Different backgrounds can be resources for learning and skills to handle a world with it. Social skills are really tools to be a good communicator and to create innovative cooperations and see perspectives.

    Thank you for your interesting articles! I will read your book too!

    Kindly regards from Emma Hedlund, Sharing Awareness, Stockholm, Sweden
    Tutor and Course Developer | Teacher Training | ICT4D | skype: emma_mkfc
    Phone +46-8-21 64 26 | l

    "End-to-End eLearning gives Education for All"
    eLearning Boldic Award 2008

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