LAHORE, Oct 30: Seher grins happily as she walks out of the Children’s Library Complex, armed with a bag of books, and a bright butterfly painted on her cheek.
“It has been a great day,” she says. “I enjoyed all the sessions I attended and wish that festivals such as these would happen all year round.”
While there is little else for children and youth to do, the Children’s Literature Festival – the 7th of its name -- opened on Wednesday and countless schoolchildren were seen at the fair having the time of their lives. Students from a number of schools in Lahore took part with all their enthusiasm in the event’s different sessions. This year’s theme was based on “Unlocking the power of reading” which aimed at promoting love of reading among children so that they may become critical thinkers, ask questions, learn to access information from books and other sources, process that information, and form their own opinions.
The festival which is to end today (Thursday, Oct 31) has been organised by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in collaboration with the Oxford University Press (OUP) and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) saw students, youth and families that kept the venue packed the whole day. Dawn is the media partner for the event.Book stalls by various publications attracted most children, while the main garden held all-day activities one after the other. Sessions including story-telling, story-writing, and discussions on curriculum and textbooks, libraries and Right to Education (for older children) were held in the smaller halls inside the main building.
“Finally, the Children’s Library is being utilised for something that today’s children need,” said a father of two who feels that there is little attention given to extracurricular reading in schools, both private and public. “Children must be made to interact in activities that are not empty or shallow so that they can become critical thinkers.”
Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan inaugurated the event where he said the importance of supplementary reading and literature could never be undermined and added that only those nations had progressed that involved themselves in reading, writing and learning new knowledge.
He said the Punjab government had worked hard to improve curriculum and textbooks besides establishing good institutions for the better education and learning of schoolchildren. It had also given a go-ahead to include information on various historical sites in textbooks from classes 1 to 10, he said.
Welcoming the Indian delegates, the education minister said Pakistan and India should continue their war together – but of that against illiteracy, poverty, extremism and terrorism. He said Pakistan and India should enter into healthy competition and cited an example that the Punjab government broke India’s record of National Anthem recitation by 45,000 youth, which India again broke with recitation by 100,000 youth. “We will struggle to break this record again,” he added.
Federal Secretary Education and Training Ahmad Bakhsh Lehrri lauded the festival organisers for creating an opportunity for thousands of students to come out of their routine school environments and access supplementary readings.
ITA Director Programmes Dr Baela Raza Jamil said the festival had been organised to promote the culture of reading in children across Pakistan and enhance their capability to think creatively and critically. She said this festival had helped bring together children from all backgrounds and languages to a common platform where they could learn, communicate, interact and participate in fun activities without any biases.
Dr Baela said it was a matter of grave concern that children were being pushed to read only their textbooks and continue preparing themselves for examinations. She said the CLF would be having a healing impact for such children and encourage them to read literature and supplementary books and eventually build an innovative society.
She said the CLF was unlocking the power of reading and minds and added that the ITA received some 4,000 entries with regard to story, poetry and paintings competitions.
OUP Managing Director Ameena Saiyid stressed that children must be given full access to libraries in their respective schools. He stressed that teachers should not lock libraries to “safeguard” books and instead allow students to study all books.
A number of activities like story-telling, theatre, art competition, animation, creative writing, digital workshops, discussion on different themes, sing-along sessions and puppet shows were part of the festival. Some stalls were specifically meant for parents or educationists.
Technology for Education (T4E) set up a demo of a new and advanced type of interactive computer network for classrooms. This was user friendly and would help train teachers to use technology, content and pedagogy in a coherent way. Demonstrations helped show teachers and students both of the system’s benefits.
Ankit Chadha performed Daastangoi, while other performances included those by Zambeel Dramatic Readings, Mandwa Theatre Group, Nigar Nazar, Gripp’s Theatre, etc. A launch of the Biloonghra book series by Asad Mian was held, while serious discussions included panelists Zubaida Mustafa, Tanveer Jehan, Neelum Hussain, Chintan Girish Modi, etc.
Activities by Little Art showed how to make stories through film and photography, story-telling sessions attracted many younger children, and workshops on poetry and public speaking, and debating too interested many.
‘Laal’ performed in the evening to wrap up the busy day.