KARACHI: In these times of the Covid-19 pandemic when educational institutions have only just reopened, Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) and Children’s Literature Festival’s (CLF) three-day first Pakistan Learning Festival, which commenced in Karachi and Lahore simultaneously on Monday, was like a breath of fresh air.

Now that they are used to attending online classes, hundreds of children from all over the country were able to participate in the Zoom sessions and Facebook stream. There were so many interesting and interactive sessions and activities aimed at promoting learning among children during the pandemic, which could and can be attended by simply clicking on to the multiple links and sites. Thus it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the organisers went hybrid making it into a multi-site, multilingual and multicultural festival, also being held in collaboration with the British Council Pakistan, the Children’s Library Complex (CLC) in Lahore, Oxford University Press (OUP) bookshop in Karachi, Room to Read and the National History Museum (NHM) that is also in Lahore.

Day one opened with the national anthem in sign language by the students of Deaf Reach School followed by the Sanjan Nagar School choir singing the Children’s Literature Festival song written by Zehra Nigah and composed by Rakae Jamil, ‘Humain Kitab Chahiye’.

More performances included a Kathak dance by Har Sukh School and Sufi songs by child prodigy Mahnoor Altaf. There was also a book launch of Room to Read’s adapted book in Urdu Caterpillar ko Joota Chahiye that was done by role play by Government Primary School Nishtar Colony Lahore under the Pakistan Literacy Project with a simultaneous rendition in sign language by Deaf Reach. There was another book launch, of an English book Little Jimmy by Neda Mulji.

During the opening ceremony, CLC chairperson Mariam Khokhar, British Council area director Michael Houlgate, OUP managing director Arshad Saeed Husain and senior journalist and columnist Zubeida Mustafa lauded the efforts of ITA and CLF in organising the festival.

ITA’s CEO Baela Raza Jamil shared how ITA and CLF continued to work during Covid-19 so that learning never stops. “Pakistan Learning Festival is a part of CLF’s efforts to mitigate the learning losses incurred due to school closures,” said Ms Jamil.

The activity sessions turned out to be animated and lively. There was a session on bookmaking, comics art by AzCorp Entertainment, a virtual tour of the Walled City of Lahore, a session on critical thinking and creativity by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, classical multilingual poetry by Mahtab Akbar Rashdi, Abaseen Yousafzai, Sarwat Mohiuddin and Ali Raza, storytelling by CLF’s Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Jamil, STEAM from Karkhana in Nepal and Atif Badar, theatre sessions, puppet shows, talks, panel discussions on serious issues such as the Single National Curriculum.

Altogether there are over a hundred sessions planned for the three-day learning festival with 76 resource persons from Pakistan, Nepal, United Kingdom and United States of America and 20 partner organisations participating in the varied educational activities.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2021

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