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Children’s Literature Festival — A Source Of Empowerment For Pakistan’s Kids

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With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the world, the adoption of wholistic online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic. Initiative such as the Digital Children’s Learning Festival should have a domino effect as we need many more such ingenious resources, writes Rumana Husain

 

Schools have been shut due to Covid-19, resulting in over 1.2 billion children out of their classrooms globally. As a result of this crisis, education has changed dramatically, and e-learning has been undertaken on digital platforms, whereby children are either sitting behind computers or given lessons on their cellphones.

The Children’s Literature Festival (CLF), which was started in 2011 as a nationwide driver by its founder Baela Raza Jamil, and co-founder Ameena Saiyid, organised recently an exciting online Children’s Learning Festival to mark Pakistan’s 73rd Independence Day.

It was held from August 18 to 20. In fact, in response to the global pandemic, this virtual event was the first of its kind for the country.

So far over 70 CLFs have been held all over Pakistan, participated by 1,385,000 children and 100,000 teachers. Jamil’s Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) is the backbone of the CLF.

On the face of it, these three days of the Children’s Learning Festival may not be a brand new experience for children given their recent exposure to digital classes conducted remotely by their teachers, but the content and quality of the CLF is undoubtedly exclusive.

Where else could children listen to the wise words of educationist Dr Arfa Syeda Zehra and poet Amjad Islam Amjad in an interactive session; watch cinema by winner of several Academy and Emmy awards, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (SOC) Films; digital comics by AZCORP International, or explore emoting through a session on theatre by seasoned actor-teacher Atif Badar; learn various arts and crafts, including puppet-making and origami conducted by the British Council and CLF-ITA teams; learn the art of book-making from Batool Nasir of Oxford University Press; explore mother-tongues through the wise words of Guru Nanak and Baba Bulleh Shah, or listen to CLF Advisor Mahtab Akbar, Rashdi pay tribute to Sindhi Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai with a rendition of his ‘baits’ on love, compassion, and oneness.

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The open mic session ‘Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain Teray’ (Faiz) has always been a part of all the CLFs, for children to recite and render (preferably) their own poems or short stories. The virtual session was facilitated by Amjad Islam Amjad from Lahore and Syed Nusrat Ali from Karachi.

Telenor was on board to conduct a training session on Internet protection and safety. Children explored the world of coding and robotics by Edvon experts; absorbed the wonder and magic of experiments with Science Fuse, and acquired mathematical knowhow and more from Pop-up Learning. They also learned to make monsters, walking robots and twirling ballerinas from humble everyday objects in a session conducted by Oxbridge Innovative Solutions.

I must mention here the important and engaging interludes in the programme. Bina Jawwad and her Kathak classical dance students from Harsukh; videos of heritage and cultural diversity by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, and writer/ illustrator Abdal Mufti’s digital stories. Pakistan Sign Language’s interpretations of the stories and videos made the CLF truly inclusive.

Posters made by Child Champions, in order to end domestic child labour, Samar Minallah’s video on the subject, and in the same connection CLF Advisor Peter Jacob’s heart-rending poem ‘Zohra ka parinday say aakhri mukaalma’ were presented, and children were urged to join the ‘End CDL from Pakistan’ campaign.

A conversation was held with the winners of the 2019-2020 CLF Young Author Award – another initiative of the CLF. Besides, other books, three more CLF’s own publications were launched on the final day.  CLF now also has mobile rickshaw libraries.

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Lively and thrilling storytelling sessions were held by CLF Adviser, artist, author and activist Fauzia Minallah, Sadia Sarmad of Suno Kahani Meri Zubani, and by Zara Mumtaz. Stories by British Council, Room to Read, GoRead.pk, Uzma Niaz, Khalid Azad, and Kulsoom Zaib were read in English, Urdu, Sindhi and Pushto languages. Currently sitting far away on another continent, I too had a live story session.

Children were treated to Sohail Rana’s songs by the country’s first female Dhrupad singer Aaliya Rasheed with students of Sanjan Nagar School; stories and flute music from Hunza in conjunction with the Hunza Folklore Academy, and musician Asif Sinan taught ‘sur aur taal’.

Musicians Ali Hamza and Rakae Jamil rendered Ismail Mirathi’s famous poem ‘Barsaat: woh dekho uthi kaali kaali ghata…’ that also brings me to the beautiful CLF Tarana: ‘Hamay kitaab chahyye…jo zindagi badal they woh nisaab chayye’ penned by none other than Zehra Nigah, and composed by Rakae Jamil, which is sung at every CLF and children join in adding their voices to plead for a life-changing curriculum and textbooks.

CLF anthem was played in Pashto, translated powerfully by the renowned poet/author Abaseen Yousafzai, giving us hope that a social movement for learning that promotes peace, tolerance and positive transformations has begun, urging all to dare a dream for nationwide awakening!

With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the world, the adoption of wholistic online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic. Initiative such as the Digital Children’s Learning Festival should have a domino effect as we need many more such ingenious resources.

 

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