Dear Baela and Ameena,
As I walked out of the Children’s Library Complex I saw a gentleman struggling to adjust five little girls with beaming faces, on a motorbike. While I tried to convince him to do two rounds, he told me that it was not so difficult in the morning, but by the end of the day each one of them had collected loads of freebies from the different stalls and were not ready to part with any of the printed material- some of them just scraps of paper! One of the little girls said, “I will decorate my room with these brochures as they will always remind me of the most enjoyable day of my life”.
Thanks for inviting me to the Children’s Literature Festival. It was a very unique experience given the disturbed times we’re living in; the participation in terms of numbers and fervor was absolutely amazing. The overwhelming public response definitely points at the need for such events; it also signals a general sense of awareness about the significance of reading. The fact that so many schools and families were there shows the readiness of the people to divert their energies towards reading and books. Accolades to both OUP and ITA for making people understand that books are not just pieces of paper, and that books and reading can open up minds to infinite worlds of information and entertainment. CLF made many teachers, children and parents understand the many different ways books and other teaching and learning materials can be utilized as alternate resources of information and entertainment.
I was also impressed by the participation and professional handling of the various technical sessions. I was invited to moderate the session titled “Why some children can’t read” a talk on Dyslexia by Ms. Shahina Alvi and Ms. Mona Qaiser of the READ Foundation, Karachi and “Challenges of inclusion” a talk by me on the making of Just Like the Other Kids a supplementary reader focusing on inclusion.
Ms. Shahina Alvi and Ms. Mona Qiaser shared with the audience the misconceptions associated with Dyslexia. They urged the need for remedial interventions during the early years of learning. The team also touched upon the various diagnostic and corrective tools and techniques available within Pakistan to address dyslexia and other related learning difficulties. The ensuing discussion also drew attention towards the glaring absence of tools and techniques to measure dyslexia and other learning disabilities in Urdu. There was general agreement that this was not a simple matter of translating the available resources, it required more intense efforts to customize evaluation, diagnostic and remedial materials for users of Urdu and other local languages.
I shared with the audience the making of the supplementary reader “Just Like the other Kids”. The book aims to raise awareness about inclusion in school going children of lower primary grades in Pakistan, a teacher’s guide was also developed by ITA, with the aim to integrate as part of the curriculum. Financed by the World Bank’s South Asian Region “Youth Innovation Fund” and Pakistan’s “Small Grants Program” with some assistance from SIDA-WDR 2006 Equity in Development Grant; the book was to be the first of a series. The audience contributed actively to the discussion and urged the need for writing and publishing more books on inclusion. The audience requested for copies of the book, which were not available as the book was out of print. There was realization that Pakistan was amongst the few countries where inclusion was never taken up seriously. The need to mainstream children with extraordinary needs into the regular system was discussed and the value of raising awareness through reading materials and media was also urged.
Mr Abdullah Sumbal, Secretary Special Education was candid in admitting that a lot still needs to be done for improving the quality of education for children with special needs. He appreciated ITA and OUP for organizing Children’s Literature Festival at such a scale and for dedicating a session on learning disabilities and matters pertaining to inclusion. He supported the audience in their demand for inclusive education in Pakistan and wrapped up the session by opening doors for public private partnerships for improving the quality of Special Education in Punjab, he invited READ to extend its expertise to Punjab.
What next? It is important that this should not stop as a one-time grand event. Such events should be organized annually and also at local (tehsil) levels. The thrust on promoting reading as a key to literacy should be sustained by other efforts such as:
– Activating school libraries (where they exist) including reading time in the timetable·
– Encouraging schools to set up libraries and reading rooms and book clubs ·
– Involving community in reading activities (parents and other educated members of the society to lead; respected illiterate members of the society can support reading activities by participating through story telling etc ) ·
– Engaging High School and Undergrad Students as volunteers/reading guides and supporters
Please convey my sincere appreciation to FOSI , especially to Ms Nargis Sultana for supporting an initiative that will lead to reforming the learning culture in Pakistan. Best wishes