Pakistani children and libraries

Children and network of libraries
Pakistani society is full of contradictions. While the book reading and purchasing habit has begun to pick up as has been confirmed by many in the book trade, libraries still lag behind.

The few that exist are now chock-a-block. The reading room in the Rangoonwala Hall in Karachi is open 24/7. Yet the law of supply and demand does not seem to be at work in the expansion of libraries for adults.

Why this discrepancy? Why is there not enough interest in setting up libraries when the demand for books is growing? Identical factors seem to be at work which militates against the spread of education.

The government which should take the initiative and play the key role in setting up public libraries has been shying away from this responsibility because it feels it derives no political dividends from a policy aimed at making citizens educated. The private sector works for profit and there is not much money to be earned in the library 'business'.

If you look at the break-up of the 8,092 libraries - the number calculated by Dr Raees Ahmad Samdani in his PhD thesis - and if you believe the Pakistan Economic Survey which gives the number of colleges at 3,292, you will find that only one in four colleges has a library.

The record in schools is even worse - 481 libraries in 223,000 institutions. This is shocking. At a time when interest in children's literature is growing, the government should have capitalised on this trend by establishing a network of libraries targeting young readers.

The absence of libraries in many schools and colleges is a poor reflection on the state of education in the country. With rote learning from notes being the norm and no attention being paid to encouraging the child to search for knowledge there is no room for a library.

But there is a whiff of fresh air in the atmosphere of stagnation that marks the library scene today. Enterprising NGOs, some of which have been working for decades but in their own areas, are attempting to revive public interest in these institutions of learning. Recently, the Alif Laila Book Bus Society (ALBBS) - set up in 1978 in Lahore - launched a campaign to "combat the menace of terrorism" by promoting the reading habit in young people.

Mrs Basarat Kazim, the chairperson of the society, is of the opinion that books can promote peace and tolerance. An integral part of ALBBS's campaign is the promotion of libraries, which should have a lasting impact on the culture of book reading. Alif Laila certainly has the credentials to spearhead a campaign of this nature.

Since its inception in 1978, the society has come up with innovative ideas to provide access to books to children, especially the under-privileged ones. The first library (exclusively for children under eight) was established in a double decker bus donated by the Punjab Road Transport Corporation.

It was followed by the reference library in Lahore with a stock of 5,000 books for girls and boys.

The mobile library called Dastango came next. It visits a number of schools - 20 in Sheikhupura - to make books accessible to children. Apart from its own libraries Alif Laila has set up libraries funded by other organisations in Muzaffarabad and in schools in 59 districts of Punjab as well as resource centres-cum-libraries in Bagh, Abbottabad and Mansehra.

One hopes the Pakistan Library Association and the All Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association will join this campaign. They should consider setting up small libraries and reading rooms in all neighbourhoods in different towns and cities to instil the reading habit in the young. It is an investment that will bring them good returns in a few years.

The local government in Karachi has tried to involve the corporate sector in the beautification of the city. Why doesn't it earmark land for libraries and invite companies to build them as a part of their social responsibility. And what happened to the city library?

What would be a better time than this for parliament to expedite its work on the Public Libraries Act under consideration by the Senate's standing committee on libraries headed by Mr S.M. Zafar?

If this law is given shape and then adopted by each province, it would establish a public library system all over the country to provide free library services to the people. Besides every local authority will be obliged to set aside two per cent of its budget for libraries while the provincial government will have to provide matching grants to boost the finances allocated to libraries.

When conditions are right for a move, delay can be tragic. Children are emerging as the new readers of today. We must capture their interest and if need be a beginning can be made with children's libraries as Alif Laila did 30 years ago, sustaining them with related projects of hobby clubs and publishing for children. In due course these children will become the critical mass of the adult readership of tomorrow in Pakistan, something about which many of us have dreamt of for ages.

At Stockholm's public library that I visited in the 1980s I was fascinated by a play area in the main hall near the entrance. I was told that parents who come to the library accompanied by their children find it convenient to leave their wards there to amuse themselves with the toys and puzzles available. Since they are regular visitors, the toddlers move on to the adjacent children's section of the library when they grow up and reach the reading age. Needless to say by the time they are adults they are avid readers.

In Pakistan, let us hope that the children, the new champions of the book culture, will emerge as the leaders of the library movement. And all success to the Alif Laila Book Bus Society in its noble mission. Wasn't it William Wordsworth who so rightly described the child as the father to the man?

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Tevta workers worried about future
Rawalpindi: The proposed privatisation of Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (Tevta) has sent a wave of unrest among the regular employees of the authority.

Punjab government has sent a summary about the privatisation of Tevta to standing committee of Punjab Assembly on Industries for approval, which would be presented in the assembly as a bill.

United Teachers Association Punjab's Rawalpindi President Imdadullah said that the provincial government had decided to privatise the authority and they feared about the future of the staff shifted from the department of technical education.

The representative of the technical education teachers said according to the summary the government had directed the regular employees both teaching and non-teaching to go back to their parent departments otherwise their services would be given to private sector under Tevta.

The Punjab government had replaced the department of technical education with Tevta in 1998 and all the education institutions and other assets were handed over to the newly established authority and about 7000 to 8000 teaching staff was sent to the Tevta.

Imdadullah said there existed no technical education department and their future as regular employees of Punjab government was at stake and if they opted to work with Tevta they would lose their past experience and future benefits.

The representative of the teachers said the government had not taken any recommendations from the stakeholders and silently sent the summary to the standing committee for approval without taking into consideration of the future of regular workers of Tevta.

He urged the government to secure the future of the regular employees and if government decided to go ahead with the proposed summary of the privatisation the teachers would be forced to protest against the proposed legislation. Dawn

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NA body for closure of private schools underpaying teachers
Islamabad: National Assembly's Standing Committee on Education on Wednesday asked Ministry of Education to close down those private schools, which were paying teachers less than Rs 6,000 salaries.

The committee, which met here with Abid Sher Ali in the chair, also directed the ministry to withdraw the notification making it mandatory for federal educational institutions to place the book 'Mard-e-Hur', written on President Asif Ali Zardari, in their libraries.

The committee members noted that majority of private schools especially in small towns were not observing the 'Minimum Wage Law'. The members recommended to the owners of schools to pay salaries to teachers through banks so that the actual position could be properly monitored.

Regarding the book on Zardari, Standing Committee chairman remarked, "Zardari has not done any wonders and is not a national hero. Therefore, the notification sounds ridiculous."

He said that private schools used to receive fees of summer vacations from students but did not pay salaries to teachers. "The ministry should enact laws for ensuring payment of salaries to teachers during the vacations," he added.

The committee also examined the Compulsory School Attendance Bill, 2008 and the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill, 2010.

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Private medical colleges fee
Islamabad: A three-member Supreme Court (SC) bench on Wednesday directed the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council's (PM&DC) Secretary to file comments till February 15 on the fee structure of private medical colleges.

The bench, comprising Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan, Justice Ch Ijaz Ahmed and Justice Mahmood Akhtar Shahid Siddiqui, was hearing a suo moto notice taken by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on an application seeking reduction in the fee being charged by the private medical colleges.

The application was filed by an educationist Amjad Khan, who is serving as Assistant Professor in Government Degree College Mian Channu. The applicant has sought direction to the private medical colleges to fix minimum fee at Rs 500,000 instead of Rs 800, 000.

While entertaining the application on January 18, the CJP had issued notices to the PM&DC and the Attorney General, besides directing the private medical colleges to furnish para-wise comments on the application through the PM&DC. The CJP had directed that the application be treated as a petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

In its preliminary report, the PMDC has submitted that it had neither given any fee structure to any college nor was involved in any related activity, however it was in the process of consultation with the federal government for rationalising fee structure of the private medical colleges. Daily times

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Doctor goes berserk
Rawalpindi: The Rawalpindi Medical College (RMC) principal has ordered a departmental inquiry against a doctor of Benazir Bhutto Hospital for forcibly occupying the office of medical superintendent and making derogatory calls to the hospital staff, it has been learnt.

The inquiry was launched against Dr Shafiq Niazi, a medical officer at the department of anesthesia, on the recommendation of the Board of Management of the allied hospitals.

Dr Niazi had been accused of occupying the office of the medical superintendent in the absence of the hospital head few days ago.

He took over the office after manhandling the staff, who tried to stop him. He also made phone calls from the office to different doctors in the hospital and humiliated them. Benazir Bhutto Hospital MS Dr Asif Qadir Mir, when contacted, said the doctor was issued show cause notice some time ago by the administration and he was perhaps reacting to that action.

He, however, added that Dr Niazi was said to be suffering from "psychological" problems. Dawn

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National Science Olympiad
Islamabad: 'Intel National Science Olympiad 2009-2010' will be arranged by Intel Education Initiative in collaboration with Ministry of Education today (Thursday). Minister of State for Education Ghulam Farid Kathia will be the chief guest on the occasion, said a news release issued here Wednesday. The national Olympiad will be attended by youth from across the country.

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Artworks display at NAG
Islamabad: The exhibition of artworks done by the first batch of graduates from National College of Arts, Rawalpindi Campus, opening at National Art Gallery on Wednesday showcases a vibrant display of multi-dimensional creative expressions of a diverse group of young artists.

Titled 'New', the exhibition displays about 40 artworks by 13 fresh graduates of NCA ranging from traditional paintings, sculpture and miniature paintings to interdisciplinary art practices involving video and moving comics.

Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr. Javed Laghari inaugurated the exhibition. He was full of praise about the vibrant display put up by the young artists of NCA at their first degree show. He said that artists are the identity of a nation and these young graduates of NCA have done a commendable job in sketching the identity of this nation in their individual creative capacities.

He also stressed the need to provide a permanent space facility to NCA Rawalpindi Campus so that the students can work in an enduring environment.

Pakistan National Council of the Arts Director General Tauqeer Nasir said that the future belongs to the younger generation of artists and the NCA graduates have worked hard to portray a brighter future of art in Pakistan.

Earlier, NCA Rawalpindi Campus Principal Professor Nazish Ataullah in her welcome note described the difficulties faced by the students due to lack of permanent space for the campus.

The works put on display at the degree show illustrates bold representation of views expressed by the students from within and around their aesthetic boundaries and experiences. Besides investigating formal concerns, the works of the fresh graduates contextualises opinions, personal quest and concerns, beliefs and social practices, gender politics, and other such subjects from their day-to-day life.

The degree show becomes all the more meaningful within the context of the environment surrounding the students and the campus where they studied and produced their work. The news

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