The First National Dialogue on Writing Centres, organized by the Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing (ACCW)
Writing can be power-centric and exclusivist" Dr. Tariq Rahman
April 13: Illustrating a thought-provoking keynote address with images of letters and scripts from a range of historic and contemporary languages including Cunieform, Chinese, Arabic, Aramaic, Urdu, English and others, Professor Dr. Tariq Rahman, Dean, Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore stated that the use of literacy had often been used by a minority of persons to exercise power and control over people, resources and decisions that affected the vast majority. He also stated that, for example, the failure of a student in the IELTS English proficiency exam to qualify for overseas studies did not accurately reflect that same person's intelligence or knowledge or potential with regard to his own culture, language and capability.
He was delivering the keynote address at the first National Dialogue on Writing Centres hosted by the Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing (ACCW) at IBA Karachi on Thursday, 13th April 2017. The Dialogue was largely attended by professors, linguists, scholars, students, and prominent citizens from universities and colleges in Qatar, Lahore, Jamshoro, Sukkur and several institutions of Karachi. The day-long event held at the IBA Main Campus also featured other principal addresses by Dr. Ishrat Husain, Professor Emeritus, IBA, Senator(r) Javed Jabbar, Honorary Chairman, ACCW, Ava Cowasjee, Trustee, Cowasjee Foundation which supported the holding of the Dialogue, Ms. Maria Hassan, Programme Director, ACCW, Dr. Maria Isabel Maldonado Garcia from Spain based at Punjab University, Lahore and Dr. Syed Noman Ul Haq.
Panel speakers included Neelam Hanif, FC College Lahore, Stephanie Lee, Habib University Karachi, Mohsin Tajani, Ruqaiya Hasan Writing Centre Karachi, Ms. Neihan Yaqub, and Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar. Two other panels included 3 senior student consultants: Wafa Fatima Ispahani, Muneeb Ahmad and Daniyal Channa of IBA Karachi; Dr. Sajida Zaki, Chairperson, Department of Humanities, NED University; Roger Smith, Director, English Language Enhancement, Aga Khan University, Dr. Habibullah Pathan, Director, ELDC, Mehran University of Engineering & Technology, Jamshoro; Prof. Nasreen Pasha, Kinnaird College, Lahore.
Commencing operations in Fall 2014, the ACCW at IBA Karachi has so far helped over 1035 students to improve their writing skills, critical, analytical thinking and self-confidence in articulation. Providing a one-on-one consultancy facility in sessions of about 40-45 minutes' duration, students and consultants (senior students, lecturers etc.) review idea generation, structure of texts, grammar and syntax and complex stylistic concerns.
In his opening remarks, Senator(r) Javed Jabbar said that unlike some other mainly monolingual societies such as England, Pakistan was a vibrantly multilingual society. Arabic for religious texts, Urdu as a lingua franca, a rich range of regional and national languages and English as a language of wide common usage in NICs, driving licenses, number plates, advertising, media etc. indicated an extra-ordinary interaction and change, for better and for worse in language-use, both in social media and in mainstream media.
Dr. Ishrat Husain stressed that he had initiated the establishment of the Centre with a particular focus of English because in the current phase of globalization, English was the principal language of technology, science, research and international relations. Pakistani students seeking to acquire new levels of professional qualification in Pakistan or in overseas countries direly needed to enhance their proficiency in English to be able to benefit from new knowledge and obtain progressive employment.
Ava Cowasjee recalled her late father Ardeshir Cowasjee's deep commitment to promoting high standards of education and communication skills. She said that the Cowasjee Foundation was glad to support the establishment of the Writing Centre at IBA to honour the memory of her father who had used his writings for over 23 years for Dawn to focus public and official attention on matters of vital concern.
Maria Hassan outlined the historical evolution of writing centres from "writing labs" in the USA into writing centres to help students become better writers rather than enabling them to only produce better papers. She pointed out that ACCW uses a flexible, student-centric approach which allows individualized consultation at any stage of the process as most of the writing at higher levels is done in a language -- English -- that is not the writer's first language, Pakistani students face significant challenges to reach internationally demanded standards of academic and professional writing.
In the 3 panel sessions, speakers covered a range of issues such as aspects of the consultation process, critical thinking, whether the one-on-one model can be replicated to cover thousands or the tens of thousands who require guidance and support; the need for similar writing centres to promote proficiency in Urdu, Sindhi and other national languages; the vital importance of reading extensively and regularly in order to become proficient in writing.
Several speakers appreciated the convening of this first-ever Dialogue and expressed the hope that this would become a regular feature to facilitate exchange of experience and collective endeavours to advance the standards of writing in Pakistan.