Several weeks ago Martin Davidson, the Chief Executive of the British Council, and I were sitting in the Jinnah Library in Lahore meeting with Pakistani colleagues. At the end of the discussion, Martin asked what was the one thing we could do that would further strengthen ties between the UK and Pakistan. Without missing a beat multiple voices said “reopen the library”.
In Pakistan, libraries hold a special affection as a place for learning, a space to share ideas and a convening area for activities from lectures to performances. Many Pakistani friends have talked to us about how they spent time in our libraries before we closed them down. Over the last year, we have been reviewing our strategy, reflecting on how and where we work in Pakistan. We have been talking to friends and colleagues and listening to critics, too. We recently agreed on our new strategy and this involves scaling up our presence, working closely with governments, getting greater depth and impact for Pakistan in our work and also ensuring that we do things differently. So what does that mean?
We are focusing on three things. Firstly, opening physical and virtual spaces where we can provide services and support that Pakistanis have asked for. This means that in 2014, we will be opening the British Council Library in Lahore and the British Council Creative Arts Space in Karachi. This is the first wave of a new network that will work with partners to see enhanced presence and access. If we are successful in 2014, then we will aim to open more libraries and spaces in 2015 and we are looking at locations such as Multan and other cities across Pakistan
Our second priority is to scale up our work with teachers. We are working with the Government of Punjab providing training and support for teachers of English using a blended approach that includes face-to-face and online training support. Our aim is to support 150,000 teachers and we are planning to extend this model of partnership to other provinces of Pakistan. We believe that we could support over 450,000 teachers to improve their English language and classroom skills, thereby supporting improvements in the quality of teaching and learning. We are also reviewing whether we could open a teaching centre in Lahore in 2015.
Our third priority is in education where, over the next three years, we are working to support school enrolment for girls and joining with the education road map for Punjab, expanding our collaboration in higher education and research links including organising a South Asia Policy Dialogue on research networks in Lahore, as well as conducting research into the creative industries in Pakistan so as to build closer partnerships with the UK.
We will still be working in exams and the arts. When I first arrived in Pakistan, I was asked if the British Council was scaling down. The answer is clearly no, we are scaling up, moving out from behind walls and deepening our partnership in Pakistan. From opening libraries to working with the government on higher education, from support to school enrolment to expanding the arts and from building greater connections with the UK to opening creative spaces, we are working to support an expanded network of collaboration. As our chief executive stated, “Pakistan is one of the most important countries for the British Council and we can’t work in partnership unless we work across all of Pakistan, unless we work with all Pakistanis and unless we provide the support that is needed”. That’s our job now and so the library is back and much more …
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2013.
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