Monday November 28, 2022

Something for the kids

July 15, 2022

Many years ago, when most of us were children or teenagers, PTV, the only official channel on air, used to host a series of television programmes for children, in its evening transmission. These programmes included education material, some dubbed shows from channels such as National Geographic, high-quality local programmes including quiz shows and dramas, etc.

There were programmes which people of that generation still remember such as the unforgettable Uncle Sargam who offered life lessons and entertainment, and other shows which encouraged literacy and skills.

Today we have over 100 channels on air. But not a single channel seems interested in producing content for children or young people. There is so much that could be achieved through the media in a country where the bulk of the 220 million people is under 30 years.

Children and young people are the future of this country; they need to socialize and be educated and trained in a completely different fashion from what is happening today. Parents, regardless of their social and financial standing, hand over smartphones and tablets to their children as young as four or five years, setting up a different manner of thinking for the brain – one which encourages less focus and therefore less interest in reading, a skill which requires concentration to complete a chapter and absorb the words that run through it. This is a handicap for life and not just for studies.

They are challenged in terms of awareness of the world and for work purposes. Good reading encourages good writing. And this is a skill that is still required in today’s digital age since Google spellchecks and grammar checkers cannot correct or improve the basic quality of a piece of writing.

But television programmes are not intended just to promote focus and ability to pay attention to a single event for a prolonged period of time, depending on a child’s age. This can vary from five minutes for toddlers to over an hour for teenagers. Instead, teenagers and younger children are obsessed with astonishingly violent video games. It is surprising that parents give the gaming console to children without any scrutiny or vetting of these games. The messages given out in such games are frightening. They promote the idea of killing as a fun activity, where more deaths lead towards victory.

In the US alone, starting from the terrible Columbine school shootings to the other shootings that have followed since then, children, all of them boys, are thought to have been brought into the dark world through the video games that have absorbed their attention and time and within which they have built their lives. We do not want this age of darkness in our country, with video games taking over the life of children and teens.

Childhood is also the time when a great amount of learning takes place. This is not only limited to the learning imparted – often quite poorly – at our schools and colleges, but also learning which involves respect for others, tolerance, community life, civic behaviour, and other factors which are inherent to a group of people living together for prolonged periods. Television shows targeting the age group between 6-7 years and 17-20 years could help impart all of these important ideas in the minds of young people – the seeds of an education we have lost.

It is quite obvious that textbooks, including those that were compiled under the PTI-led Single National Curriculum, have no intention of doing so. Nothing in these books was directed towards low-income groups or those who live in rural areas. Have we forgotten about these people? Have we forgotten that a massive one-third of our population lives in poverty? This is something to think about.

Where books fail, television can help fill the gap even today where it is often watched on personalized screens, such as laptops and tablets, by putting forward programmes which can hold the attention of young people, and offer them not only knowledge in the conventional sense, but also learning in a far wider understanding of the word.

This can happen by developing a team at one or more channels, which produces quality programmes for children, as is the case in some other countries, providing both entertainment and lessons on how to conduct oneself in a diverse society. The idea of ending divisions which have been created and taken up by young children and their elders today is frightening. We see children in school battle it out in fields over the question of which party they support because of the dichotomy which now exists and the manner in which these parties have conducted themselves and the language they use.

The use of such language in the media has led to children taking up similar vocabulary when addressing rivals whether at school, or in terms of politics and sports. This is harmful. We need to return to the age of greater innocence and understanding. Well-meaning and well-directed programmes can enhance learning and knowledge of children to a tremendous degree.

Right now, most children at government schools and at low-tier private schools do not know about towns in Balochistan, continents in the world, the manner in which the solar system works. The same is true in other fields such as maths, with no effort made to clear concepts, and this critical subject is taught only through formulae and rote-learning, as is the case with other subjects.

Again, television can be used to help expand knowledge as has happened in other countries, including some in Southeast Asia and Latin America. We must remember that children and teens are the future of this country. We quite clearly need a different kind of person, people with compassion and understanding, even if many live in the country today, if we are to turn into a country which is respected in the world and respected by its own people no matter where they live and what they do. This should be the aim of TV producers for the future.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: