Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Changing children’s lives

Egyptian television and radio programming for children has been neglected over recent years, with worrying results for the nation’s children, writes Nesmahar Sayed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

One day a child arrived home from school and told his mother that a schoolmate had said, “They saying you’re a baltagi [thug].” Her son had replied, “If I am a baltagi, then you are an irhabi [terrorist].” The mother listened to the story and made no comment except to say that “children are no longer what they were,” a comment that many have made in similar situations.

“Over the last 20 years, and before the 25 January Revolution, there was increasing emphasis among the different ministries responsible for the ‘Reading for All’ project on the importance of reading for people of all ages,” Yaqoub Al-Sharouni, an expert on children’s books, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The revolution succeeded in attracting many adults to political events, but it also diverted attention away from cultural events and activities. “Talk shows became many people’s favourite viewing, and this meant that many homes were no longer dedicated to cultural education for children,” he said.

This explains why some children today have missed out on their childhood reading. Sales of children’s books have gone down, and some publishing houses have closed, Al-Sharouni added.

In response to the problem, the Egyptian Board for Books for Young People was set up to promote writers, artists and publishers working on children’s literature. “Now such initiatives for attracting children to books once again have been transported to other Arab countries, for example in Sharjah in the UAE, where plans are underway to distribute 50 million books among children in the Arab world in order to encourage them to read,” Al-Sharouni said. “But where is Egypt’s contribution?”

Some young people have also abandoned reading for the Internet and other forms of technology. Al-Sharouni said that while some parents allow their children to spend hours on the Internet, this is done mostly out of ignorance of the bad effects that this can have on them.

“Fifty per cent of a child’s mental abilities are created during the first four years of life,” he said. If young children give up reading in favour of Internet surfing, they risk being disabled for life, he said. Schools should develop the spirit of collaboration among children and the feeling of being at one with others, he added, and help children to understand the world they live in rather than simply consuming it through technology.

Children’s attitudes to music have also changed. “The golden age of children’s songs was in the 1960s, when children’s programmes targeted children by age group, interests and linguistic abilities,” said Shawki Hegab, a poet. There were daily programmes for children on radio and television until the early 1970s, when children’s programmes started to deteriorate and then disappeared as a result of war and economic difficulties.

“During the golden age many people were responsible for producing distinguished programmes for children like Ibrahim Abdel-Gelil, Zein Al-Labbad, Adli Rizkallah, Samir Abdel-Baki and Shewikar Khalifa, the latter developing cartoon strips in particular,” Hegab said.

Many of the children’s programmes included children’s songs. “I wrote more than 1,000 songs to music by the late Ammar Al-Sherei, Sayed Mekawi and Hani Shenouda. Famous characters like Boqloz and Koki Kak were still known to many children in the 1980s and 1990s,” he added.

Before the revolution, the “Reading for All” project, sponsored by Egypt’s then-first lady Suzanne Mubarak, also managed many projects for children and encouraged media producers and specialists to work on them. “After the revolution, children lost out because much of this work was abandoned, meaning that today’s children no longer benefit from the kind of material that was available to earlier generations,” Hegab said.

Hala Fahmi, a television presenter, said that before the revolution the censorship department at the State Radio and Television Centre had worried about programmes for children that could encourage them to rebel against authority. In the 1990s, some children’s programmes were suspended for such reasons, she added.

“There was a programme called Gamila Ya Baladi (My Country is Beautiful), for example, that was cancelled even though it aimed to inculcate patriotic sentiments in children,” Fahmi said.

Today, she said, there are few if any children’s programmes on State Television, and this had not been made up for with further activities in schools. The result has been that many “children are trapped in Internet games that spread violence and other things. The loss of the tradition of children’s programmes on television and radio has been a crime against Egypt’s children,” she said.

Nahla Yassin, a television presenter, singer and actress, agreed with Fahmy and said that the state should pay more attention to children in its cultural programming. “I have been working for 13 years in the field of children’s TV programming, and budgets are very low compared to what is spent on adult productions,” she said.

The result has been that children’s needs have been neglected, and Egyptian children, lacking national children’s channels, have been driven to watch foreign ones. “This affects both their language skills and their feeling of belonging to their homeland and their culture,” Yassin said.

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