Connecting People, Cultures

The British Council coming up with more programmes

Ershad Kamol | Published: 00:05, Sep 14,2018 | Updated: 14:17, Sep 14,2018

Andrew Newton

Andrew Newton. — Abdullah Apu

The British Council, in Bangladesh since 1951, is now planning to introduce more comprehensive programmes for fostering cultural activities in Bangladesh incorporating more people, especially the youth.

Taking advantages of the latest technologies like online platforms and social media, the British Council is working on projects for developing a future generation, which will enable people to have the confidence and skills to reach their aspirations in an increasingly digitally-enabled society.

‘We consider culture and cultural relations from a broader inclusive narrative incorporating as many young people as possible to develop relationships which allow for the exchange of knowledge and ideas.  We also as part of that wish to nurture local cultural heritages and at the same time helping youths of Bangladesh grow through a wider dialogue and exchange with young people, particularly from the UK, engaging them with modern technologies and platforms,’ said Andrew Newton, the British Council’s deputy director, in an interview with New Age.

‘We understand the importance of nurturing the creative minds of young people by involving them in cultural activities and programmes which also develop the skills and perspectives preparing them for the 21st Century, otherwise they won’t be able to necessarily possess the skills required to meet future workforce requirements as the world becomes increasingly automated,’ Newton elaborates.

The British Council, he says, is continuing to transform its library into a cultural centre and also working with the cultural affairs ministry and department of public libraries in order to further develop libraries across the country to meet the needs of young people with skills-based and cultural programming.

‘We believe,’ Newton mentions, ‘that a library in today’s society should not only offer books, it should also be a place where the members, especially the youths, will be able to have a choice of a wider range of services, while being able to learn in a more engaging setting. The British Council is launching this year its own Digital Library where we will offer to our members access to a range of content, not just books, but films and magazines which focus on  UK and international titles, in areas such as fashion, sport, music and business.’

In partnership with the department of public libraries, the British Council is aiming to develop a model library with all latest technologies in Munshiganj. ‘Just imagine,’ Newton shares, ‘what will happen when a Munshiganj-based library will provide all facilities offered by libraries in the big cities? We will develop such libraries across the country under our Libraries Unlimited project.’

The British Council will develop a shared vision of 21st century libraries across Bangladesh that embeds the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and provides communities with access to information, knowledge and skills development, he continues in the same vein.

The project summary shows that the British Council has immediate plan to establish 20 model public libraries and an e-library network and scale up services to public libraries across the country. ‘We will enable public libraries to provide an increased number of locally-relevant services that directly meet the needs of their communities.

‘Following our work and advocacy through the Libraries Unlimited Programme, prime minister Sheikh Hasina approved February 5 as National Library Day. We hope this day will continue to help raise awareness of the programme in the future,’ Newton says.

The British Council operates more than 20 projects dedicated to culture and cultural relations that aims to interact between education, arts and society exploring different aspects of cultures and heritages, while ensuring all programmes are linked to Sustainable Development Goals  2030, for which Bangladesh is striving for. ‘We work with local and international partners to develop cultural programmes focusing around the SDGs, particularly in, quality education, decent work and economic growth, gender equality and peace building which we can do only in partnership,’ he goes on.

An example of such multi-fold project is Women of the World (WOW) which is not just a women empowering project but also gives platforms to the district-based artists, writers, poets, performing artists and others to display their creativity to the public. ‘In partnership with the Southbank Centre, we successfully organised such programmes in Rajshahi and Khulna and got huge responses from the local communities. The programme will be held in Sylhet this month and in Rangpur next month,’ he says, informing that a big programme under the project will be held in Dhaka next year.

‘Our focus,’ Newton stresses, ‘is more on reaching people across the country and to inspire the young people, most importantly the young girls and women.’

‘The British Council is supporting to organise Dhaka Lit Fest annually in November at Bangla Academy, which has turned to be a great event for the writers and readers of English literature in Bangladesh’, said Newton’ adding that they were also adding diversity to the local theatre scene by producing the British Bard Shakespeare’s plays giving new interpretations.

‘Recently,’ he recounts, ‘in partnership with Dhaka Theatre and UK theatre company Greae, we produced A Different Romeo and Juliet in which ordinary people with disabilities played the characters. We also made a film of the play and will screen it across the country.’

He goes on to add that using the British Council platform many UK and Bangladeshi artists are collaborating in different fields of arts, both in the UK and Bangladesh.

In partnership with Alliance Francaise de Dhaka and Goethe-Institut, the British Council is also working to engage communities with public buildings across the heritage sites of the country. ‘We have approached the government and expressed our collective interests in enabling people engage with heritages across Bangladesh. Under the EUNIC Cluster, we will also work together on programmes around language and culture,’ Newton mentions.

The British Council is modernising its auditorium with required facilities to facilitate more visual and performing artists both local and from the UK.  ‘Besides performances, we will screen films and exhibit photographs and artworks. We expect that our latest library and auditorium facilities will make the British Council as an important venue in the field of culture in near future,’ he says.

Talking to New Age, Newton narrated how he came to like people in Bangladesh and their culture and how this fascination grew in him since he first came to Dhaka to work with the British Council as an ICT consultant 2011. ‘I was always excited to come back again here as I liked the people, especially their energy. I feel fortunate to have got the opportunity to return to Bangladesh 18 months ago with my new assignment,’ Newton recounts.

He hopes that the British Council will continue its support to the talented artists and singers of Bangladesh, through a mandate of working to professionalise and grow the arts sector, the country and play an effective role in bringing people, culture and artists of the UK and Bangladesh together increasingly through the use technology to facilitate positive exchange and dialogue, and inspire a new generation of artists.

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