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Asian mothers' new chapter

It's a familiar inner-city story: young Asian children starting school with only scraps of English, their mothers too often too busy with domestic duties to get involved in educational activities.

But things are different at Knowle Infants School in Totterdown, Bristol, where a quarter of the 160 pupils come from Pakistani families. In a pioneering scheme, mothers are helping their children through the first steps of reading and, in some cases, improving their own English.

The Totterdown Bilingual Book-Making project, backed initially by a grant from the Basic Skills Agency, is now in its third term. "We wanted to integrate Asian families into the school and thought it would be better to work on a particular project rather than just lecture them," said the headteacher, Norma Watson.

Mothers have been making picture books with parallel text in Urdu and English. The format, using illustrations from classic picture books reproduced with the publishers' consent (such as Martin Waddell's Farmer Duck and John Burningham's Mr Gumpy's Outing), was devised by educational consultant Alex Williams who has been employed by Community Education Bristol. Sessions are also attended by an Urdu-speaking teacher, Mussarat Bashir.

The weekly two-hour sessions fit in with the routine of many Pakistani families which centres on women doing daily food shopping and cooking. Up to a dozen women have attended.

Besides the literacy element, which attracted a Pounds 2,500 grant from the Basic Skills Agency, they have learned bookbinding techniques to produce reusable laminated pages. Some are moving on to a computer skills course at South Bristol college.

The next stage for Knowle, financed by the European Social Fund and due to begin in the summer term, is a parent volunteer training course which aims to include native English-speaking parents. There will also be a cr che workers' course for Asian women. "The cr che would be on the school premises and make it easier for mothers to get involved," said Mrs Watson. Through a community worker, she now plans to establish contact with the large Asian community across the city in Easton.

For now, she is proud of having built up communication with Pakistani mothers where none existed.

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