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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Reading and reaping results

Starting ‘em young: Children should be encouraged to read from the time they are able to recognise the alphabet. — File photo

Starting ‘em young: Children should be encouraged to read from the time they are able to recognise the alphabet. — File photo

One way to improve student quality is to encourage school-goers to read for pleasure. Doing so enables them to acquire higher order thinking skills (Hots), for better outcomes in the long run.

I HAVE always thought that so many of the issues concerning education standards in our country today can be addressed effectively if we could get our students hooked on to reading from the time they are able to recognise the alphabet.

Recently, there has been much hype about efforts to get our students on reasonably acceptable levels in international academic rankings.

Tired phrases like being “creative and critical” and to be able to “think out of the box” are mentioned at least once in documents related to our academic goals.

Now even more than before, impressive sounding initiatives and transformations for the education system abound, aimed to raise declining standards and produce students who are knowledgeable, well-informed, capable of mature, analytical thought, and yes being “critical, creative and able to think out of the box”.

And to realise these most admirable aspirations of our leaders, a great number of programmes and schedules have been rolled out at all levels with the ultimate goal of improving student quality.

New initiatives

Efforts to get students to become independent readers have definitely been integrated into all these initiatives, with much time and funds being allocated.

Attempts to inculcate the reading habit among our students, are however not new.

Throughout the decades, there have been efforts to encourage our students to read by introducing various programmes, some of which did not last long.

Most teachers will be familiar with the ongoing NILAM (Nadi Ilmu Amalan Membaca) programme which is to improve reading among students.

The programme which involves every government school student in the country, has a very structured form of implementation with student records to show the number of books each student has read.

Students also have to write brief synopses of the books that they have read.

Certificates and other rewards are awarded for students who have read the most number of books.

While documented “evidence” of the programme being run according to the stipulated procedures and rules exist in most schools, the real success of the programme in getting students to become independent readers, seems questionable to many teachers.

Students who already are independent readers are indeed encouraged to read more books and some vie for the top awards.

The vast majority of students as most school teachers will attest, merely complete the necessary sections in their records by copying the synopses from the books’ back covers and do not actually read the books.

“At least this way they actually do touch the books and flip some pages,” remarked one teacher rather resignedly.

“I suppose it is some measure of achievement, when you consider that many of these students have never read a book apart from school texts or revision material.”

“No story-books, no novels, no works of fiction, poetry or literature. Maybe one day, a line or a word, or perhaps even an illustration may catch their interest and make them want to continue reading.

“If that happens, then it would be a significant step towards making students become independent readers,” she added.

“My students do read,” said another teacher a little pensively.

“They do it on their tablets and smartphones. They are digital natives, after all, they are the Y generation.

“But I do wish they could at least read an e-book once in a while instead of just text messages or sometimes inane posts on social networking sites,” the teacher added.

Call me old fashioned, but nothing can quite replace the feeling of a book in your hands, the smell of the paper, the flipping of the pages, knowing that after a long day of duties, there is a really good book waiting for me to curl up with. I don’t mind being deprived of many things in life but not the gift of reading.

Personally, the people who fascinate me most and whose company I thoroughly enjoy have always been those who read.

I think of the others I know who love reading and I remember what noted American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “A man is known by the books he reads.”

Teachers’ role

What we read is equally important and this is where teachers play a huge role.

Well-loved British writer Roald Dahl says ‘‘books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful’’.

The Education Ministry has incorporated selected literary texts into the school curriculum as an effort to encourage students to read and hopefully, spur them on to become independent readers.

While students who enjoy reading independently sail through these texts effortlessly albeit with varying degrees of enjoyment and enthusiasm, depending on their reading preferences, teachers in the end classes know the challenge of making students read a novel of more than 100 pages, when even reading a single sentence is a formidable task.

Despite all the attempts and programmes, we still have students who regard reading even story books as a chore, and have never read a book in their entire life other than school texts.

Many have never experienced the pleasure and thrill, the magical mystical journeys and the array of feelings and thoughts that can be derived from sinking into a good book.

Many have never been carried away to different places through reading, have never identified with characters and issues in books, and have never had the chance to feel their joys, triumphs, despair, anguish and the myriad range of human entanglements that are common to all mankind.

But then again, said someone else, how many of our teachers actually read?

At times, it seems as if our reading is divided into what we read for teaching purposes, which is mostly academic. The other part of our reading is the hotchpotch snippets of forwarded messages, inspirational quotes or jokes on our electronic devices.

It is also highly likely that a child who grows up in an atmosphere surrounded by books and people who read, has a better chance of becoming an independent reader.

And yet there are those who love reading among us who say their parents were never readers, but they began reading after being encouraged to do so by a particular teacher in school.

I remain convinced that initiating our students into the habit of reading for pleasure, pointing them towards books that they will enjoy, and settting them off on the road to the point where they become independent readers, is a definite way of shaping their minds and characters.

I believe this does more for our education system than other programmes and although it may seem to be rather presumptive, it has nevertheless turned out so many brilliant thinkers of our time.

And in the words of Confucius: “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

Tags / Keywords: edud


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