THIS year is the start of our National Reading Decade (Dekad Membaca Kebangsaan) 2021-2030, a programme aimed at transforming Malaysia into a reading nation by 2030. Its long-haul target is to achieve 25% active readership among Malaysians.
In this contemporary and fast-paced life with so many pursuits competing for our time and attention, why should we read? In school, we were told by our teachers that we should read to increase knowledge and make better use of our free time.
But the reality is most students in schools and institutions of higher learning read just to pass exams and get good grades. And chances are, after completing their education, they would be too busy with their work and other commitments to have time to read.
If they do read, it would most probably be on topics related to their profession to enhance their expertise or authority in their respective fields. The sad truth is we seldom read to broaden our general knowledge.
Clearly, there are many benefits of reading. When we read, we explore our thoughts to understand the writer’s views. Reading also feeds curiosity, which in turn feeds reading, leading to new ideas, connections and discoveries. A strong reading culture can build a great nation.
But in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the activities planned for the National Reading Decade programme, which include setting up networks and projects to encourage reading at certain key areas such as schools, higher learning institutions, libraries, public interest places, community centres, shopping centres, public transport and hospitals may need to be repackaged.
Perhaps the government can provide more incentives for the purchase of reading materials, such as higher tax rebates for books and magazines, including the electronic versions.
Public libraries could build on their e-catalogues or expand their collections and possibly consider lending by post. Universities can open up their online libraries for the public.
Acknowledging the access gap between rural and urban areas, more community libraries should be set up in smaller towns and villages. Used books can be donated to these libraries.
Certainly, even with the current challenges, reading cannot stop and access to books should not be a privilege.
So, what books do you have in mind for reading this year? There are certainly plenty to read.
And how about donating books for others to read? You will never know what can happen.
CHEAH CHUN FAI
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