COVER STORY: It is raining. Genekha Lower Secondary School (GLSS) in Thimphu looks like fortress. The road that leads to the school is rough.
The school is located about 40 minutes drive away from Thimphu proper. It is a small community, Genekha, and the school has only 246 students. But all these students are hard-core readers and they are busy celebrating the National Reading Year that His Majesty The King launched last year at Tendrel Thang.
From March to June this year, the students of GLSS have read more than 2,500 books. The school’s 16 teachers have read more than 45 books. They are all really serious. Teachers and students are now back from summer break and want to read more.
It is the first day after summer break. Coordinator of the reading programme at GLSS, Sangay Tenzin, is discussing reading programmes for the rest of the year with his colleagues. Teachers don’t want their students to stop reading.
The school is planning to continue publishing monthly newsletter. It will award prize to the students who has read the highest numbers of book in a year. Different reading programmes will be held regularly.
“We will continue with mass reading in morning before assembly. There will be book display by the students in library. Students will also maintain book journal and write review of the books they have read. They will also read news bulletin in the assembly,” Sangay Tenzin said.
The school also organises reading aloud programme in each class with the aim to help students improve pronunciation skills.
“For the past few years, not much emphasis was given on inculcating reading habit in schools. Many students ended up not reading,” said Sangay Tenzin. “We can already see the difference.”
The school’s pass percentage was 60 percent last year. This year, it has gone up to 83 percent.
“By the end of academic session this year, we are hoping to hit 90 percent,” Sangay Tenzin said. Positive results have only encouraged the teachers and students to keep reading.
“However, as a central school, we have all kinds of children. Some can hardly read or write in English,” Sangay Tenzin said. “We have to give them extra attention so that they feel encouraged. What we are aiming at is improvement in all our students.”
The school has at least one programme where students are engaged in reading, writing, or speaking. On Mondays, students read in English and Dzongkha. On Tuesdays, they deliver speech, and two students read in the assembly every Wednesday. On Thursdays, spelling test is conducted instead of assembly sessions, and on Fridays mass reading session is held in the school.
Further north, some 40km from Genekha is Babesa Primary School (BPS), which holds the highest record of having read the heighest number of books in Thimphu dzongkhag.
BPS students from Class PP to VI have read 48,320 books from March to June this year. Zilnon Primary School follows closely with 40,192 books.
Records with the Royal Education Council (REC) show that Jigme Losel Primary School students have read 19,747 books and the students of Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School have read 11,972 books so far.
Reading programme coordinator at BPS, Devika Rani Rai, said that reading helps children explore things and learn more than what teachers teach in the classes.
“One either visit places or reads more books since it provides similar experience,” Devika Rani Rai said. “We are proud that our children have read the highest number of books. We hope to continue the same spirit.”
Reading habit also depends on the type of books children can get their hands on, Devika Rani Rai said. “Children prefer books with more illustrations. Illustrations can help guide them when they read. It is equally important that young children are made to read good books that helps them learn life lessons and values.”
The Learn Zone Institute, which is located in Kawangjangsa, organised a reading programme for children from Class I to VI during the summer break. Parents brought their children to the institute. Some 150 students were selected for the programme.
Proprietor of the institute, Rinzin Namgay, said that students from more than 36 schools attended the reading programme. There were students from schools in Samtse and Tsirang.
“The students had to be divided into two groups in the morning and afternoon sessions due to space constraints,” Rinzin Namgay said. The institute hired five teachers who were trained on reading programme to guide the children.
The summer reading programme included reading aloud sessions where every session began with teacher reading aloud to help improve children’s analysing and comprehension skills. Students were shown movies on how to take care of books, on importance of reading aloud.
Guided reading, choral reading, independent reading and read-along sessions were carried out to motivate the children to help improve their self-confidence, among others. Sharing time, reading dramatisation, book talk and poem recitation were also conducted to improve communication skills and interpersonal relations.
“Such activities helped improve reading skills among the children who attended the programme. We could see changes in them. We hope to continue providing such programmes so that our children will continue reading throughout their lives,” Rinzin Namgay said.
A participant of the summer reading programme, Chimi Lekzang Wangmo, 11, goes to Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School. She said she didn’t like reading before. Now she does. She loves it.
“After attending the summer reading programme, special interest has developed in me to read more,” she said. “I also urge all of my friends to read more and never ignore the importance of reading.”
Chimi Lekzang Wangmo was with her mother during the closing ceremony of the programme.
Tshering Deki, 31, a housewife, said that she didn’t want her children to miss the opportunity of reading and learning. “I can see that my daughter has improved a lot. She has also become very outspoken. I want to take her to the same programme in winter.”
Meanwhile, REC’s focal person for the National Reading Year, Sangay Tshering, said the aim is to take reading habit beyond schools to the communities.
“Along with students, we call parents and let them read with their children so that we can create awareness,” Sangay Tshering said. “We hope to see the growth of reading culture among Bhutanese.”
Since the education system is young, most parents are not literate and reading is not encouraged at home, Sangay Tshering said. “We want to groom the present generation so that the next generation can naturally pick up the reading habit.”
It is expected that students and teachers will read about 2 million books this year. From March to June, children throughout the country have read more than 900,000 books.
“We are confident that we can easily achieve this target by the end of the year,” Sangay Tshering said.
By Thinley Zangmo