The National Reading Year may have ended but the seeds of establishing a reading culture have been planted.
A report has shown that our students read hundreds and thousands of books last year. This is a wonderful achievement for a society without much of a reading culture. Undoubtedly, many would have discovered that they enjoy reading and the paths of many gifted and skilled writers may have begun.
Now what is important is that we nurture this start and ensure every subsequent year is equally devoted to establishing a reading culture.
While statistics provide a dimension of quantifying the number of books read, allowing us to marvel at records, it is important that we do not give this aspect too much significance.
Judging the effort simply by concentrating on numbers risks us focusing only on the aesthetics, or the cover of a book. We know not to judge a book by its cover because it’s the pages or substance on the pages that determine a good from a bad book.
Not everyone will enjoy reading or aspire to be a writer. So no one should be forced to read. We cannot risk the possibility of some being turned off books by making it compulsory.
Reading has to be an enjoyable habit done voluntarily. We should not be reading only for classes, tests, exams or work.
While some subjects like English literature may require the mandatory reading and analysis of some books, outside the curriculum, students could be encouraged to read.
Encouragement can come in the form of providing easy and open access to a wide range of reading materials in the schools not limited only to books but magazines, newspapers, graphic books, and even quality comics. It is important that adults and teachers try to understand what our children will want to read today. We have to adapt to them, not the other way around. Our libraries need to be stocked with material our youth may be interested in from teen fashion trends to the latest Harry Potter novel, perhaps.
If budget is a problem, schools and teachers could take the initiative themselves and crowd-fund, both locally and maybe even internationally. Many establishments in Thimphu, including government offices, are subscribed to international magazines and they could be encouraged to contribute to the effort as part of their social responsibility. Such reading materials could be donated to schools after their customers or employees have finished with them.
Using the internet, particularly social media, is also an essential part of promoting reading and writing today. For instance, book clubs can also be set up in schools, and students could share their opinions on what they read on say, Facebook or WeChat groups. What is also important is that we are flexible with how they express themselves about the literature, be it through poetry, music, video, audio, art, whatever.
Schools could also invite local authors to hold interactive sessions with students either physically or virtually. Engaging local authors would be a powerful way of getting students to understand why we read and write outside of work or class.
The teachers must not be neglected in this effort. Just like for their students, teachers too should be able to access reading material they would like to read in their libraries. This is important because teachers are the ones who tell the students that reading is enjoyable. Therefore, they should be seen reading and writing. It is encouraging to know that some teachers blog today and have students reading and commenting on their blog posts. This is a practise that needs to be further encouraged.
The tax on books is now in effect following the conclusion of National Reading Year. Books are more expensive to buy. The government could provide incentives to book shops that are not only driven by commercialism. Book shops that encourage reading by holding social activities or provide public space for reading could be rewarded. Motivated by incentives, the private sector could provide us with with great ideas on how to encourage more people to read.
Our book’s first page has been started. Let’s move on to the second to sustain this effort.