I used to ride the bus to school with a Finnish girl, and noticed that she would read a book every day during the journey. Curious, I once asked her, “How long does it take you to read a book of 500 pages or so?” “ Two or three days,” she replied. As a book lover who needs at least a week or two to read the same number of pages, I was astonished at how fast this fifth-grader could finish something as long as a Harry Potter novel.
As a child, every time I went to the beach, I would see foreign tourists reading books while they sunbathed; books seemed to be their best companions.
Most of my Western friends on Facebook list “reading” in their profile as their hobby.
This passion for reading is not merely a hobby, it is a culture. Reading has become a cultural habit for people in developed countries, such as in Europe, North America, Japan and South Korea.
This culture is usually cultivated in the early stages of a child’s life. A mother reads aloud to her newborn baby. She continues to read aloud until her child is able to read by itself. This activity is believed to help the baby develop language skills.
The availability of local libraries is also a major factor that leads people in developed countries to become avid readers.
Another strong reason is that reading books is compulsory in school. Primary schools in Western countries usually have a reading corner or library in each classroom that consists of books from various genres.
At certain times, students sit reading assessments. After the test, the teacher will offer them just the right books based on their reading comprehension levels.
Finland may serve as a good example in enhancing reading interest and skill. Ranked third in the world for reading proficiency, it has made strong efforts to promote reading habits among its population.
These include the availability of wellstocked public libraries books, and the role of schools, teachers and families in campaigning for the importance of reading. These efforts are strengthened by collaboration between teachers, publishers, libraries and book foundations
Reading is a very important language skill because of the benefits it brings to individuals and communities.
First, at school, good reading skills lead students to become successful learners. Youngsters get the majority of their education via written-language learning materials such as textbooks, handouts, posters and websites. So reading skills are vital in academic life.
Reading also encourages people to become successful lifelong learners, as books can be enjoyed throughout a lifetime.
Second, reading can stimulate creativity and innovation by encouraging us to combine different ideas to come up with new ones. It’s no coincidence that innovations usually originate from developed countries such as Japan, where reading levels are high.
Third, reading can promote tolerance and peace. The more we read, the more we reflect on and understand other people’s customs, traditions, religions, beliefs and ethnicity.
For instance, Buddhists and Muslims who read about each other’s beliefs are more likely to realise their common foundations in peace and justice, making interfaith conflict less likely.
Hence, I suggest our policymakers should seriously promote reading across Asean. So far, reading has been promoted on television, posters, banners or brochures.
However, we need more effective and concrete ways to carry out this programme.
Reading books in classrooms needs to be made compulsory. This means, schools need to be equipped and enriched with a variety of reading materials – not just textbooks. Students should be given a variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction, based on their developmental age and reading skills.
We also need to establish a network of local libraries so that people can borrow reading resources. In fact, it may be argued that low reading interest results from inadequate access to reading materials.
Yes, governments would need to allocate a large amount of funding. However, we will all reap the benefits of this investment in the years ahead, in terms of prosperity and tolerance.
A reading culture is a very important ingredient towards becoming a developed nation.
Although it is a challenging journey, with firm commitment we can definitely achieve this dream.