Let’s inculcate the reading habit in M’sians

On the very first day of school on January 2, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik urged parents to inculcate good reading habits in their children.

The call was timely and appropriate given the lack of reading habits and skill among the students and Malaysians as a whole.

It’s a sad state of affairs when people are more obsessed with and engrossed in reading Facebook updates rather than reading books.

As a lecturer, one of the aspects that I always emphasise during my first lecture is encouraging my students to read newspapers, magazines and books everyday.

Because of my passion for books, I can proudly say that I have some 11,000 books in my personal library.

I for one know that students nowadays are less interested in reading books. The days when certain books must be read and libraries must be visited is over.

Therefore, when Maszlee advised the pupils of SK Putrajaya Presnit 14 (1) to read, he was actually addressing some 500,000 pupils who registered for Year One. In fact, he was targeting the 32 million Malaysians.

He urged parents to inculcate in their children the habit of reading by asking them what they have read when they get home each day.

According to the former lecturer, a successful and advanced society is one that reads.

In fact, we need to remember this famous axiom: Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

Remember, one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children and to society is to read to their children. Thus, it’s very important to provide a conducive reading environment for them at home.

The reading habit has to start early and the best time and stage to inculcate it is when the kids are still in primary school.

Teachers should teach the students the techniques of effective reading and inform them of the benefits of reading books, magazines and newspapers everyday.

As the saying goes, whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.

Let me borrow some wise words from Katherine Patterson, a Chinese-born American writer best known for children’s novels.

She said, “It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations – something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”

As Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis, an American book editor and socialite who was First Lady of the United States once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

What’s the point of having a high rate of literacy if Malaysians don’t even use their skills to read? One may have obtained a diploma or degree or even a PhD, but it is meaningless when one stops reading. In fact, one stops living when one stops reading.

Based on a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report, Malaysia’s literacy rate stands at 94.64 percent.

According to the standard of measurement set by the Unesco Institute for Statistics, this is considered high. But again, what’s the point if people don’t read?

A National Regional and Global Trends report published in 2016 stated that out of 85 percent of Malaysians who read regularly, 77 percent preferred newspapers, three percent read magazines, three percent read books and 1.6 percent read comics.

Therefore, from the statistics it’s obvious that Malaysians are more inclined to read light material while citizens of developed countries like the United States (US) read books.

Statistics in the US showed that 53 percent of their citizens read fiction and 43 percent read non-fiction books.

From statistical data it is obvious that Malaysians do not read many books compared to Americans though Malaysia has one of the highest literacy rate in the world.

Malaysians including teachers are fond of giving all sorts of excuses when it comes to this subject matter.

We do understand, the habit of reading in the country has deteriorated with the prevalence of digital devices. But the problem is, they don’t even read e-books.

When was the last time you bought and read a good book? Oh yes, you have bought a book from a local bookstore but tried in vain to finish reading it because every time you try reading, you tend to fall asleep.

From the moment you start school, your teachers begin teaching you the fundamentals of reading. You can read words and full sentences. And before you know it, you’re reading everything from advertisements on billboards along highways to newspapers.

Why do we have to read? The more we read, the more we understand the world around us.

And mind you, Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than non-readers or those who read magazines.

According to the study, reading books encourages cognitive engagement that improves a lot of things including vocabulary, thinking skills as well as concentration.

The study concluded, “It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.”

Based on a recent study, Malaysians on average read 12 books per year – an improvement from the previous study with only nine books per year.

How many books should you read per year? In actual fact, reading 50 books a year is not a tall order.

With full commitment and passion, reading 50 books, even 100 books is something you can actually accomplish. It is not a daunting task to read one book a week.

Giving not enough time is just a lame excuse, because with proper discipline, one can actually read more than one book a week.

Books can improve your vocabulary and communications skills, enhance your language skills and develop fluency, allowing you to express your thoughts and ideas better. You become more fluent and articulate which in the long run will enhance your ethos.

Through books, we learn about how many things work, understand different people, cultures, and history. We can learn new vocabulary, phrases, idioms and expression. One of the main reasons why most students, even after they graduate, can’t even make a proper sentence in English is because they don’t read enough.

Take it from me, the more books you read, the more analytical and knowledgeable you are. You become smarter, sharper, more creative and imaginative.

Read fiction and non-fiction books including biographies, short stories, drama, poems, and novels. Choose the best works by established authors and writers. Make it a habit to read at least two newspapers per day.

In fact, books keep your brain healthy because they stimulate your mind. For some, books allow you to escape stress and anxiety especially in the rat race of the modern world and city life.

Personally, books have the power to inspire and motivate me, especially by reading about the trials and tribulations of leaders in various fields. That’s why l love to read their biographies. You learn many things from their experiences.

Students should not only read to pass examinations. Some undergraduates are so engrossed in their academic performance that they neglect reading other genres.

All the stakeholders should raise awareness of the importance of reading to enhance knowledge rather than just to pass the exams.

Sessions to enhance reading skills and propagate reading habits should be held for students in schools and universities.

Teachers, lecturers and family members must motivate students to read and make it a daily habit. It’s worth doing because in the final analysis, what you sow today, you will reap in the future.

Why not bring your kids every week to local bookstores? Give them books as birthday presents instead of toys.

All of us should read voraciously and make it a culture and habit. Reading is not only for students and once you have passed your examinations it doesn’t mean you don’t have to read any more.

Why not make reading one book a week as one of your resolutions for 2019?

Associate Professor Dr Jeniri Amir is a lecturer and a political analyst at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.