TO BE OR NOT TO BE? Part 2
Do books have a future in Thailand?
Story by KARNJARIYA SUKRUNG
Picture by SOMKID CHAIJITVANIT
“If we can't make reading fun and pleasant for children, they will not read,” said Dr Tanomwong Lamyodmakpol, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University.
Know these words and phrases
person or group that begins an activity
using drawings or figures to mean ideas or words
easy to understand
to take somebody’s thoughts or attention away from something
the most important or main meaning
a quality or ability that you were born with
to develop an attitude, a way of talking or behaving
to help and encourage something to develop
to prevent something from happening easily
to get more and more over a period of time
to state exactly
a reason for doing something
to be too full
under their wings
to protect and help to grow (like a mother hen)
Reading becomes a habit when we love to read, and read when we have free time, she said. Reading for exams was not, therefore, considered a habit.
More important than the amount of time spent on reading is the matter of what and how we read, said Dr Tanomwong.
“What we read and how we read determines the quality of our reading skill. Only through quality reading can we achieve the purpose of reading, which is the betterment of our intelligence and spirit,” said Dr Tanomwong, also a spearhead in the Federation of Organisations for Book Development and Reading Promotion of Thailand.
These days, many youngsters may not read books, but they do read and write a lot with regard to the Internet. However, some educators said, the short, abbreviated, symbolic language children use, and the content on many web sites they are exposed to, are not quite intelligible. E-libraries, or knowledge web sites, are not very popular either. Nor are educational television programmes or hard talk radio.
“Technology may divert kids away from books, but it cannot replace the things that books can offer. With reading, you have time to think, analyse and imagine. There is room for your input of thought and imagination [which is] unlike fast electronic learning; like television or radio, where the information comes and goes so quickly you hardly have time to think much,” Assoc Prof Witayakorn Chiengkul, director of Social Science Research Centre, Rangsit University says.
The real problem is the lack of effective reading skills.
This did not surprise many Thai educators. Prominent educator Khunying Manmas Chavalit once commented that Thais lacked critical reading skills. They could not capture and summarise the essence, content and theme of things they read. Also, they were slow readers, and accustomed to reading short rather than extended texts. They aimed to memorise rather than analyse the information they consumed.
According to Dr Tanomwong, reading is not an inborn skill. Indeed, it is an inclusive skill that has to be learned and cultivated from childhood.
“Reading is not about being able to read. It is the skill that includes one's ability to process information, criticise, analyse and make use of such information,” explained Dr Tanomwong. “Youngsters should be taught and encouraged to read with a critical mind.”
Reading habits start at home and in the school, she said.
“Parents are the very first persons to teach children to read and how to read. But mostly, what we teach our children is shopping and watching television,” said Dr Tanomwong.
Schools very often don't help foster the reading habit. On the contrary, formal education can hamper the process. Students are still learning by rote, memorising textbooks to excel in multiple-choice exams, Dr Witayakorn said.
“This doesn't test the students' ability in processing and critically analysing information. Anyone with a good memory or who is a good guesser can pass exams,” he said.
Student papers are largely a product of the “cut-and-paste” technique instead of the accumulating and processing of information and inserting their own critical and analytical ideas.
“I rarely enjoy books [that teachers have] assigned me to read. It's boring because we have to memorise the characters, what they do, what they say, and all the details. For example, in the exam, I had to specify the character who a given quote belonged to,” said Tanakorn, a 14-year-old student.
Memorising details leaves no room for literary appreciation, said Dr Witayakorn. “How can you study literature without discussion about characters, their motives and themes? Discussion on books will help build up student interest and give them guidance on ways to read.”
Dr Tanomwong, who has been working to promote reading and effective learning for more than two decades, said teachers should teach students how to study. “If children know how to learn _ how to read, listen, write and speak critically and effectively _ they can do the rest, searching and gaining knowledge by themselves,” she said.
Sad to say, teachers with a bulging number of students under their wings are rarely up to the task. Worse, reading is not especially popular with many teachers either.
- Do not force children to read. Rather encourage them to ready by creating a reading environment at home. Keep books in the house where they can grab them to read.
- Introduce them to good books that fit their age and interest.
- Take them to bookstores and help them choose books they would like to read.
- Make good books gifts or rewards for your children.
- Read books with your children as a part of family time and discuss the stories in the books.
- Be a role model. Let hem see you reading books!