Saturday, October 22, 2005

Catch 'Em Young

Bound up for many years with the problems and shortcomings in the education system here, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that things are not going so swimmingly in British schools.

It's very upsetting to realise that newer curriculm innovations are undermining the progress of the past: the highly prescriptive National Literacy Strategy with it's emphasis on measurable results and test scores clearly is not working. (Actually I'm resisiting the urge to say "I told you so." Because anyone with that rare commodity, common-sense, could have seen this coming.)

The Bookseller reports that a report produced last week:
... made depressing but predictable reading. The five-year study of English teaching in schools found nearly a third of all primary lessons "no better than satisfactory"; a fifth of children starting secondary school fail to reach the minimum standard of literacy expected for their age; and--important for publishers--schools are still failing to inspire children to read independently or for pleasure.
The article quotes children's author Bernard Ashley : "If children aren't enjoying and wanting books at seven, they aren't going to be rushing out and buying them at 21. ... If you set a restricted diet of targets in reading and writing--the back to basics appeal to middle England--you get culturally undernourished children."

Sideline the joy of books and you don't get readers further down the line, it's as simple as that. No market for books. No writers of note.

And that is what is very largely going wrong in Malaysia too. We lack a reading culture here because kids have not learned to love books at school. School libraries are hopelessly understocked for the most part. The scope of classreader programmes limited. The set texts for examinations ... well let's just say that they are a little uninspiring and leave it at that for today because it's a hobby-horse I may not get off for a very long time. (Another day, then ...)

The kids who do learn to love books here do so, by and large, because their parents value books, read to them and take them to bookshops and libraries. Not because of what's happening in schools.

(I wrote, with very mixed feelings, sometime ago about one intitiative to put books in the hands of kids in schools.)

I think too that the local bookshops need to play a more proactive role in promoting books for children.

I was talking one day to a marketing manager of one of the bigger bookstores. He was complaining about parents parking their kids in the store while they went off shopping. The children did their "free-reading" (that great Malaysian pastime!) and then left the books lying, a little soiled and dog-eared all over the place. Why not, I said, encourage the free reading? Put piles of fun books out for kids to pick up and read and rejoice in the fact that they're in your shop and picking up books at all? Why not have some friendly clued-up folks to help the kids find books they'd like to read? Okay, so you might not make a sale today. But the process of becoming a bookworm is insiduous. Today's noisy little terrors are tomorrow's hopeless bookaholics. You are growing your customer base by caring for your youngest readers.

I'm thinking a lot about kid's books at the moment because I'm working on a very long list of children's titles to buy for The British Council library over the next few months ...


Spot said...

"Today's noisy little terrors are tomorrow's hopeless bookaholics."

That's an excellent point. I'd never have thought of it that way.

Back in my day at school, we had the Banci Bacaan (translates to er..Book Index?) thing, where one had to write summaries of the books that one had supposedly read. So many of my classmates just copied the synopsis from the back of the book.

The way that the M'sian education system is going, there's simply no time to read for pleasure. Therefore the onus really must shift to the home environment.

Then again, my parents never actively participated in our reading habit. My brother and I started out reading because Mum would make us copy out passages to improve our writing. It just took off from there. The only (but invaluable) input from my parents in terms of support was money to buy whatever books we chose.

So I think it does boil down to character as well. Horse to trough and all that.

Oh and another major factor - the remote control and multiple channels really killed a whole generation's attention span.

snowdrop said...

Other than the really worrying thought that the child might get kidnapped-or-who-knows-what-else, I think those kids being left in bookshops are truly truly the luckiest ones with the best parents! Your idea for bookshop owners to set up free-reading friendly areas is excellent!

It is a sad fact that both the school and (most) home systems do nothing to encourage the child to read. There just isn't as much (or any!) importance put on this as on, say, finishing 20 pages of math homework (not that I'm saying the ability to count is not desirable, of course). As a child, I read so much I neglected all schoolwork - dropped in 'position' by 10 places and ended up with my storybooks all locked in the car boot! How I cried... (To be fair though, mum did take them out for me each school holiday). But how much better it would have been if I had been guided instead to balance my time.

Sharanya said...

Need any help? :)

Recommendations from a reader who started VERY young!

An off-the-top-of-my-head, by no means comprehensive list!

(I'd recommend for ages 9 - teens, I think, but it's all mixed up)

Obvious ones:
* The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (well, the Narnia Chronicles, I guess)
* The "Anne" books -- Green Gables, Avonlea, The Island, etc, etc
* Diary of Anne Frank
* Everything by Roald Dahl
* Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys
* The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
* A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
* The Railway Children - Edith Nesbit
* Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
* The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
* The Swiss Family Robinson - Johann Wyss
* Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
* Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
* A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

* The Bridge to Terabathia - Katherine Paterson
* Goodnight, Mr. Tom - Michelle Magorian
* Everything by Paul Jennings
* Some by Christopher Pike
* Some by Judy Blume
* The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren
* Some by Ray Bradbury
* Some by Jean Ure
* Gypsy Girl - Rumer Godden
* Anastasia Krupnik - Lois Lowry
* The Borrowers - Mary Norton
* What Katy Did - Susan Coolidge
* The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
* Born Confused - Tanuja Desai Hidier
* Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas - Sara Lorimer
* Poetry anthologies -- including some more recent ones edited by Naomi Shihab Nye
* I hate to say it myself, but those Babysitter's Club/Sweet Valley/etc series... Harry Potter too, I guess. Gets some readers started not just reading but also writing -- worked on my youngest sis for sure!

=] said...

How true indeed! I'm glad my mom started me reading young. The same with all my siblings. The problem my mom ended up having with my sis and I especially was that we were spending too much time reading other books and too little time studying...
I remember the feeble attempts they used to make in schools to encourage reading, like the 5-minute compulsory reading period before school every day. However it wasn't very helpful. Especially they only allowed us books from the school library or Dewan Siswa/Masyarakat. The library collection wasn't very good either.
Every child should definitely be encouraged to read. Maybe someday when there are enough hopeless bookaholics around, we'll be able to get cheaper books...

Golf Addix said...

some parents don't want to buy books for their kids when they are 2 or 3 yrs old. but me and my wife thinks otherwise. we spend a lot of money on books esp those with picutres and the two gals at home are loving it. although most of the time they tore those books into pieces , at least nowdays they are looking at it and have start asking my other half to read for them or explain the pictures in the books.

me .... he he he , busy at the course..playing golf lah..

Yvonne Foong said...

I wasn't an ardent reader when I was 9. Fortunately, that changed as I grew up.

Maybe the bookstore can have a special reading corner for the kids.

bibliobibuli said...

spot - oh yes, the class reader programme ... I had to organise this when I was teaching in a school in Raub, the first year I got here ... it was a good thing because it put books in kids hands and many of my kids came from poorer families so otherwise might not have had a chance to read ... and yes, it was possible to cheat, but you had to hope that at least some of the kids would get hooked ...

agree with you about the sylabus not leaving time for pleasure ... and about the short atention span phonomena (again something I want to talk about another day)

snowdrop - oh you poor thing having your books locked away like that! yes, it is a question of priorities - my mum always used to go on at me for wasting times on a useless activity

sharanya - thanks so much for the great list - I will check and make sure we have all these titles in the BC library

square smiley - the five minute reading periods are useless - you need at least half an hour built into the day and then it may well work - but there has to be an availability of books too

agree with you that there will be a "trickle-down-effect" of cheap books as more folks buy books. but payless does a great job and there are some good book-rental places too. (and hey - quick advert - join the BC library which will be stocked to the point of excellence by next year!)

golf-addix - good for you! the books you buy will pay off dividends further down the line ...

yvonne - at least you became book addicted a little later ...

Anonymous said...

Everyone who thinks that leaving kids in a bookstore to read (and thus damage) books should open a bookstore. It's a bookstore not a library. It's pretty irresponsible of them I think to leave them anywhere. Still it's a reflection of how ridiculously safe the country is.. I can't imagine a kid being left alone in a store in any major city anywhere else in the world. What happens if a child goes missing ? your reputation would be shot to heck and back. "This is the store where a little girl was kidnapped.. parents just left her in the store..."

Yeah if you think it's a good idea, why don't you do that, open a bookstore in a mall and announce free reading for everyone. I'm sure people would buy more books then wouldn't they ? sheesh. Everyone knows you want what you can't have. I think that's why they locked the books away. Think about it.. what's more appealing than a banned book ? :) so I think it's not a good idea to have kids alone reading free books in a bookstore. Besides the fact that it's a bookstore and not a library, it's hard to sell a book that's already been read. That's why they wrap books in plastic these days. At least you get them NEW and not used. Also if you promote banning free book reading in book stores, you support the second-hand book industry, because people will have to sell old books in order to buy old books. I'm paying good money for NEW books, not used ones. If there's one thing I really hate it's having to pay full price for a USED book at a bookstore because it's the only copy left.