Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why Schools Fail to Produce Readers

Animah pointed me in the direction of this letter by Yap S.H. in the education section of Sunday's Star. Yap reflects on her own experience to talk about how schools here fail children by not providing enough support for extensive reading and how libraries aren't accessible enough:

Although we had “readers” in school, these were often simplified versions of novels which we were not allowed to take home.

Once a week, my English teacher would distribute the books and students took turns to read paragraphs aloud. At the end of the class, the teacher collected the books back.

Naturally, we never got through more than one to three pages each week; I do not recall my class ever finishing a book.

Does anyone truly think this exercise anything more than a token effort?

In my primary school, we visited the school library every week. However, my secondary school library was usually locked. I do not think we entered the library more than twice a year!

This failure to encourage reading extends beyond the school system. There are insufficient libraries throughout the country. Ideally, nobody should need to travel more than 30 minutes to get to a good library.

The Perpustakaan Bergerak that we have might be more effective if they were better stocked and their routes well-publicised.

Without convenient and cheap access to a good library, how many books do we expect the less fortunate to buy?

Reading is essential, not only to facilitate mastery of a language but also to provide our nation with critical minds that are pivotal to the development of our nation.

In view of the failure of the authorities to encourage reading, Yap suggests a few self-help measures:

Start a book club. Organise carpools to the state library. Share your book collection with others. Ensure schools fully utilise their libraries. Be proactive for the future of your children, for our nation. Do not just rely on the government. We can all do our bit!


lil ms d said...


itu mph ah tarak respong to my email lah. how to sell buku la?

oh ya. best friend said i'm in the new quill. can i get a copy from you?

ericlow said...

"In my primary school, we visited the school library every week. However, my secondary school library was usually locked."

that's just sad man.

rojak girl said...

If they lock the school library up, doesn't that imply that we don't trust our school kids to handle these "valuable" books? Wouldn't it be better to use this avenue to teach them how to handle books with respect?
Then maybe we will see the day when books in our stores will be free of clingfilm!

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - mph not responding? drop me an email w. details, i'll see if i can shake someone up for you

i have one spare copy of quill and can pass it to you

ericlow - yes, it is indeed

rojak girl - yes kids need to handle books. i did blog about why bookshops wrap books here.

The Great Swifty said...

During my secondary school days, novels were prohibited. Bringing one there for reading = instant confiscation. Attempts to make this a large matter were in vain when this happened to me (I was reading a fantasy novel, a prefect came over and snatched it away, that stupid fucker's a turd), I wrote a letter highlighting why it's harmless to read such books, why it's not harmful to read, blah blah blah, gave it to the authorities, turned out the authorities = a disinterested prefect who scanned through the letter, gave an emotionless 'oh', and returned me my book.

BTW: Hola from Shanghai. Although I'm returning to Msia tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, our Education priorities are so screwed up. Imagine not having enough books for the pupils to borrow and take home to read!

I am grateful to the Taiping library for having enough books to keep me piqued and occupied during my growing-up years.


Jen said...

I like Yap's attitude:

"Do not just rely on the government. We can all do our bit!"

I'll try to remember, everytime I'm tempted to think "The government/other people should ..." that I, too, can make a difference, and it's not by whining.

Eternal Wanderer said...

Yup, Yap's experience is similar to the one I experienced in school myself. The school library is almost like an exclusive club - membership only! I became a librarian just so I could have free access to books anytime I want! :p

Fortunately though, my school was lenient with regards to bringing novels and storybooks from the home.

Today...it seems that nothing at all has changed in schools, and yes, I certainly blame the syllabus but I would also blame teachers who are not keen or passionate about books for steering kids away from reading.

One day, I hope I get enough money to form my own mobile library and train people in the art of storytelling so that we could reach out to people in the rural areas and expose them to the beauty of books and stories. A distant dream...but it's still a dream nonetheless.

bibliobibuli said...

i like your dream, eternal wanderer, if i had a magic wand or lots of money i'd make it come true

i also wonder if pay less and others could go sell their books in other towns to get people hooked ...

camlok said...

This is sad news indeed. Luckily my primary and secondary school library is pretty well stocked. Though the primary school library is open to each class only once a week, at least you can get to borrow books home, and it has quite a good collection of chinese novel (there's where I read all the original long version of 'journey to the west', 'romance of three kingdom etc, instead of those simplified versions that you can finish in 1 day). My secondary school library is open every day until 5.30, and has quite a decent english fiction collection.

Was a dissapointment when I went to college as the college library, though have a huge collection of academic related books, there is only less than 1 shelf for fiction (luckily that was increased gradually until I graduated).

I guess I was luck then to have access to school library throughout my study years.

animah said...

Eternal Wanderer,
You don't have to wait for "one day". Tini of Salam Org that looks after the Chow Kit children is looking for volunteers to read stories to children (among other things). Check out http://www.salam.org.my for details.

Chrys said...

I have a similar dream to Eternal Wanderer's - to start a children's library and art gallery that is accessible to all. Reading this post brought back memories of my school days, of when I used to be the library, not the school! My friends still tease me when we walk down memory lane.

I've always felt that things start from home. When there is no reading culture in the home, how will there be one outside? Yes, we should not be poitning fingers at others. If we can't change ourselves, can we expect others to?

Oh what do I know? I'm still in uni, not in the real world yet....

bibliobibuli said...

camlok - it's good you had a decent school library. i did too, and it made a huge difference.

animah - i should writer that big upfront. there are some very good dreams and i hope they become reality.

chrys - you know a lot, and you're quite right

Anonymous said...

What was that someone said ? we don't chase our dreams because we're afraid they'll turn into realities. I think Sharon or someone else said that. We're in love with the IDEA of it, we're infatuated with it, we see it through the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but when we actually get down to doing it, there's a lot of (possibly literally) dirty work that needs to be done. Deep down we know that, so we don't start. We idolize and idealize, but we what we know when realize how much time, effort, and money we'll need to spend, is that we can't afford it. You wand to read to kids ? fine, what if someone is disturbed by the sound of your voice or your face. I've seen kids start crying for what appears to be no apparent reason. You just know the parents are going to blame you. What if the parents treat you as a convenient babysitter ? what if a kid goes missing ? what if they start pulling books from the shelves and throwing them at each other ? what if they so much as get a papercut ? what if they poop or pee in their pants.. so many things to consider. It's nice to think of yourself as old Father Christmas reading to smiling appreciative kids, but really, well.. some of them are them are not. I think Sharon, who's spent a lifetime with kids, can tell you a lot about them. It's not that anyone wants to discourage you, some people may find that after all that, it's still worthwhile. It's better to walk into these things with your eyes open rather than blunder in and have to face all sorts of problems. A kid running around might trip, hit his head on a bookcase, and accidentally book an emergency one-way trip with the nameless one who speaks in italics. The parents might sue you for negligence, and what's worse is, they might actually win. And then what ?

Ron said...

I just cannot imagine not having being allowed to take a novel or two to both my primary and secondary schools (oh, so long ago now).

I used to read on the bus to and from school and during the lunch break, and, for that matter, any chance I got.

My kids often ask me what I used to do in my school lunch hour and when I say i spent it in the library reading they laugh and call me a nerd. And the ungrateful little beggars live in a house with 4400 books! :-)

Ron said...

I didn't realise this wasn't a current post: it came up in Bloglines as a new post (I'm glad it did because I missed it).