The National Library Board (NLB) recently launched the National Reading Movement, a 5-year comapaign which kicked off with a 2 month pledging drive to encourage all to Read More, Read Widely and Read Together. A few days ago, my boys brought home from school a sheet of paper. In it, parents were urged to attach a picture of us reading together and write a short reflection on reading as a family.
My boys go to a neighbourhood school and apart from the sheet of paper that they brought home, the school also initiated a program where recommended books from the library will be wheeled to the canteen during recess time. Students are encouraged to read during recess time.
It is good that the school is supporting this nation wide initiative to encourage students to read. But does the school really expect the kids to be reading during recess time? I know my kids won’t because they will be too busy gobbling down their food so that they can have time to play in the field.
My boys love to read and to be read to. My 6 year old started reading not too long ago. My elder boy is an avid reader and he told me that he had to hide his story book under his desk during lessons so that the teacher won’t find out. I suspect he rushes through his work most of the time so that he gets to read his book. I realised I might have a reading problem but I guess it’s a happy problem.
Reading is an important skill for learning and a foundation for higher learning for any subjects, not just Maths and Science. It opens up a world of knowledge and imagination. Children should read not just textbooks or worksheets. They should read for pleasure and to gain knowledge in whatever topics that interest them.
One has to agree that in Singapore, a child is at the losing end if he doesn’t know how to read by the time he enters Primary school. How can he follow instructions on worksheets and solve maths problem sums when he can’t read? It is ironic that despite being such an important skill for learning, reading hasn’t been made part of the school curriculum or made compulsory in school.
Children who are lucky enough to have adults to read to them and are exposed to a wide variety of books since young will naturally pick up reading when they are about 6-7 years old. For those who are not so lucky, they most likely struggle with school work when they enter Primary school.
There are students in my boys’ class who have to depend on financial aid to buy food during recess time. These children do not have the luxury of owning books and having their parents read to them. Without a conducive environment at home, they need help from school to learn to read, gain proficiency in reading and hopefully inculcate a reading habit.
My boys’ school has a 10 minutes of reading time every morning before assembly, ie. if the kids arrive in school early enough. The kids get to go to the library with the class sometimes once a month, but mostly none. During recess, they are not encouraged to go to the library because the school is worried that they might disturb other classes which are having lessons. (recess time are staggered for different levels) The library is closed after school because they don’t have enough librarians to man the library. This means that students don’t have the option of going to the library while waiting for CCAs or other supplementary lessons to commence.
All these seem legitimate reasons for the school library to be grossly under utilized. I shan’t say that this is the case for all schools and I think ultimately it all boils down to the school’s ethos, whether the school believes that learning goes beyond getting good grades. It might not seem worthwhile to put in that kind of effort and resources for something that doesn’t contribute directly to the schools’ ranking and KPIs.
While I am glad that the MOE is making considerable change to the education system to encourage students to focus on their own learning instead of competing with their peers, I am skeptical that this will reduce the over-emphasis on academic results. I also have doubts that it will encourage students to focus on their own learning. Schools and students will continue to focus on what will help them get good results and consequently their choice of schools.
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers ~ Harry S. Truman
In today’s world, knowledge is power. Learning shouldn’t stop after graduation day. Yet, I know many of us stop reading once we leave school. A local survey has shown that only 44 per cent of Singaporeans read one or more literary books in the past year. My anecdotal experience overseas tell me that many first world countries (e.g. France) have a much stronger reading culture than us.
If there is only one thing that MOE can do or fix, I think it is to strongly encourage a habit of reading in our students. I think MOE can do much to create a culture of reading among our young Singaporeans.
Allocate period to reading. Allow the students to read anything. Discuss what was read. Expand the quality and accessibility of the school libraries. Celebrate those that read and not frown on them as indulging in useless pursuits.
Doubtlessly, there is much to learn beyond books but books and the written word continue to be one of the most important sources of learning. There is so much knowledge captured in the written word and that’s what separates civilisation and primitive societies.
Nobody knows what the future holds. But we can prepare our children for the unpredictable future by equipping them with the ability to learn by themselves, to be avid readers and independent learners.
It might be too simplistic, but reading could help that child in my boy’s class who doesn’t have enough money to buy lunch in school and bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
A book a week makes 52 a year. If we only get a little smarter after every book, we will be a whole lot smarter after a year. Extrapolate the results. To me, that’s what lifelong learning is all about.