With the advancement in technology, there is a regress in the book-reading culture in Pakistani society. The younger generation is prone to spending most of the time on screen. Not only parents at home but the teachers at universities do not contribute to spreading the reading culture. Speaking generally, 21st-century students do not possess book reading habits because they are unaware of their worth.
According to the World Bank, the literacy rate in Pakistan is around 59%. However, 75% of Pakistanis do not read books, while 9% are avid readers, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in 2019. Those who read and study books are self-learners. Some students who are aware of the worth of books are either inspired by parents or teachers.
Even when modern tools are used for study purposes, ‘reading’ has numerous advantages in its place and its importance cannot be denied in the contemporary decade. Reading enhances the cognitive skills of the students, activates their thinking patterns, and makes the students analyse the various pictures of the same story.
Children imitate parents at home and teachers in school. Only a few examples are available where teachers and parents actively demonstrate reading habits.
Several reasons are responsible for the 75% of those Pakistanis who do not read books. One of the main reasons is the studying pattern and learning style of the students. The rigid attitude of the pupils does not attract them to self-read. The teachers assign classroom tasks and design papers in a way that is not helpful in the development of self-reading and long-learning. Hence, our students are neither critical thinkers nor avid readers.
Within Pakistan, literacy rates vary from region to region. On one hand, the literacy rate of Punjab is approximately 70 percent whereas, on the other, Balochistan is facing a drought with a literacy rate of 38 percent only. Although literacy rate is not a yardstick to measure the intensity of reading habits in a particular region, it is an indirect indicator.
History cannot be amended, but we can learn and shape the present and future accordingly. To address the issue and make the public aware of the importance of reading, we must investigate the grey areas first.
The existing issues had better be minimized in the initial phase and eliminated ultimately. From one aspect, the lack of libraries, the high cost of books, and the inadequate number of physical facilities such as chairs and tables are the main drivers of an environment where reading is an unadopted hobby.
In schools, reading is merely limited to going through one question i.e., ‘comprehension’ and answering the questions. Comprehension per se is an entertaining activity as it sharpens the analytical skills of the readers.
Guidebooks available in book shops are being purchased a day before the exam, and some comprehensions are crammed by the students. Sadly, teachers hardly bother to construct a fresh ‘comprehension’ paragraph. What they simply do is copy and paste from the guidebooks already available in the market.
There are no community hubs where book reading culture is promoted. In some parts of the country, senior citizens have been working upon it. For instance, a ‘study circle’ is conducted in district Pishin, Balochistan after a fixed regular interval. In this meeting, the youth is engaged to actively participate in the session by giving their points of view on a particular topic. The nature of the topic is decided in a way that compels the participant to read a particular book to be a prepared participant.
Likewise, in rural parts of Gwadar, people have introduced a new concept “Camelback Library”. Several books are loaded on the back of a camel. The camel travels across various regions and distributes books. As compared to the past, there has been an increase in the number of readers proving this technique a useful one. This technique does not require any cost.
According to a researcher, 74% of Islamabad-based students use social media 6-9 hours daily. Hence, “Book hour” is conducted every Sunday in Islamabad. The main goal is to make reading a new normalcy.
The issue can be – and must be – addressed simply by making good use of available options. Some recommendations are mentioned here.
The provision of free public spots is a practical idea. If we can have open-air barber shops, why cannot we have open-air libraries? Mini libraries can be established at cafes, bus stops, metro stations, airports, and railway stations. In urban areas, a bookshelf in every barber shop shall make the time of the waiters productive.
In rural areas, a library in every ‘masjid’ will be fruitful because it does not require a new building to meet library needs. Moreover, such ‘masjid’ libraries in rural areas shall offer services to the villagers to issue books and read at home. It will turn the time spent at home into useful hours. Also, in villages, the male members can bring books for the female members of their home from the ‘masjid’ library. Such libraries are actively working in Pishin, Balochistan.
The environment at home is the main indicator of how well the children and students read. The more the adults of a family are good readers, the more it will positively impact the younger generation. After family, comes the educational institutes and teachers. The teachers must act as role models for their students. They should allot specific hours for the library every week. The libraries and the residential hostels in universities and colleges should have adequate and updated books and magazines. Monthly seminars can be conducted to raise the awareness of reading.
Importantly, The Quran tells us to read. Reading should be a fun activity that is enjoyed. It broadens mental horizon – knowledge is gained automatically. “Good readers are good leaders”.
The writer is a civil engineer. He tweets @DawoodKhanHere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org