By Zubeida Mustafa
SOME students were once asked why they read books — that is books other than their course books. Their answers were quite varied: to kill time; to increase their knowledge; because they were asked to do so by their teacher; to fulfil their social needs; to develop their personalities. Very few said that they read for pleasure. When young people are not reading books voluntarily or because they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, it is not strange that they are not forming life-long reading habits.
Obviously when a person feels under a compulsion or pressure to read, he will abandon is books as soon as he no longer feels the need for them. While a number of young people are reading books as a duty, there are a number of others who are not reading at all, their prescribed texts excepted.
A National Book Council survey conducted in 1981 found that 20 per cent of the students questioned said that they did not like to read. Even those who read, devoted most of the 13 hours a week they spent in reading to their course books. Why are students not avid readers? The first reason which comes to mind is that the reading habit is not inculcated in the school-going children.
Very few parents and teachers encourage children to read books for the fun of it. Even fewer are allowed to select and buy reading material for themselves. As a result when these children grow up into young adults, they do not have much interest in reading as a hobby. Basic lack of interest primarily accounts for the poor reading habits of the older students.
There are other factors also present. Thus television viewing is taking away many a young people from their books. Even though most of the TV programmes screened here are not as entertaining or instructive as thev should be. People develop a kind of addiction for the television which is not easy to explain. And then compared with books, the visual media are said to be not so taxing for the mind. The TV does not demand as much of concentration or use of the imagination as a book. Hence it is hardly surprising that students are spending as much time, if not more, before their television sets as with their books.
Another reason which would explain the reduced interest of students in books is the inaccessibility of books generally. Publications, whether they are local or imported, are priced so high that very few people, especially’ young people who might not be independent financially, can afford to buy books regularly. The other option available to them should have been borrowing from libraries. But regrettably library services on the whole are so inadequate here that they do not meet the needs of the students. Even the college and university libraries are not sufficiently stocked and students do not always get the books that they want to read.
The time students devote to reading is only one aspect of the matter. The other is, what they like to read. A survey conducted by the Pakistan Library Association in the seventies found that the first preference of students was the newspaper. They like to read the national news and then the international news. Books came next and magazines were last. The National Book Council survey found that students showed a preference for religion, film, sports, fiction, history, literature and science, in that order. The general lack of interest in science should give rise to concern. The reading habits of students are important because tastes and habits developed in the formative years tend to persist in later life.
The moot question is how can students be encouraged to read more. Of course much nds on the societal and family influences. The approach adopted by educationists towards developing the reading habit in children at school also determines their attitudes later on in life. And then there are problems in supplying low-cost reading material to the public and the absence of a network of public libraries within easy reach of the people. The Government will have to take an initiative in these matters, for its policies have a direct bearing on the educational system, the health of the publishing industry and the establishment of public libraries.
But young people can also work on a self-help basis to improve their reading habits. If they become aware of the importance of reading for pleasure, half the battle is won. They can form reading groups, where members could meet regularly to discuss books they have read. They could exchange reading material and pool money to buy books. Some enterprising students could try collecting books in their neighbourhood and setting up a small library in a room which some kind-hearted soul might be willing to make available. A beginning has to be made somewhere. What is needed is initiative.
Dawn: 12 April 1983