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Reading between the lines: More bookworms needed!

“Thai people read only nine lines a year.”

When I first heard this comment a few years ago, I was very shocked.

How could it be? With the country’s literacy rate being so high (93 per cent according to the Thai National Statistical Office), who would have thought that as a nation we read so few books!

World Book and Copyrights Day falls on April 23 annually. By celebrating this Day throughout the world, UNESCO seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

World Book and Copyright Day - April 23

So when I started my job as a publisher, I promised to do whatever it takes to make Thai people read, especially children. There is no better age to start this habit right?

So why don’t Thai children like to read?

I find the library situation very odd. Over the past few years, there were various attempts to promote reading by making libraries look nice and modern. If you have visited a library lately, you would see some really nice buildings, but sadly, very few books.

Surprisingly (or not), those books are often old and unwanted, with most being donated, so children do not get the opportunity to select what kind of books they want to read in their local libraries.

Another odd thing is that over half of the budget allocated to buy books is used on computers and multimedia. Although learning can be done through many media, wouldn’t you agree that in a country in which people only “read nine lines per year”, our focus should be on encouraging children to read more books?

I think a big reason most children do not like to read is because they have not found their right kind of books yet. It pains me to find librarians choosing tutorial books and exam guides over great literature and educational reference books.

Or when a librarian refuses to buy translated literature just because they think their students are not worldly enough to understand the stories, or because they only want their students to read works by Thai writers.

I feel so strongly about world literature and translations. My passion for books started when I read  The Famous FiveHarry Potter series that enticed me back to reading again. by Enid Blyton. When I stopped reading in junior high school, it was the

Now, how many kids are not reading today because no one introduced great literature to them? Don’t get me wrong, I support Thai writers five hundred per cent. The problem is that we don’t have enough of them yet, especially children’s authors.

With support from UNESCO Bangkok, the Thai Ministry of Education, Alliance Française, the Gothe Institute and the British Council, Nanmeebooks, a Thai publisher specializing in education and literacy, recently hosted a two-day conference and workshop under the theme: “Enter the World of Reading through World Literature”.

More than 1,100 teachers from over 800 schools across the country attended the workshop. The event covered both fiction and non-fiction written by Thai and foreign writers.

We showed teachers and school principals that it is possible and is in fact very easy to organize activities that will attract children to read knowledge and non-fiction books as well.

We had over 20 speakers from many industries, ranging from a fellow teacher, to a successful businessman, to a writer and even a scientist whose collective feedback has hopefully inspired teachers to go back to their schools and open the door to the world of reading, through world literature, to their students.

We also had case studies of how South Korea and Japan have succeeded in turning their countries into reading nations. Participants also took part in a ten-station rally workshop. Each station had examples of reading activities for each category of books, so those present got many ideas on how to lure children to read certain types of books, including science reference books!

It was a wonder to see such enthusiasm from the teachers and school principals, and even better, from many levels of education, ranging from kindergartens to middle schools, to vocational schools, to public libraries!

There were plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” and many exchanges of ideas. Such positive feedback from this event is proof that Thai people are ready to push “Reading as a National Agenda” to the next level.

And with a united national effort from both the public and private sectors, we are certain that there will be no more “x lines of books per year”.

 

Written by Kim Chongsatitwatana

Kim Chongsatitwatana is Assistant Managing Director of Nanmeebooks Co. Ltd and can be contacted at kim@nanmeebooks.com

Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April 2010



This year, the fifteenth World Book and Copyright Day is being celebrated in the context of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010). The opportunity will be provided today to review the role of books in our constantly evolving world. Policy decision-makers, publishers, educators and civil society as a whole will need to consider once again the most effective ways of promoting that irreplaceable tool for knowledge: the book.

Books improve our knowledge of others and of their philosophies, and therefore enhance our understanding of the world. They also provide development opportunities, for all ages and, in particular, for young people.

Books cannot be celebrated without sparing a thought for the 759 million people who can neither read nor write, two-thirds of whom are women. Freedom to read, to receive an education, to access remote cultures and research findings is nonetheless a fundamental human right. Everyone must be able to enjoy the right to education.

Freedom of circulation is also an essential requirement for everyone to have access to books. Translation of course plays a significant role in the transmission of knowledge derived from books. Innovative publishing policies that meet the needs and aspirations of every human being are, however, also required.

In the light of the emergence of new forms of books, of changes in the design, production and access to contents of books, it is urgent to recall that there can be no book development without respect for copyright. This is particularly the case at a time when digitization further exposes books to risks of illicit use.

 

To make the fifteenth celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, I invite all partners, communities and UNESCO networks to join forces to promote respect for copyright and ensure that books take their rightful place in the social, educational and cultural spheres.

Books are works of art and science, and vehicles for ideas. They magnificently materialize creative diversity, generate universal knowledge and contribute to intercultural dialogue. They are instruments for peace.

Today, 23 April 2010, let us celebrate every aspect of books across the world.

 

Related Links:

UNESCO launches Anti-Piracy Observatory to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day

World Book and Copyright Day - April 23



19.04.2010