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The diminishing reading habits in Pakistan

The importance of reading has been very much stressed in Islam. In fact, the first word of the Holy Quran that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was ‘Iqra’, meaning to read or recite. Muslim history is filled with multi-volume libraries that formed an important part of literate Muslim cities. Reading as a means of learning is a part of global culture.

Books play a fundamental role in nation-building and are a significant component in a person’s life. However, it seems as though the students in Pakistan are unaware and have become oblivious to the importance of books and reading. Students usually avoid reading books, and this is impacting our nation in many negative ways. Where are Pakistan’s children on the reading scale? In the absence of professional and standardized surveys it is difficult to assess our children’s reading habits. But casual inquiries and random observation show that our children are not too excited by books. When we speak of the reading culture, what is really important is to determine how much and what people are reading in their leisure time for pleasure.

According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup and Gillani Foundation Pakistan on 1,178 men and women in rural as well as urban areas of four provinces between February 23 and March 3, 2019. The survey revealed that only 9% of Pakistanis are keen readers and 75% aren’t reading any book outside their syllabus. That too is only to pass their exams.

If not encouraged, reading books would become a habit of the older generation only. In order to sustain a strong reading culture among children, we must stop misusing technology.

From 70’s to 90s, there were many public libraries and bookshops in major cities of the country.

Prof. Dr. Altaf Mukati, Vice President Academics at SZABIST was of the opinion that the digital age has completely changed the scenario. Students are becoming easy going. Rather than searching for physical books and read them; they prefer to read electronic copy of the text book or precise notes or relevant articles only. Today’s student does not read text books. Reference books and literature are totally out of question. The student prefers to read summarized information, which related to that particular subject. Prof. Dr. Altaf Mukati furthersaid that If we want to create a knowledge-based society, then books must easily be accessible and at affordable lowest possible prices. Buying books is an expensive alternative and discourages people to read to a great extent.

According to Professor Dr. Husnul Amin, Executive Director, Iqbal Institute of Research and Dialogue, International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI), “Recently, a student under my supervision has found in her research thesis that the enrolled-students of Islamabad-based universities are using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram etc.) for about 6-9 hours (74%) on daily basis. He said that productive time was being wasted on social media, adding that students often preferred to go for quick-reading, reading-in-bullets and images etc. for avoiding the original text(s).”

As stated by Faran Shaikh, a student of Karachi School of Business & Leadership, “books are no more attracting people as they used to due to modern innovations of electronic gadgets. Students prefer to watch than to read due to the fact that watching does not need that much effort in understanding.”

Professor Dr. Kamal Khan, Department of English and Applied Linguistics, Allama Iqbal Open University said, “During early nineties, there were lots of public libraries and books shops in Lahore with low-cost-books when I was student there.” He said that now the trend has changed as reading habit was declined due to social and electronic media while no book shop was left in that locality. Dr. Kamal said: “Now students either go for spoon, surface, or cursory reading and that too on social media obsessed with the idea of ‘quick-to-share’ the stuff online.

Prof. Dr. Aamir Shamsi, Dean Management Sciences at SZABIST was of the opinion that government and as well as private institutions should set more and more number of libraries in Pakistan to promote book reading culture. The role of Masjid needs to be revamped. There should be libraries adjacent to Masjids so that anybody can be benefitted. Dr. Shamsi further said that the role of parents and elders is also very important. If they inculcate the reading habits in themselves and sits with their young ones to have book reading session with children, they will adopt reading habits. “The young learn what they observe”.

 

Director Academics, IIUI, Professor Dr. Tahir Khalily said that for promoting reading culture, it was imperative to motivate students and teachers for study-circles, writing book-reviews, reading-play and analytical-reading. He said that students should be encouraged to utilize their time in reading while travelling in bus or train.

According to Sana Shahid, a manager at Paramount Books, the price of books is on the rise and selling books, whether for adults or children, is a mighty challenge. A dedicated librarian can inspire every student to read books. But most schools don’t have a library. The few which have one don’t always employ a librarian and the books lie gathering dust on the shelves.

Ayesha Tabasum, a MS in Clinical Psychology and faculty of Institute of Professional Psychology, Bahria University, Karachi, who frequently visits libraries to read books said, “I found it difficult to read from computer screen or Kindle. However, I can read books for hours without being tired”. She further said “In my opinion reading habit inspires the essence of patience and tolerance”.

Issues:

1- Education System: The basic problem lies in our flawed education system. Our education system focuses on the cramming system rather than creative and imaginative skills of students. Teachers barely focus to build the reading habit in the students. The approach of an education system is result and syllabus oriented.

2- Digital Devices: Devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops are most often blamed for the decline of book reading. People especially youth has become addicted to these devices.

3- Parenting: Parents are the most basic institution of learning for kids. In the past, parents used to inculcate the love of books in their kids. Books were discussed in their daily conversations but unfortunately, the number of such parents has declined now. Parents neither read nor tell their kids to read books.

4- A small number of libraries: another cause of this trend is the small number of libraries. Developed countries are known for their huge number of libraries but in Pakistan, this number does not go beyond hundreds.

Solutions

1- Social media: social media can play a vital role in the promotion of books. Social media can be used as a tool to promote book reading. Writers and book readers can initiate discussions about the books, which will catch the attention of social media users and eventually they will get attracted to read books.

2- Parents: Parents should try to inculcate a habit of book reading in their kids. They should read books and try to share stories of books with their kids. Discussion about the books should be part of every home. Parents should give books as a gift to their kids instead of electronic devices.

3- Civil society: civil society like NGOs can play their role by arranging events like book festivals. In such festivals, books should available at a discounted price so everyone can buy those books and read them.

4- Reforms in the education system: this is the one basic step towards the better future. The education system should promote creative reading skills of students. Instead of cramming more focus should be on the creative and imaginative skills of students. Teachers should try to promote a culture of book reading in their students.

5- Libraries: the number of public libraries should be increased. A number of public libraries can attract more readers and it can be heaven for those people who cannot afford to buy books due to financial containment.

The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes on diversified topics. Currently he is associated with SZABIST as Registrar and could be reached at  registrar@szabist.edu.pk.

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