NEELUFAR ZARAH DAMRY
Educator – Aleemiah College (Forms 1 to 6 – Girls)
Can you picture a waiting room, or a bus filled with well-groomed youngsters, engrossed in reading, heads plunged within the pages of their manuscripts, eyes mirroring a myriad of emotions as they race through the tiny printed characters, fingertips clasping the edge of the pages, eager to flip, can you see them living the story? Picturesque, isn’t it? Such a scene feels peaceful and melancholic, it feels like a time lost in time, a parallel world. Yet, this was a pleasantly daily scene not so long back.
As the world becomes increasingly digitalized and technology driven, reading in Mauritius is becoming a dying practice. Today, we see youngsters hooded, secluded in corners, eyes fastened to their mobile phones, fingers racing across their digital keypads, tapping or scrolling furiously, eyes tired from staring too much into the small screens. Sadly, the reading culture is disappearing.
The love of reading develops virtues, character, unbiasedness, objective judgment, perspectives, patience, perceptiveness, wit, and empathy amongst many others. Reading for pleasure builds character. Remove reading and we have a fundamental social issue. This could explain why we live in a society which suffers from terror of eye contact and whose capability to communicate with, feel for and connect to each other is getting increasingly impaired. The link might not be one that we can spot directly but children who read are unconsciously developing the capability to analyse situations, and to tell fake from real. They develop the capacity to make claims about what they read, producing knowledge in a way and communicating it. Above all, they develop the capacity to place themselves in other people’s shoes and understand that not everybody’s view of the world is going to be the same as theirs. That is how they develop comprehension capabilities and give depth to their personalities. They also live through stories situations that they will encounter later on in life and then develop response strategies. In simple words, reading prepares them to live.
These may seem theoretical and of bleak importance but imagine taking reading out of the equation. In what position does that leave our youth? Children who can’t communicate effectively, whose vocabulary are very limited, who can’t develop a proper command of grammar and articulate their thoughts well, who are lost, passive, less and less receptive. Youngsters whose response time makes you question whether you did not enunciate properly, who greatly lack cultural knowledge, who cannot form informed opinions, do these seem familiar? Future adults who have no clue of politics, economy, who can’t hold a constructive conversation on world matters, do these ring a bell? It is quite a paradox; never in human history has so much information been accessible with so little effort being made to obtain it. The information age has inundated us with information, yet, the joy of reading has lost its appeal.
It is quite unsettling to see the discordance between what we think would be the result of all time connectivity and the reality of it. Technology has shrunk the world. It feels like we have opened a new dimension, a portal which allows us to stay connected to each other at permanence, the stuff of dreams. We imagine citizens of internet to be social and liberated with faculties of communication being more developed than ever. However, the reality we witness is disturbingly opposite to the image we painted. Getting our teenagers to understand the beauty and moral complexity that reading develops within readers is emotionally hard. Besides watching TV, internet games, texting, social media platforms, reading may seem dull.
How do we get our youth to believe that reading can be transformative? The answer is so easy and direct that saying it out loud is a bit embarrassing. Aren’t we guilty of having put down our books too? Do we still read bedtime stories to our children? Do we make the effort of searching for books that will pick at their curiosity? As years pass, they may not remember the words in the book but they will remember the comfort and warmth associated with the experience and the curiosity that stories sparked in them. If we inspire a love of books in them through the moments we share, they will nurture it. It starts with us, what do we do about the situation? It demands time but picking out stories that will capture the interest of our readers is a crucial activity if we really want to promote reading. It is important to find for them books that are relating to the particular period of life they are going through as well. Teens for instance tend to drift towards what’s relatable. We can then slowly lure them with nonfiction titles that broach onto subjects like politics, race, climate change or crime. That is a very subtle manner of getting their interest and tickle their curiosity pertaining to such matters. Above everything, we have to model for them, read where they can see us, carry books and magazines around, the change begins with us.
In the words of Joseph Addison, “reading is for the mind what exercise is to the body.” Let us bring back the culture of reading.