Losing the joys of the printed word – commentary

Losing the joys of the printed word


bookwormsYesterday (September 9, 2013), the entire country should have halted whatever it was doing, grabbed a book and read. Of course the exercise allowed for people to read their e-mail, web chats and just about anything that contained the written word.  The occasion was World Literacy Day and it meant a lot to the administrators in the Education Ministry.

For one, English is supposed to be the mother language of the Guyanese people but from recent results less than forty per cent of the students writing the examinations in school exhibit a grasp of the language. Many cannot spell basic English words and the vast majority do not have a vocabulary.

This did not happen overnight. Perhaps the decline in understanding the language coincided with the rise in inflation that priced books out of the reach of the ordinary man. Having to choose between a book and food on the table, it goes without saying what the choice would have been.           

But the schools must accept some of the blame. Over time the Ministry of Education had grown accustomed to modernizing its programme. The Americans had already taken possession of the means of global communication so they fashioned what should be the teaching standards. The principle was that spelling was not important. Once the child could express his thoughts then nothing more was needed.

Guyana accepted that irresponsible standard of education and before long we began to produce people who cared less about what is right or wrong in the spoken and written word. Today, there are teachers who like their children cannot spell; some cannot write a proper sentence and still others who would never promote reading because they, themselves, do not read and do not like reading.
Reading is perhaps the most single important thing in the world. It is a skill that transports people to various heights, to places imagined and to depths previously unimagined. Many have learnt of others in strange lands by simply reading about them so that when there was an encounter it was not as though there was need to reinvent the wheel.

Reading opens the mind. It is the one activity that forces reasoning and enables one to marshal facts. The various writers of yesteryear were able to convey their emotions in words. The poets were able to leave the ballads and the sonnets over the years. There was no doubt about their intentions or about their target. Many of those who read the sonnets were reduced to tears, such was the power of the written word and the emotive force they had.

The songwriters were not far behind and in this day and age people still sing along to the lyrics of certain songs. Again it is the power of the word that creates this emotion. That is why there is the belief that nothing will ever eclipse reading. It is an activity that even the blind enjoys.

One of the greatest benefits of reading is the expanded vocabulary without which no conversation could be complete. Many a lecturer beseeches his ward to learn a new word every day. The new word would come out of a book.

Reading is a dying skill these days. Gone are the days when people rushed to buy books; when they found that the best way to develop their attention span was by reading.  In fact, there was the all-round development. Through reading people learnt to listen, to reason and to better express themselves. This is not so today.

Nobody today ever saw people really crave knowledge. That was before the advent of television and before radio became ubiquitous. There was often a young child reading the newspapers aloud to a group of people who sat around, sorry that they could not read, but glad that they were still learning what was on the printed page.

Today, despite the preponderance of schools and the access to the institutes of learning one gets the impression that there is a growing level of illiteracy. And it is sad that this is happening again in this country that had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

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  • Laurens DeHaan  On 09/11/2013 at 1:44 pm

    Perhaps they could have worked with a developing country or two to donate these books: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/fairfax-county-library-revamps-system-discards-books-reduces-librarians/2013/09/09/e3dca65a-1724-11e3-be6e-dc6ae8a5b3a8_story.html Criminal waste, IMHO.

    • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 09/11/2013 at 6:24 pm

      Laurens, I also read the article and was saddened at the waste. Local libraries in Los Angeles where I live put these books on sale for very low prices: from 50 cents to two dollars. I’ve read many great classics and other past best-selling books this way.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 09/11/2013 at 6:42 pm

    “Reading is a dying skill these days.”
    I don’t agree with this statement. More than ever, younger generations must develop their reading skills in order to stay abreast of the explosion of information available on the Internet. I’ve observed this with my two sons who were raised with books since their infancy.

    Printed books may be declining – as a writer with a novel in the works, I can’t bring myself to say “dying” – but the volume of e-books are on the rise.

    A deficient education system is a problem that must be addressed.

  • gigi  On 09/12/2013 at 5:15 pm

    “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” ― Confucius

    I agree with Ms Bacchus, reading is not dying. In fact, thanks to the internet, more people are engaged in reading. It’s rather difficult to navigate the internet without knowing how to read. However, exposure to classical reading and other notable genres has declined. I would suggest that people today are actually less engaged in listening versus reading. Radio and television requires listening.

    Also, thanks to the internet many great novels can be read freely online at sites such as Project Gutenburg (http://www.gutenberg.org/), which has the largest selection of books in its collection. Not too long ago I was able to read the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’, the oldest extant literary work. Here is the link to one of the better translations for anyone interested (http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf).

    My kids are avid readers. Engaging and encouraging their interest in reading was not only letting them see me read, but me reading to them and they reading to me also. Having them join the library and taking them on a weekly basis also promoted reading. It was what my mom did with me and my siblings. Children model behaviors.

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