The children of ’80s and ’90s, in Karachi, were lucky enough to have books and magazines in their hands. They spent some part of leisure time on reading books. These books were just not their textbooks only but the books out of their curriculum too. The popular ones were novels of Ishtiaq Ahmed and Ibn-e- Safi, monthly magazines of Hamdard Naunehal, Taleem o Tarbiyat, and Sathee, then there was a weekly section for kids in most daily newspapers.
This reading habit was not just an opportunity of children of elite or upper – middle class, the lower middle class had shown the same interest in reading something out of their school syllabus. For their help, there were public libraries in nearly every area in the city, where all the latest books, novels or magazine were available for free reading for a certain period of time. Besides this, some bookshops provided books on rent too. Parents and teachers encouraged their children to read. All that facilitated to build an environment of reading.
With the start of the new millennium and the boom of information technology, the reading culture has declined. With the absence of any proper survey, it is difficult to provide exact figures regarding the status of how many children are reading in their leisure time. With the comparison of usage of social media, it can be easily determined the ratio of reading books versus the status of social media.
The lack of interest of reading has impacted on language skills. The last Annual Status of Education Report Pakistan of 2016 revealed that only 52 percent of children in Grade 5 could read a story of Grade 2 level in a local language. Tests for English reading skills for students of Grade 5 showed even worse results. Only 46pc can read sentences in English designed for Grade 2.
Reading can improve our abilities in communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity. Although with the recent invention of artificial intelligence, we can increase our dependence on smart technology; but according to an article on Forbes.com by Bernard Marr, an expert on technology, these are the four skills out of the seven that cannot be done better by artificial intelligence than humans. Technology can help us in writing by suggesting word and correcting grammar mistakes, but it is the reading habit that can enhance our critical and creative skills.
The culture of reading can be revived through the support of Parents and teachers. Parents should introduce their children to some monthly magazines both in English and Urdu. They can present books as gifts on special occasions, for e.g. birthdays. Moreover, they can introduce Bill Gates, a tech guru, a role model for reading books as he often recommends books for reading in his blog ‘gates note.’
On the school side, teachers should make it compulsory to read at least one book a week from the school library. School should arrange a book fair once a year in their school where students and their parents can buy books at a discounted price.
Pity the nation that prefers shoes on books. Unfortunately, we are that nation who has shunned books, that is the reason behind our lack of innovation in the world. If we want to make our nation, the leader of the world, then we should revive our culture of reading. Because we all know better that ‘Readers are leaders.’