Reading is one of those non-biological habits that is indispensable in humans’ lives. In the days of ‘digital distraction’ posed by 15-second reels, Education Post’s Tanay Kumar asserts how evaluating or giving minor credits for ‘library-period’ in schools can save people from being fall prey to fake news and can make them patient, but with one change in rules.
“I cannot live without books.”
James Madison, America’s fourth President, must have smiled with pleasure when he had read the aforementioned sentence in a letter, which was written and sent by his very dear friend Thomas Jefferson. In the teenage years, Jefferson used to get surprised with his schoolmates that why they were not spending their leisure time at the library! Probably, those schoolmates would have spent more time with him if they had known that one day, this teenage boy (Jefferson), will become the third President of the United States of America.
Thanks to those governments around the world who emphasize on a ‘library-period’ and have even introduced it in their curriculum. Union and state, both governments in India, know about the importance of spending time in the library. The newly implemented National Education Policy 2020 categorically mentions, “Public and school libraries will be significantly expanded to build a culture of reading across the country.”
Both the union and state governments have allotted certain endowment for public schools to set up libraries on the school campus. While the NEP is by the centre, states also have their own policies on the library period. In October 2021, the Uttar Pradesh Government introduced proper guidelines for promoting libraries and library hours in schools. The guidelines specifically state, “Schools must devote a minimum of two periods in a week as library period for every class.” In 2019, Punjab state’s education department promulgated a law that reading two books minimum from the school library would be a compulsion. Most of the private schools promote and mandate library hours on their campuses.
Now, the question arises – How to know if a student has ‘actually’ read the book? Merely issuing the book for the entire week might not compel students to read. Could there not be a process or some guidelines for evaluation which mandate schools to take feedback from the students on the books they read in their library hours?
Many times, in most government schools, some students go to the library or the readers’ corner and just sit there for the sake of ‘library’s period’ and no one is able to assess the importance of this vital hour spent at schools. There are some students who actually read books, but their number is small.
Jatin Mishra, a student at a government boy’s school in New Delhi, says that he visits the library once a week, for 30 minutes, as per the school’s rule. With his friends, Jatin visits the library and sometimes reads and sometimes has fun around with his friends in the library period. The students in his school can get issued the book if they want. Sometimes, Jatin also goes through the passages or prosodies of the books, but since feedback is not mandatory, he says that he doesn’t care much about it. His elder brother, Shivam, expresses his joy if there was a process or system of knowing whether the students have sat and read in library hours as it would enlarge students’ perspective.
Goldy Kumari, a six standard student at DAV Public School, Patna, expresses her viewpoints if she is evaluated for the library hours at school. Though she expresses a little dismay that it may burden her a bit more, along with her syllabus books, but she also thinks reading non-syllabus books increases knowledge. She adds, students would hardly take the library hours seriously if there is no feedback or assessment process of the books they have got issued.
Among the private schools, it is really rare that they evade the feedback or evaluation process of the library hours. Sanghamitra Ghosh, former principal of The Mother’s International School, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi, shared an easy solution that the library staff can do. Some creative and fun activities on the last week of the month could be done where students can be asked to talk or discuss for a couple of minutes about the books they have read in their library hours or act out their favourite character.
Art integrated activities like making a book cover or writing a comic strip between characters can be interesting activities for children. Sharing with the Education Post, Ms. Ghosh recalls introducing a very pleasant method of inculcating reading among students. On one day of the week, in the first hour, she introduced a reading period, when the whole school, including teachers and sometimes, the support staff in her office, would read a book on the school’s premises. Students were encouraged to read silently without asking any questions. The idea was not only to inculcate in them the habit of reading but also to help build in them the skill of ‘speed-reading’ and understand the meaning of the passage contextually, essential skills for everyone. “Reading has to be a pleasant exercise, not a coercive one,” Ms. Ghosh says.
Dr. Pardeep Rai, Senior Vice President of the Indian Library Association, shares his delight and dismay simultaneously. Dr. Rai says that there is a difference between ‘ground-level provision’ and ‘ground-reality.’ For the delight part, he is happy that at least governments are now vehemently recognizing the power of reading, but the resource-crunch, infrastructure, and absence of evaluation process come to his disappointment’s part. Dr. Rai also says that giving minor credits to a student for the book of his choice, besides curriculum’s credits, would inspire not only her/him to read books but it may also inspire other students.
Since the students choose their own choice of books, the issue of compulsion doesn’t arise at all. It would be like an extracurricular activity with bestowed credits. “It is highly probable that a student can become a voracious reader if she/he gets credits for a reading habit from her/his secondary classes. There is no doubt that our reading habit and attention span have drastically reduced because of smartphones and electronic media. Nobody wanted it but it is a kind of corollary that happened with us. AND books can be the saviour in this plight,” Dr. Rai says to the Education Post. Proposed by S. R. Ranganathan in 1931, he cites one of the Five Laws of Library Science, ‘every book its reader,’ which explains that every book must get its category of readers.
There must be a course like information literacy etc where students have to be examined and Librarians’ taught this paper. Then every student bound to utilise library resources. Activities comprising discussing or speaking about the book before fellow students for three or five minutes, those books might also get their category of readers. “A rational reader goes through some other redolent books in the library, besides those which she/he was looking for,” he adds.
A retired teacher from a primary government school, Ms. Asha Pandey asserts, at any school, very few students ‘actually’ read a book when they take a book from the library. Dr. Pandey says that in reality it’s not even mandatory that one has to read some particular type of books and it would become like a syllabus if some books (or sets of books) become mandatory for the library hours. “Further, we are all aware that teachers in the government schools are often loaded with other non-academic works. We kept on filling many google forms for other non-academic works,” said Dr. Pandey.
Dr. Pandey says that she was appointed for some time for the ‘library-period.’ But, in many other government schools, a big staff crunch exists which limits the school management to focus only on the syllabus and its completion. Being a teacher of a primary school teacher, she says that kids hardly want to study and that’s their nature as they want to play more. So, to infuse a motivation in them for reading, there must be a process of reward for library-hours in the government schools also so that a lasting habit of reading can be inculcated in them.
As per the Ministry of Education data, till the financial year 2021-22, a total of 87% of schools in India have a library/book bank/ reading corner facility in total (government, private, govt. aided and others). Being the winner, 100% schools in all categories of Delhi, whether being government or private, have this facility.
Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Goa, and two other union territories, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep ace the race in providing these facilities to government schools as 100% of government schools in these state/UTs has library/book bank/reading corner. Three north-eastern states, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are seriously lagging in providing this facility in overall, with 23%, 25% and 45% respectively.
In my own views, the current world is only the result of what people have been reading since the millenniums and processing of the information they read. In the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people around the world fell prey to the number of fake news, whose sources were merely some online propaganda websites. If those people had developed a habit of thorough reading, probably a voice would have echoed in their brains, “Maybe I should better READ this information from some other standard and authentic sources.”
Besides the tremendous knowledge, reading infuses some intangible but great qualities into people. Top of the most is ‘patience,’ followed by a habit of listening, another habit that has been vehemently reduced in the days of 15-second reels, and third, a habit of looking into other sources for the same content’s reference. But they all start from a regular habit of physicalbook reading, not the online one, because online reading ‘poses’ some distraction to open a new tab in the browser, open a website, an application or etc. Those people would be no lesser than any ‘self-conquered superhumans’, if they are not led astray while reading an e-book.
Situated at 101 Independence Avenue of Washington D.C. U.S.A., the Library of Congress is one of the world’s biggest libraries (some claim it is the biggest one). During the War of 1812, the British army had burned this library and many of its books turned into ashes. Many of them were very antique ones. At that time of ‘knowledge crisis’, Thomas Jefferson gave a proportion of his collection to the Library of Congress, a sum of 6,487 books (many claim that he read even more than this number). By just a vast land purchase from France, i.e. Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson gave Americans an extensive space of land where they all flourished and erected industries for years to come, which has kept the USA ‘economic superpower’ even today. Reading gave Jefferson boons of those perspectives, which only a few leaders in the world even today crave to possess.
Alas, I wish reading was more like our body’s natural bio-clock so that human beings get bound to read a book half an hour daily, but sorry that reality hurts. But it has to be inculcated. By knowing the efficiency of library-periods in school, this indispensable habit can be developed.
Jefferson had only confessed that he cannot live without books, but in a dead reality, none of us can. It’s only a matter of choice and time whether one wants to keep on reading even after school and college and have a logical perspective in life or just wants to have a narrow one.