The learning culture.

A close friend once confided that if he ever has a child, he would like him/her to grow up being a learned person.  A language teacher once said that back in his old country; a person is not educated until he learns how to read. And it has always been this scribe’s annual resolution to pick up a skill every year so that by the time he is old, he would have learnt a lot going through life.

A lot of us, with exceptions, think that the process of learning stops when you graduate from schools or colleges.  Aside from the daily newspapers, and the occasional TV viewing, statistics have shown that we Malaysians read very little. When asked about this, a member of the academia said that he has met professionals who do not even read newspapers, other than a quick scan of the headlines. These people think the print media are too dense – an attitude academics label as ‘eye laziness’.

Some think that reading fiction is strictly for the young.  Others even think buying books these days are a waste of time, money and old fashioned. A recent letter to the editor of a national paper from an academic gave a couple of reasons why Malaysians generally do not read, such as busy time schedules and increasingly expensive books.  The writer concluded that the main reason why Malaysians do not read is that we simply do not appreciate learning.

There is also a school of thought that concludes a lot of us do not have a mentality of lifelong learning.  For a lot of people, learning stops when one leaves school, or higher institute of learning.  Learning is only to pass an examination, get that dream job and earn a good salary.

A lot of professionals do read self-help topics related to their jobs. It is unfortunate though if they limit their reading to these books, as their attitude seems to be reduced to work-related topics, thinking that everything else is irrelevant.

Those who believe in life-long learning believe it is good that we cultivate a strong reading habit and read all kinds of books:  fictions, biographies, practical science, literature and non-fiction.

We all know that reading books increases our knowledge.  But very few of us do not realise that a well-established reading habit gradually changes our way of thinking.

Reading changes a person from a naïve to one who is sophisticated and refined; from immature to a mature and intelligent thinking; from a conservative to a liberal mind; from narrow minded to open minded; from ignorance to awareness and appreciation of new knowledge and skills. From an insensitive person to one who is compassionate and receptive to human feelings, experience, life and culture.

One of the best advice that this scribe have been given by a teacher friend decades ago is that a strong reading habit moulds and changes how we feel, think, see things, speak and behave.

How then do we encourage the young, and some of the old ones, to change their attitude of being indifferent to reading and learning new things in life to one that are receptive to a life-long learning process?

To insist that books and other reading materials be sold at low prices would involve a lot of parties, and the business community in the book industry would be reluctant to accept a lower profit margin.

It is learnt that in a number of countries, the local authorities allow local publishers to print popular books published on the world market for their local readers at very low price.  Though this would be contravening some copyright law somewhere, such locally produced reprints usually include a disclaimer that it is only meant for the local market.

Another suggestion is perhaps to increase more public libraries, and stock them with not only the latest books and reading materials, but make them more assessable to the public, especially the young.  We all have heard of mobile libraries at some time in our life, but such ideas were given a short publicity once or twice and then shelved.

Some countries are even known to organize visits by mobile libraries, converted from buses and trailers, to the outback.  These mobile libraries not only stock books, but may also be equipped with internet facilities to encourage IT interest.

With the advent of the internet however, reading and learning has never been easier.  Readers can now download classics, most of them are free, and read them at their leisure.  All in all, with all the modern facilities at hand, it would appear that not learning to update ourselves on the latest developments of what is going on is a very poor excuse.

This scribe, in an earnest desire to encourage the young to read, have always encouraged parents to buy appropriate books for their children at an early age, to start the habit of reading, instead of purchasing expensive toys.