To Read or Not to Read? That is the Question.

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By James Cordonero

“Reading is the beacon without which I’ll be adrift in an ocean of ignorance.” James Cordonero

In this day and age, digital technology, video games and internet craze deluge the homes, schoolbags and even the pockets of most Nicaraguan students. Such a situation has caused reading to carve an undeserved niche at the bottom of the totem pole of priorities to enrich the human experience, or it has just come to be dismissed as just another academic requirement to plod through school.

If reading plays one of the least important roles in Nicaraguan society either for educational purposes or “low-tech entertainment”, why do so many scholars and educators keep clamoring that it is an essential tool for students to develop their critical thinking skills? Why is there a compelling stack of evidence suggesting that there is a close relationship between reading and academic success?

The illustration below shows how proficient reading, vocabulary enrichment and academic success are related to one another.

Source: http://esl.fis.edu/parents/advice/read.htm

Indeed, reading is both a key to success in the academic and professional world and a source of amusement. As stated by a scholar, “reading is the only form of entertainment that is also an essential life skill” (Aina, 2011).  Both students and professionals in every field must read to keep abreast of what is happening in their respective fields. Unfortunately, in Nicaragua, like in many other Latin America countries, most people, ironically students themselves, have a strong aversion to reading. Several factors exacerbate the issue of poor reading habits in our country. Social media as well as other forms of digital communication and entertainment take the lion’s share of the blame, but another factor may paradoxically be the education system per se. Eduardo Báez, head of Books for Children in Nicaragua, argues that after doing so much interpretive reading and “filling out so many 3×5 cards with boring information at school,” students tend to become adamant book haters. In other words, school does not contribute to building the habit of reading; instead, students learn to view it “as a necessary evil”.

Additionally, some elementary and high school teachers oftentimes and inadvertently instruct their students to do “cut-and-paste research”, thus turning the latter into an army of lazy researchers and fostering a culture of plagiarism. Consequently, when students get to university, they lack critical thinking and research skills they need in order to succeed in their respective fields. That is if they manage to pass the university admission test. Statistical information reveals that there is a large percentage of high school students who are unable to pass it. Last year, for example, Nicaragua Dispatch (2013) reported that “a jaw-dropping 94% of recent Nicaraguan high school graduates failed the basic entrance exam for the National University of Engineering (UNI).” Sadly, most Nicaraguan high school graduates are not even interested in reading to pass a standard university exam.

No one can deny that reading habits are changing due to technological development. Unfortunately, most of the evidence seems to suggest that they are either changing for the worse or vanishing into thin air. The misuse of technology and the control it is taking over individual lives has had a negative impact on people’s reading habits rather than facilitate the development of such habits. Indeed, the declining interest in the reading culture among our children and adolescents should be a cause of concern and a challenge to all, which is why something ought to be done to address this critical issue. Unfortunately, reading is not taught or included in the Nicaraguan school curriculum, for it is not a subject per se and cannot be taught separately as most other subjects in the curriculum rather it is incorporated in every other subject and is regarded as a tool facilitating other types of learning. Undoubtedly, the lack of reading culture among youths adversely affects the quality of graduates being produced by the nation’s educational institutions.

What school authorities in Nicaragua should do is to launch a readership campaign aimed at not only promoting a culture of reading at school but also encouraging parents at home to set aside time to read for their children. Further, reading should be promoted through partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors such as publishers, booksellers, and  instructors. Schools should also organize debates and essay competitions for students. This type of activities will certainly help in generating reading interest and the habit of gathering information more selectively. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that providing access “to relevant information and promoting a reading culture are prerequisites for strengthening literacy skills, widening education and learning opportunities, and helping people to address the causes of poverty” (Mokatsi, 2005).

References
Aina, A. J.; Ogungbeni, J. I.; Adigun, J. A.; and Ogundipe, T. C. (2011). “Poor Reading Habits Among Nigerians: The Role of Libraries” Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). Paper 529.  Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1560&context=libphilprac

Mokatsi, R. (2005). Sharing resources- how library networks can help reach education
Goals. East African Book Development Association. Retrieved from http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/igbokwe-obodike-ezeji.htm

Rogers, T. (2013). “94 percent fail college admissions test.” Nicaragua Dispatch. Retrieved from http://nicaraguadispatch.com/2013/01/nicaraguans-fail-college-admissions-test/

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