Reading is an important platform for lifelong learning, enjoyment and improvement and needs to be cultivated from a young age. In a global age of mass migration and media, what constitutes reading in the first place? How can we make reading accessible for all?
These and other issues of critical reading were deliberated in a public lecture organised by The HEAD Foundation (THF) on 14 July 2016.
Over 58 people, from educators to parents, attended the event presented by Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee of the National Institute of Education. Drawing from her experience as an academic and a former school teacher, Dr Loh advocated independent reading as an important practice that children should cultivate.
Dr Loh first reflected on the apparent “reading crisis” in Singapore, remarking that it was not so much a crisis of people reading less, but that there are greater demands and expectations for reading and an increased necessity to read mainly for economic purposes, among other things. In other words, what counts as reading has changed.
Citing the 2015 National Literary Reading and Writing Survey conducted by the National Arts Council, Dr Loh identified the most significant barrier to reading as the lack of time. “Even teachers do not read a lot, because they have no time to read,” she lamented.
Reading is critical in allowing the individual to participate effectively in society and to develop one’s knowledge and potential. This is because it constitutes a “meaningful decoding” of information, words and phonetics, in order to make sense of the content and context.
Dr Loh also identified three ways to think about reading in the twenty-first century: Engaged Reading, Critical Reading and Equitable Reading.
Engaged Reading, where individuals are motivated to read widely, plays a significant role in the growth of knowledge. Hence, a wide genre of books plays an important factor in the way a young reader improves in reading and comprehension standards.
The second way, Critical Reading, entails an awareness of nuances in language, the views of others and the world at large. In essence, a reader must be receptive to the perspectives he faces, lest he sees issues through a blinkered lens. Students should think carefully about the provenance of the books they read, problematizing the views of the author and not simply judging a book by its cover.
The last way of reading, Equitable Reading, concerns the access the readers have to books and information. Dr Loh raised several issues on the role of the libraries and readers’ relative access to resources. She also noted that travelling costs and the availability of parents to help their children with reading may be incongruent with the easy accessibility of library books.
Dr Loh followed up her lecture with an engaging dialogue session with the audience, raising questions ranging from the quality of reading one should seek to achieve to whether handheld technological devices like smartphones are a help or hindrance to reading development.
Video excerpts of Dr Loh’s lecture can be viewed here.