To our primary, secondary, vocational and university students who have just returned to classes as we commence another school year, this article is meant for you! Others who may have already graduated and yet who have a hard time communicating effectively in their various areas of work, you might find today’s article also helpful.
In fact I have seen a lot via the previous positions I have held in the civil service.
Last year while we were discussing an hour’s presentation to the law students at Emalus Campus, one of our university lecturers there posed the following question, almost out of the blue; ‘Why do you write so well?’. Whether I write well or not is for others to judge, though for me, writing is a hobby. They say writing is also an art. It is perfected over time. The more you write, the more you improve.
The real secret though, is READING! As I was completing my final semester at the Crawford School of Public Policy in Canberra back in 2012, I approached one of my lecturers (who also writes extensively) and asked him this question, ‘Sir, I have been reading your writings and I’d like to write well like you,…can you please help me with some advice’? After acknowledging my compliments of his work, he responded with a smile, ‘go and read articles from good writers and from books’. Then he directed me to a number of sources to read. Take time to read, read and read. That I have done. But deep within I am still not satisfied.
The more I read and the more I compare my writings with others, the more I feel so far behind. So I keep reading, knowing fully well at the back of my mind that English is my third language (after my home dialect and its variants across the island, and of course the much-hated Bislama). At any rate, this article is more about ‘Reading’ rather than writing. So we’ll focus the rest of it on the whole subject of reading.
The Power of Reading
Somebody once said this, ‘reading helps to develop inference and deduction and comprehension skills.’ I believe the writer wholeheartedly.
Another writer notes, ‘reading promotes reading comprehension with a wealth of effective strategies that help readers THINK — interact with the text and construct meaning while they read.’ Yet another has this to say, ‘Reading has been proven to keep our minds young, healthy and sharp, with studies showing that reading can even help prevent alzheimer’s disease. Reading also develops the imagination and allows us to dream and think in ways that we would have never been able to before.’ A fourth writer argues that ‘Reading may also lead to a better, more balanced life. What happens when students read? They train their brains, in essence. They are mentally stimulated, acquire knowledge and ideas, reduce stress in their lives, improve their vocabularies and memory, and develop keener analytical skills.’
English philosopher Bacon said that “reading makes a full man”. Some say “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. It makes the brain think, enriches imagination and at the same time it provides pleasure and helps people to relax.” There’s so much information out there on reading. The aim of this article is not to teach you about reading, but rather to help highlight the importance of reading to our students amidst an age of highspeed internet and of our technological advancements, which in turn have both their benefits and disadvantages.
This brings us to a very vital point about reading. Which is better, reading in print or on-screen?
The Power of Books
The first very obvious question to you is, when was the last time you held a book in your hands to read? Or have we all switched to phones, screens and electronic gadgets? I’m talking to the ‘Look Down Generation’, to use the very words of one of our former Prime Ministers on the challenges of modern Vanuatu.
I remember back in primary school how our teachers made us spend an hour each day to “read” and making us go through the pain and agony of those sessions on those uncomfortable wooden chairs. Looking back, now I understand why. They knew what the secret of success in education was. Books – the power of books. Schools have libraries today, but how many students make use of books to read? Do you?
On the subject of books, someone once said, ‘Books are pieces of wisdom passed down from people who have already been there and done that. Books have the power to change our perspective and mindsets. They can spark inspiration and be used as a guide to live our best life.’ Reading has transformative power. Writer Emily Rudow notes that ‘an obvious, but often neglected fact is that reading can make you smarter and a more well-rounded individual.’ The literature on the importance and impacts of reading out there is extensive and unlimited. The important thing though is not just to acknowledge that, but to start reading. You have to start somewhere. The question again, which is better, reading in print or on-screen?
Reading on-screen vs reading in print
In an article written by Lisa Allcott in October 2021, she notes that ‘current research suggests that reading online results in lower understanding and less critical reflection.’ Some may argue their case against this, but something to ponder.
Matter of fact is, for those who are ‘growing up in a digital world with all its advantages and distractions’, one wonders ‘what reading practices [they] have developed to deal with the online world and what their consequences might be.’ Whilst online information offers the immediate advantages of ‘quick links to other sites, offering convenience, flexibility of approach, and often cheaper costs than print materials’, as one writer succinctly puts it, ‘not all of this information is unbiased or even relevant to our needs, and the speed at which events are reported gives us little time to evaluate sources, think critically or engage in considered reflection.’
As Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist from Oxford University, comments in her 2014 interview with ABC’s Gary Rivett, ‘the issue is that information isn’t knowledge. Of course, you can be bombarded with endless information, endless facts but if you can’t make sense of them, one fact is the same as any other fact.’
Researcher Ziming Liu also notes that ‘screen‐based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one‐time reading, non‐linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in‐depth reading, concentrated reading and decreasing sustained attention.’
Having said the above though, it is undeniable that both print and online reading are thoroughly established in our students’ daily lives. Ultimately, it is important to manage onscreen and in print reading in order to capture the best of both worlds.
Finally, and this is my personal biase, as writer Emily Rudow once said, ‘try becoming an active reader to better absorb the material and engage more deeply with the book. I hope you too can find for yourself the transformative powers reading can have on our lives.’ Happy reading !
The Distant Voice is a weekly column focusing on various aspects of life and development in Vanuatu.