Prioritizing the spread and development of school libraries

  • By Dr Aung Aung Min
    (Rector- Retd)

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A library is a knowledge bank
A library can be defined as a knowledge bank where collections of books about knowledge and literary fiction, CDs and newspapers are kept. Men have to learn a lot in their respective careers. Whatever work you happen to get engaged in, it will be difficult for you to succeed, unless you have experience, knowledge and ideas. You get them by reading books which are normally kept in libraries. That is the reason why libraries are greatly in need not only in schools, colleges and universities but also in villages, towns and cities.
In the 21st century, most people in developed countries get intelligence, knowledge and ideas by reading books; they are eager to read books and take much interest in the study of literature, music, art and culture. In developed countries, such as the US, Russia, England, France and
Germany, millions of books concerning knowledge, literary fiction and classic literature are kept in century-old libraries for the public to read or borrow in order to develop a reading habit. Now, they are transformed into digital libraries, so that readers can easily access them through the internet. School libraries, from basic schools to universities, are established to get students associated with books and to help build a reading habit among them. Parents as well as teachers are obliged by law to send their children to schools. They are also obliged to instill a reading habit in their school children so that they take delight in that habit when they are grown up.
People from Asia’s developed countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, have read a lot; they are seen reading books or newspapers while waiting at bus-stops, airports and railway stations. We should emulate their way of spending invaluable time.

Weakening of library culture
Among Asean countries, all have focused on the development of public libraries and those in universities, colleges and schools, except Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Myanmar was under military rule for about 50 years, experiencing closed-door policy, which kept the people in the dark. The culture of using libraries has diminished with time. Young and old persons alike are not willing to read in libraries. It is considered that rote-learning system has made students lack interest in books of knowledge, literary fictions and classic novels, or rather, they take their exams seriously.
With the spread and development of libraries across the country, the standard of that country will improve considerably. The high standard of education, health, social economy and culture is closely related with intellectual pursuits of the general public of a country. High intelligence and good ideas are directly related to a high standard of a public library. The increase of school libraries in the country will make primary students get familiarized with books, journals and
newspapers, in addition to school books. The high intelligence of school children will help make a right decision in their lives. Students who have not developed a reading habit in their young days are reluctant to go and read books in libraries, when they continue their studies in colleges and universities. Graduates who lack literary knowledge and brilliant ideas will put our country with a heavy heart.
No chance for students to use libraries
As there are not enough libraries in schools in the country, students have no chance to study; there are only 20,000 school libraries for a total of 46,000 schools across the country. It is regrettable that most school libraries remain closed throughout the academic year. From primary to high schools, students have to run between schools and private tuitions, having burdened themselves with much homework. It is time to find a solution for schoolchildren.

Literary campaigns and the culture of mobile phones
Even though there are many libraries in wards and villages as well as private ones, the number of readers or users is decreasing day by day. When we were young, there were small book-borrowing shops in wards, and now they have disappeared due to a decline in the number of readers; sadly, they have been replaced by the culture of mobile phones. In Myanmar, 18 million out of a population of 54 million use mobile phones, extremely exceeding the number of readers in the country. From children to adults, including civil servant, street vendors, manual workers and trishaw drivers, use mobile phones for playing games and wasting their time. Literacy campaigns were launched to eradicate illiteracy, but it was of little avail. Social media has flourished, forcing people with negligible intelligence and weak ideas to breed hatred and harassment among themselves. Fake news and reckless disregard through Facebook will prompt unintelligent persons to create negative causes for the future of our country. People will have to solve this problem by collective efforts under the supervision of the government.

How to fulfill the need of libraries
First, the existing libraries must be revived. Since 2015, the Myanmar Library Association has carried out a project for the revival of libraries across the country, with assistance from the Asian Foundation. Now ten high schools have been chosen with a purpose of revitalizing the libraries in their schools. Books on education, furniture, computers and accessories are added, according to their need. From primary to high schools, students are required to go to the libraries twice a week for studying, making it a compulsory requirement to be included in their respective class schedules. Accordingly, instructions should be sent out by the Ministry of Education to all schools in the country, in order to succeed.
The school principals and teachers, in turn, should bring students to libraries in order to get them familiarized with books they should read or to gradually develop a reading habit. The parents should also see to it that their children’s time is organized so that they can read books on general knowledge and ideas, without having to interrupt their school lessons and note-taking. Because of rote-learning system, it is not surprising that parents have become worried that their children will pass the exams with low marks. The government, on its part, has exerted its utmost efforts to transform the education system so that it would soon reach its international standard.

State Counsellor’s guidance
In a literary roundtable talk in Mandalay, the State Counsellor has urged school authorities to include in their curriculum a requirement of sending students to libraries once a week to instill a reading habit in them. There could still be a library period, even if there is no library. Even if there is no reading room, an interesting book that has nothing to do with school lessons could be picked out from a book cabinet to be discussed. In addition, the State Counsellor has urged teachers to try to include reading in the hobbies of their students, so that they can enjoy reading books. She also urged parents to do the same.
Try on a self-help basis
When compared to private schools, government schools are short of libraries and modern books. This is a major defect in the development of school libraries due to stringent educational budget; primary and middle schools do not have libraries of their own. Also, libraries in high schools are not open regularly. Here, the principals and teachers are kindly advised to rely on themselves. The teachers are instructed not to ask for financial donations, but they are allowed to ask for periodicals, journals, newspapers, CDs, and so on. Consulting with the PTA on the development of a library, furniture and materials requirement is suggested. If closely linked to private and university libraries, school libraries will greatly benefit on the exchange of books, journals, CDs and newspapers. In this context, the State Counsellor’s advice is really encouraging, in that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information should cooperate for the speedy development of school libraries.

Creating a learning environment
“Creating a consistent learning process and suitable and comfortable libraries built for students to enjoy reading and develop a reading habit” is a basic educational principle. In an international aspect, the role of libraries is seen to be in keeping with the changing times. For instance, budget allocation is put aside for the development of libraries. At the same time, the Ministry of Education will have to cooperate with other ministries concerned, such as the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, Asia Foundation, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Korea International Cooperation Agency. It is time to accelerate the development of libraries in the country by linking up with libraries from Southeast Asian universities, colleges and schools for further cooperation. In conclusion, the spread and development of school libraries should be given a top priority under the guidance of the Ministry of Education.

Translated by
Arakan Sein

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