(Hailing the “All Who Can Read Should Read” campaign)

  • By Maung Hlaing

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“The main aims of the ‘All Who Can Read Should Read’ campaign is to encourage and stimulate the development of reading among all people in Myanmar who can read, and to continue and extend the campaign to cover the entire country.”
Deputy Minister for Information Ministry U Aung Hla Tun said so at a press conference held at the meeting hall of the Ministry of Information, Nay Pyi Taw on 15 December, 2018. What he said reminded me of our childhood days while we were pursuing monastic education.
At that time, it was in the monasteries that young boys and even girls learned their lessons that had been meant not only to enable them to be literate or to earn their living but to be more interested in the religious teachings of the Buddha. We were taught Three R’s (Reading, Writing and Reckoning) by learned monks who were well-versed in Buddhist literature including the treatises on Buddhist Philosophy. Thanks to the monks, we could read Jataka stories, or Buddha’s Life stories (life stories of previous incarnations of Buddha), tales on religious texts and so on.
The remarkable thing the monks did was “holding a reading competition” for students. We the students competed with each other in reading of reciting the texts we had learned by heart. In this way, they could instil a good habit of reading in all the students. Despite the lack of (modern) formal education, the monastic education system inspired our enthusiasm to read a lot.
As a result, while we were reading at college, we the students were competiting with each other in reading books of the college (Workers’ College) library. We had to renew our borrower’s cards given by the library over and over again and the renewal made us take pride in reading.
Although a huge influx of reading materials did not come out in those days, we had to be satisfied with some dailies and periodicals we read every day. Compared to our childhood days, children and youths of today are so lucky that they can have easy access to all kinds of reading materials ranging from ordinary books to e-books on various subjects.
Not only Myanmar but also developing and everen developed nations are now facing the challenges of the people who do not read although they know how to read or even they are educated.
May I quote the message sent by the united Nations Secretary-General on International Literacy Day (2013). In the message, the Secretary- General said, “More than 773 million young pepole and adults around the world cannot read this message. They are among the ranks of our fellow citizens who have not yet gained full literacy skills…” He means that over 773 million people cannot read his message because they are illiterate. I would like to add a few words to his remarks by saying “Those who do not read are not only the illiterates but also neo-liteates and even the educated.”
That is why, literacy movements are being waged on the one hand and reading compaigns like ‘All Who Can Read Should Read’ campaigns are being launched on the other hand.
To my opinion, to launch reading campaigns and to instil a habit of reading, or a good hobby of reading in students solely depends on the endeavours made by school teachers today. It is the teachers that are responsible for teaching and imparting knowledge on both school texts and ways of living of their students.
When I was a highschool student, our teachers taught us how to use library even it was the time when we had a poor chance to have an access to libraries. Thanks to their instructions and advice, we came to know the value of school library and enjoyed ourselves in a single library called Information Reading centre opened by the Ministry of Information in our town. Besides, our teachers guided us to write articles and poems in school magazines and wall-mounted magzines.
As the books hardly reached our small town, we usually relied on the school library. Sometimes, when our class-teacher bought a good book, he brought it to the class and made us read. After going through the whole book, we had to tell him about our views or ideas and comments on that book. Such a good practice made us take interest in books and reading. Only when this practice is kept alive and dynamic, will the future of our nation be brighter.
If we looked at the world today, we will find that in one language only, thousands and thousands of new books are published in a month, and millions in a year. Please, try to imagine the number in all the languages in the world. While paperback books dominated the publishing market, new colour printing techiques enable publishers to produce beautifully illustrated books inexpensively.
New types of books including talking books, which are records or tapes of books that read aloud are created for those who cannot read, young children and the blind. Moreover, people can now have an easy access to e-books and the Internet users are on the increase day by day. In the 1970s, the use of computers to aid in the type-setting process became more and more common. In the decades that followed, the printing and binding process became increasingly automated.
A major development in the late 20 th centuary was print on demand. By using powerful computers from companies store digitzed versions of books. When needed, they use advanced printers and binding teachniques to run off as many books as required. Printing only as many books as needed allows companies to save money, and being able to store book digitally means that books can be printed whenever necessary.
Sometime about seven years ago, I came across a news item under the title of “A book a day helps keep doctors away” that appeared in the New Light of Myanmar (12 May, 2011). According to the news, new retirees suddenly confronted with plenty of time on their hands might be happy to learn that reading keeps on mentally alert. Growing old can present difficulties such as failing eyesight or problems concentrating, but experts encourage the elderly not to give up on reading and to adept to their situation. From the perspective of health professionals, there are many advantage in reading books or newspapers for senior citizens.
Normally, service personnel may feel very happy on the day on which they begin to enjoy their retirement. However, as they grow older and older, they gradually come to feel lonely and need something that cannot be expressed. As for a senior citizen, he should employ his mind and body sensibly and intelligently during his spare time so that idleness may not grow upon him and rust his mind.
We can go in for meditating, gardening, spending time with grand children and etc. But now, researchers find that the best way to enjoy a retired life is READING .
Manfred Gogol, a physician and president of Germany’s Society for Gerontology and Geriatrics says that the brain builds new synapses, junctions between the neurons, when it is stimulated during reading. Gogol also recommends reading books that deal with subjects that are of special interest to the reader. If a long novel seems like too much work, then try a novella or collection of short stories.
As a matter of fact, those who do not read books may lost two things—pleasure and knowledge given by books. I was not surprised when my teacher late U Po Kyaw Myint (Myansar Gon Kyaw Myint) said, people who don’t have a taste for reading are to be pitied as they miss out one of the purest pleasures of life.”
Our modern world is changings at an enormous rate. No one can deny this. With the help of computers, Internet and the information super highway, almost everyone can have easy access to social media. I do not want to put the blame on those who are deeply engaged in using social media but I would like to call on them to turn to books.
Due to new communication technologies, the globalization process is picking up. But pleasae have a look at the peoples of other lands. Although they are using their hand phones to visit the social media, they never fail to read books.That is why, millions and millions of books in various languages are coming out.
Peoples of the world nations are reading hard and working hard to be able to keep pace with the trend of international development to promote national interests.
Reading helps broaden the horizons of the people and enables them to distinguish between the good and the bad. In the ‘Knowledge Age’, competion for prospearity becomes intense more than ever. If one fails to read (books), one will surely lag behind others who read more.
Indeed, holding ‘All Who Can Read Should Read’ campaign means that we are launching a ‘Social Revolution’.
While the people of the world nations are reading, should we waste time, toiling with the mobile phones?
The message I would like to leave is—“Read and Read and Read and Read…”
The motto ‘Books for All’ will ring true till doomsday!
1. The New Light of Myanmar, 12-5-2011
2. The Global New Light of Myanmar, 16-12-2018

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