The Importance of Reading for Pleasure for Cambodian Students

Kimputhevitheavy Vonn
Cambodian Education Forum
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

© Cambodian Education Forum 2021
K. Heng, S. Kaing, D. Kao, M. Muong, B. Doeur, & T. Lor (Eds.), Online learning during COVID-19 and key issues in education. https://cefcambodia.com/books/

Introduction

Reading is one of the skills to gather knowledge (Sadiku, 2015). According to Balan et al. (2019), the ability to read is the health of self-education and lifelong learning. In the context of a student-centered teaching approach, especially at the tertiary education level, students are supposed to do a lot of reading. That is why excelling in reading skills does matter for their academic performance and their ability to learn independently. In this regard, universities are now demanding greater sophistication of reading skills from students because reading can help them improve their academic performance. Sadiku (2015) noted that spending time to read at least an hour a day helped students expose themselves to various writing styles and new vocabularies.

There is a relationship between reading habits and academic achievement in university. That is why many educators such as professors, lecturers, instructors, and teachers tend to encourage their students to develop good reading habits to improve their understanding and critical thinking skills. Bridges (2014) mentioned that “a good leader always has a good reading habit or is known as a good reader. Indeed, it is hard to find successful people who are not good readers” (p.7). One of the benefits of reading is that it plays a critical role in broadening our knowledge and understanding.

Previous studies have shown that students’ reading habits have decreased in recent decades (Gambrell, 2005; National Endowment for the Arts, 2007, as cited in Sun, 2019). According to Iftanti (2012), most students were not so interested in reading because there was less motivation from their parents and teachers. For example, some parents do not value reading because they are busy with their jobs and do not have time for their children.

According to Rohmatilla (2014), various factors can make readers have difficulties in reading. They include new vocabularies, different forms of written and spoken language, complexity of word usage, and limited knowledge of readers, among other factors. Consequently, some readers give up on their reading, while others cannot even finish reading a book. In addition, it was found that students who had difficulties in reading could not perform well within their academic year (Akyol et al., 2014). However, students are likely to be able to improve their reading habit if they read for pleasure because they will be able to choose any reading materials which fit their level of understanding and areas of interests.

This chapter attempts to highlight the concept of reading for pleasure and its importance as well as provides insights into the reading habits of Cambodian students. The chapter also offers suggestions for promoting reading habits, particularly in the Cambodian educational context.

The Concept of Reading for Pleasure

Many scholars and researchers have made their attempts to define the term “reading for pleasure.” Nell (1988) defined reading for pleasure as a form of play that enables readers to gain new experiences and imagination from other worlds. Similarly, Clark and Rumbold (2006) defined reading for pleasure as “reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else’s request we continue because we are interested in it” (p. 6). The process of reading for pleasure has also been described by other researchers as a type of play that allows readers to experience different roles in their imagination as well as develop creativity (Holden, 2004; Nell, 1988). In short, reading for pleasure could be defined as a kind of reading in which readers are free to select any reading materials based on their preference, and they usually do it in their free time. This can help them to develop a good reading habit.

The Importance of Reading for Pleasure

Reading plays a central role in education, and it prepares individuals to be victorious in different areas of life and every aspect of education (Owusu-Achew & Larson, 2014). Reading involves the process of thinking, evaluating, judging, imagining, reasoning, and problem-solving (Palini, 2012). It can help promote healthy behaviors of the readers by improving their academic success and, at the same time, it helps in reducing depression (Dowrick et al., 2012, as cited in Mak & Fancourt, 2019). I believe all types of reading can create a change; however, reading for pleasure may make the most effective change. For example, reading for pleasure is not just something needed in schools, but it provides students with the opportunity to become lifelong readers (Lurie, 2018) as they do not only read for school requirements but also read as part of their reading habits. In addition, they have more choices to select any books to read based on their preferences and interests. As a result, they seem to learn more rather than just review lessons in classes. Moreover, as Djikic et al. (2012) found, reading for pleasure enabled young people to change their mind and obtain more knowledge to open up to different imaginary worlds. Reading for pleasure has been found to make significant progress in learning vocabulary, spelling, and mathematics among children who like reading (Sullivan & Brown, 2013).

Reading Habits of Cambodian Students

Since Cambodia is still a developing country, some Cambodian people are not really interested in reading (GlobalGiving, n.d.). One reason that lies behind this problem was Cambodia’s tragic past as the country went through prolonged civil war and a genocidal regime, called the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). During that period, about 90 percent of scholars and teachers were killed; libraries and documentaries were destroyed (GlobalGiving, n.d.). Consequently, many educated people were killed, and reading is not part of everyone’s daily activity. Unlike people in some developed countries, such as Japan, South Korea, the United States, and many countries in Europe, Cambodians do not seem to have a culture of reading while travelling and sitting on a plane or a bus (Sen, 2015).

According to Ban (2019), a lot of young Cambodians only read when given tasks by their teachers. They often read to prepare for examinations, while few young Cambodians spend their free time reading for pleasure. An article published by the Sydney Review of Books that was cited in Ban (2019) showed that Cambodian people do not like reading books, and they seem to spend more time on social media platforms, especially when more and more people have access to social media. In fact, by January 2021, the number of social media users in Cambodia has increased to 12 million which is equivalent to 71.3% of the total population (Kemp, 2020). This is understandable because entertainment is a major reason for people to use social media.

Likewise, Sun’s (2019) study has shown that while the frequency of reading among students in Cambodia is high, the number of books they have finished is still low. In addition, some Cambodian students tend to give up on their reading when they get bored and have difficulties with their reading materials. For instance, foreign languages like English are seen as a big challenge for Cambodian students to develop a reading habit (Sun, 2019). Sun also suggested that students should find their favorite reading materials with a level comparable to their current level of knowledge and a good reading environment to read. They should continue reading until it becomes their habit.

Suggestions for Promoting Reading Habits Among Cambodian Students

No doubt, literacy is considered one of the most important elements to contribute to national development. However, there is a lack of reading culture in Cambodia, especially among students from primary to high school levels. This issue requires interventions from concerned stakeholders such as government agencies, non-governmental organizations, teachers, librarians, parents, and students themselves (The Cambodia Daily, 2010; Siv, 2016, as cited in Sun, 2019).

To promote reading habits among Cambodian students, three ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Fine Arts, and the Ministry of Information, have initiated an event called Cambodia Book Fairsince 2011.The event aims to promote a reading culture among Cambodian youth. Cambodia Book Fair is held annually for three days at the National Library of Cambodia. This event has drawn the public’s attention on reading (Ban, 2019). In fact, the number of people who joined this event quickly increased, from around 1,000 attendees in 2011 to around 160,000 attendees in 2019 (Mark, 2019). Besides holding this annual event, the Cambodian government, especially MoEYS, should pay more attention to libraries in schools across the country by ensuring that the librarians are active, and students have easy access to those libraries. Moreover, more books such as historical, fictional, educational, or motivational books should be put in school libraries, so students will have the opportunity to read different types of books and reading materials. This helps develop their reading habit.  

Encouraging students to love reading involves actions not only from the government but also from other stakeholders such as schools, parents, and the community. The availability of school or public libraries across the country plays a crucial role in motivating students to read as well. According to Iftanti (2012), most children do not possess a reading habit due in part to the lack of motivation from their parents and teachers. In this sense, parents play a vital role in encouraging and motivating their children to read and develop a reading habit. Children will be able to adopt a reading habit if their parents like reading because they will likely follow their parents who serve as their role model (Ban, 2019). Baker and Scher (2002) also noted that children would spend their free time reading at home if books and reading activities were valued by their parents. Hence, parents should spend some time encouraging their children to read more and adopt a reading habit at home. To achieve this, home libraries are very important because they can help children to develop a culture of reading and learning at home. Moreover, parents can observe how their children learn and read and offer support when needed.

As a key factor in motivating students to read, schools should also pay more attention and offer more support to promote a reading culture among Cambodian students. In particular, schools should provide convenient libraries where students can freely access different kinds of reading materials and resources. In addition, schools should establish some opportunities to encourage students to read more in their free time, such as initiating reading competitions for them to challenge one another. Meanwhile, school teachers are supposed to provide students with more reading materials and handouts to help them learn more and broaden their knowledge rather than acquire only what has been taught in classes.

Furthermore, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also play a crucial role in promoting a reading habit among students in Cambodia, especially among school children. Room to Read, for example, was founded in 2000 and brought to Cambodia in 2002 with a commitment to help Cambodia rebuild its educational system through a partnership with MoEYS (Room to Read, n.d.). Room to Read Cambodia has published many children’s books in Khmer. Similarly, American Corners has also endeavored to encourage a reading habit among Cambodian people. At present, there are four American Corners, which feature a diverse collection of English language books and materials focusing on the United States. These American Corners offer opportunities for Cambodians to access various documentaries and many other reading materials. Thus, given their important roles, NGOs in Cambodia should offer more programs to encourage youth who are passionate about reading to promote reading habits through training projects or any reading campaigns. Furthermore, NGOs should provide funds to build village libraries in rural areas to help students or children who find it hard to access libraries.

For students, they need to be aware of the importance of reading as it will contribute to their academic success. They should try to develop a reading habit in their free time. Moreover, they should find other reading materials besides school textbooks and what has been required at schools. Similarly, as Owusu-Acheaw and Larson (2014) recommended, students should read magazines instead of reading only textbooks because reading magazines helps to cool and relax their brain and make them live a disciplined life in schools. Furthermore, students should have clear expectations and purposes to learn something from what they are reading. For example, they are likely to read for pleasure if they have the ability to read and have positive expectations from having the right book selection (Nell, 1988).

Conclusion

Reading for pleasure is something that people do in their free time with preferred reading materials. It is very important for students as it helps them to obtain more knowledge and develop a reading habit. However, in Cambodia, many students do not have much interest in reading; most tend to read only when it is required by their teachers or lecturers. To promote a reading culture, the Cambodian government has introduced some initiatives, including the Cambodia Book Fair, to encourage young Cambodian people to engage in more reading. To further promote reading among Cambodian students, all stakeholders have a crucial role to play.

Parents as role models can encourage their children to develop a reading habit. Schools should also provide students with more reading materials and handouts to encourage them to read. At the same time, non-governmental organizations should contribute to developing reading habits among Cambodian students by offering programs aimed at promoting reading in similar ways to what Room to Read Cambodia and the American Corners have done.

Overall, while these stakeholders need to do more to help Cambodian students develop reading habits, students themselves should be convinced of the benefits of reading for pleasure and try to engage in reading as much as they can. They need to be proactive in seeking opportunities to develop their reading habits, and they should understand that through reading, they will be able to develop the knowledge needed to function and compete in the ever-changing society in the 21st century.

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