Sixty years have passed us by since we first proclaimed to the world our independent nation status.
I wonder what kind of society we will be as we clock a century 40 years from now.
As the Government ploughs hard at driving Malaysians towards a “high income nation” in order to join the ranks of the developed world, will we end up as hollow drums?
Reading is not a Malaysian way of life today in comparison to the pre and early post-independence era.
Not only do Malaysians shy away from bookstores and merely push their children to pore over pages of revision exercise books, reading is also not recognised as an important benchmark for the Key Performance Index (KPIs) enshrined in both the public and private sectors here.
No society can progress commensurate with its economic, political and social development if reading is not a well-ingrained habit among its citizens.
Reading is integral to a society’s thinking progression, and along with it the power of creative thinking and innovative strengths. The benefits of reading cannot be denied. It gives us mental stimulation; enables us to battle stress effectively; our vocabulary keeps growing; even our memory improves. People who read daily demonstrate an acute analytical mind and have better focus.
In fact, it is not far-fetched to state that reading books every day is as important as bathing.
But how many Malaysians you meet daily will tell you that making money is more important or that they do not have time to read because they are busy with life’s demands?
Rather than question why we have been failing as a reading society, it would be more proactive to take some serious remedies.
Firstly, both the public and private sectors must insist on making reading a compulsory component in the KPIs for their employees. Time and resources must be allotted to motivating employees to take reading as an important engagement for working life.
Business owners and service providers must not consider reading on company time a loss of productivity.
On the contrary, a well-read employee will be a good thinker and his or her ability to think deeply would enable creativity and innovation to flourish.
Secondly, parents must instil the reading habit in their children by bringing them to bookstores regularly.
Going to the park, killing time at malls and pampering children with the consumerist-materialist culture is not going to produce a great Malaysian civilization as we clock one century of self governance.
In comparison with many of our neighbouring countries, we know that we do lag far behind.
Just count the number of bookstores in these nations and the volume of trade registered.
Parents must cultivate the habit of buying books for birthdays and festive occasions for the young.
There must be a reading corner wilfully and proudly created in every home, no matter how small a dwelling it is.
Malaysians are fond of spending huge amounts of money in renovating their homes featuring state-of-the-art kitchens, over-decorated dining areas, and impressive frontages. But how many homes we know of have nice, cosy, tidy reading corners with shelves of a growing collection of books read by everyone in the family?
Thirdly, teachers must walk the talk. All the way from primary schools through to the hallways of universities, teachers and lecturers must proudly demonstrate their penchant for reading.
Unfortunately, many teachers and lecturers will moan that they do not have the time to read.
That in itself is a clear reflection of the fact that Malaysians are no longer a reading society.
Fourthly, book traders and business operators must collaborate and hold frequent roadshows offering attractive discounts to propagate the reading habit. They must take it upon themselves as a social responsibility to help trigger a reading society.
They should not capitalise on such endeavours by just peddling school workbooks and textbooks.
Fifth, while the Government, now and in the past, has made a great effort to promote a reading society by even giving tax rebates for purchasing books, it needs to revisit the education system.
Subjects like Philosophy and literary pursuits must be re-introduced at all levels and for all streams of study.
We have been chasing after A-grades in examinations for too long and failed to see the significance of creating a society of people who are well read, able to think deeply and speak clearly.
Perhaps it is time to reflect long and hard on the wise words of the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India: “Learning gives creativity Creativity leads to thinking Thinking provides knowledge Knowledge makes you great.”
So Malaysians rich and poor, high and low ranking, what is the kind of society we want to be in the decades ahead of us?