Fostering a greater reading culture in Brunei

TURNING Brunei Darussalam into a reading nation should be part of our national agenda if we are going to realise Vision 2035.

In order to achieve this aspiration, a whole-of-nation approach (a term coined by the Minister of Home Affairs) has to be taken. Young people especially have to be targetted in this regard given how important their roles are and will be in society. Drawing from existing research and personal observations of others, here are some suggestions that can be followed to achieve this goal.

The role of parents are decisive in instilling a good reading habit to their children.

The way parents can do this is by reading aloud from books to their children be it during their spare time or before bedtime.

According to the report Becoming a Nation of Readers (1985), experts recommend that reading aloud is the “single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading”.

Former Brunei-based International Monetary Fund officer Roman Zyptek said it is important to start the reading process as early as possible for the child.

The advantage to doing this is how it can enrich a child’s cognitive and verbal abilities at such a crucial time in their lives when their neural networks are still forming.

School principals and teachers must do their part too in building a greater reading culture in the society.

International schools, such as JIS, organise Shakespeare plays as a way to instil the love for reading. In Britain, it is quite normal for schools to give out books as prizes for competitions. Perhaps we can do the same in Brunei.

The practical advantages to making students become active readers is how it can enhance their overall exam results.

The Brunei government should commit a greater share of the national budget to upgrade the country’s library standards, especially in educational institutions.

Library book titles have to be expanded to expose students to the wonders of reading.

To do this effectively, it will require Brunei to continue to hire and train licensed librarians. In the US and Canada, librarians are usually required to hold a graduate degree from a library school such as a Master’s degree in Library Science or Library and Information Studies.

With licensed librarians in Brunei, we will then have “experts in both children’s literature and how to build and maintain a high-quality collection that supports independent reading, research, and instruction”.

Apart from expanding the title of books, the budget should be used to to upgrade or fix existing library infrastructures and facilities.

First, high-speed wi-fi connections can be installed in all library centres so that young people will want to be in libraries more.

Second, reading or language programmes such as the CfBT Education Services’ The Great Debate programme can be actively supported by the government.

Finally, the national budget can be used to build a new modern library facility to replace the old national library in the capital.

A new national library re-modeled after the US’s Library of Congress or the British Library (potentially!) will indeed attract everyone to visit and be in the library more often.

The Brunei government, especially the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS), has to make this policy as a top government agenda due to the fact that it can enhance the quality of life for everyone in society.

The longitudinal study Competent children, competent learners by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) noted that young people’s reading for pleasure in their own time and at school was one of the critical factors for a successful pathway into adulthood.

In other words, young readers will less likely to commit crime, do drugs, smoke, dropout of school, and other anti-social behaviour.

Therefore, any existing reading or language campaigns should be continued (eg Language and Literature Bureau’s 10-day Brunei Book Fair and Carnival and MoE’s national reading campaign) while new ones introduced in order that reading becomes second nature to the citizens of this country.

Retail bookstores must also continue to innovate. First, they must continually bring in good and affordable book titles for the Bruneian market to purchase.

Next, customers such as Nadia O Adenan suggests local bookstore to introduce a special reading in their retail space. The section must be furnished with seats (or beanbags) and tables for people to sit, relax and read such as those found in children sections in Malaysia and Singapore’s Kinokunyia and Borders. It is through these environments that attracted Bruneians such as Fatin Ghazali into reading in the first place.

Cafes are also an innovative business concept that can be emulated and expanded across the Brunei market.

Non-governmental organisations (NGO) and foreign embassies play a crucial role in achieving this goal too.

Several NGOs such as, B:Read have creatively done this by organising book donation drives. Other NGOs have even invited local and non-local writers to organise book promotion events.

Foreign embassies have also made contributions in helping to foster Brunei’s reading culture.

The US embassy contribution of the American Shelf, which is a collection of works related to the US, in Language and Literature Bureau in 2015 is one great example of how embassies can support the overall reading culture.

These are all great initiatives and many people including myself highly applaud their work.

Overall, it takes a whole-of-nation approach to foster a strong reading culture in this country.

If people think that small nations cannot achieve this goal then I invite them to study Iceland.

Despite being a small country and having almost the same national population as Brunei’s, they are known to have published the highest rates of books per capita in the world. Today they are ranked as the world’s most innovative economies. Their highly educated citizen body also contribute to enhancing their national culture, language and identity.

Therefore, I invite the Brunei government, its affiliated ministries, and everyone in society to turn Brunei into a nation of readers. For our country is facing times of great complexity and change, that in order to capitalise the opportunities that exist today, we need to continually produce farsighted people who can advocate new ideas to transform us into a progressive and inclusive society.

– Abdul Malik Omar