Sunday, September 22, 2013

Opinion: Reading habit in children: Is it reducing?

Pose this question to any parents, they immediately agree without giving it a thought. And would add on how the new generation kids & young adults are glued to TV and gaming. Is it really so? But the formal studies and data suggests otherwise. Of course, research does not rule out that preferences of young have changed and electronics media is getting a prominence. But it shows that there is significant improvement in readership, both in absolute terms and percentage (%) terms. How so? Who and what is right?

The numbers of readers is going up because literacy figures are improving in India. Social awareness and many of the Govt. programs have ensured that all (well, almost) get primary education. Thanks to child labor laws. School dropouts have seen an impressive reduction over years. With that background, these students putting hands on a comic book will add to readership figures of the research study. So, the macro picture says, more are receiving education, so there are more young readers on average and absolute terms as well. There is a significant improvement at the bottom of pyramid and they understand the importance of education. But as we move up the layers, experiences begin to differ.

Any well to do family (who are well above poverty line and have sufficient spending power) will provide a different perspective to it. The grandparents in these families observe that, their grandchildren spend less time in reading (non-text books) in comparison to how much they or their children were spending when they were of their age. This observation is consistent across all geographies of India irrespective of language or religion.
So what changed? I think it is just the choices or alternatives available to reading brought this change. If Television was made available in every house some fifty years ago, it would have brought the similar impact then as well. Multimedia always scores above reading in conveying the content. Reading needs effort and attention but you can watch a video even when you are tired and you can say it is relaxing. See, now we know it is not the issue of younger generation. It is the instinct of a human being, preferring to be a social animal. A human naturally prefers to listen and watch others and appreciates other human beings in action, so a movie becomes a mass media having a wider reach than books. Human beings express emotions many a times without saying a single word, through body-language/gestures. And when talking variation in tone & pitch convey lot more than what the person says verbally. These can be captured in multimedia formats, but in books it would take many pages to describe them in detail. Tolstoy did a fine job of writing what was going on Anna’s mind in his novel Anna Karenia. It would take readers many days to months of reading to read the entire novel, but movies made based on the novel reached more people than same novel, even though it is hard to give complete justice to the masterpiece novel. Even in the times when movies were luxury, there were drama/plays doing that job.

Let us come back to main theme. Is readership getting reduced in the younger generation? No, it would only get better. But the quality of reading or number of hours spent in reading per child reducing? Probably, yes. But not for bad reasons. The new generation reads less because they have alternatives. Chota Bheem on TV appeals more to them than reading Amar Chitra Katha or a Phantom comic. It is fine. But is this engaging in effortless activities diminishes imagination or creative skills in the young? May be yes, but let us not conclude without looking into facts and figures. Let us discuss it sometime later.