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Reading should be encouraged

The GrUBe

Welcome to The GrUBe! This column is dedicated to readers’ gripes (complaints) about aspects of life in Mongolia, particularly in UB, hence the name “GrUBe”. Readers are invited to submit their grUBes or ideas to this email address: weekly.grube@gmail.com. Submissions should be less than 900 words. The editorial staff at the UB Post reserve the right to edit and rewrite submissions. Submitters should specify whether or not they want their names printed in association with the articles. Please note: racist, sexist and other offensive submissions will be marked as spam and transferred to the bin.

By Sarah Munson

 I have been a teacher for several years and have seen a lot in that time, but one can always count on gaining new experiences in Mongolia. Recently I had a first. A teacher at the school I work at told me not to give books to her students, the first graders. Why not, you ask? The reason she gave me was “Because they can’t read yet.” I am still stunned by that request. It became clear to me at that moment that the importance of making reading an enjoyable activity from a young age is not widely understood in the Mongolian education system.

Mongolians have a tradition of greatly valuing books and respecting literature, poetry, and erudition. Unfortunately, this respect seems to put reading on too high a pedestal and, perversely, manifests itself in the form of programs that discourage the idea of reading as a fun or leisurely educational activity.

 

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers do not read out loud to their students, and therefore do not encourage reading from an early age. And although there is class time mandated for guided reading among students in higher grades, it seems to me that the books are selected to bore even dedicated readers like myself.

Our school has a library with several hundred books, but it is sadly under-utilized. It is rarely open, it is housed in a very cold room in an old building next to the school, and it primarily consists of moldy books in Russian or equally impenetrable tomes in English dedicated to topics such as graduate level biochemistry.

Interesting books that teachers do keep in their rooms are often viewed as status symbols and are kept behind glass doors or in locked cabinets to keep them safe from the wear and tear of students’ hands. In the few cases when teachers do wish to supply their students with books for reading, they find it difficult to assign entire classes the same book because books are very expensive.

I place a very high value on reading and believe that instilling a love of reading is one of the most important ways a teacher can influence students in terms of long term educational success. This belief is based on the findings of research by education experts such as J. T. Guthrie and A. Wigfield who have shown that when students become engaged readers, they thereby give themselves learning opportunities that are equivalent to many years of education.

Recognizing the importance of encouraging reading, I established a small library in my classroom. With a grant from a non-profit organization called Friends of Mongolia, and donations from family members and friends, I have been able to build a collection of over 150 Mongolian language novels, comics, history, adventure, and reference books. I may be an English teacher, but I am pragmatic enough to recognize that no student is going to try to read a book in a foreign language until they enjoy reading in their native language. Therefore, in addition to teaching English, I act as a part time librarian, checking out 30 to 40 books a day. My bookshelves may be constantly disorganized and the books may need to be taped back together regularly due to wear and tear, but seeing how excited kids get when they find a coveted copy of “Super Friends: Dinosaur City” on the shelves makes it worthwhile. My library patrons are in grades 2 to 11 and include both boys and girls, “good” students and “bad”, and an ever increasing number of serial readers who can be spotted walking through the halls absorbed in a book.

Of course, in accordance with the request from the first grade teacher, children in Grade 1 cannot borrow books from my classroom library. This worries me, as there are many benefits to be gained by early exposure to books. For example, studies by educationalists (such as those by E. Washbrook and J. Waldfogel) show that children who are read to when they are very young (i.e. exposed to books and the written word before they can read), have higher vocabulary rates than children of the same age who are not read to. Children also need exposure to books well before they can read so that they can learn the very basics of handling books, turning pages, holding conversations about pictures, and, last but not least, learning how to read. Not giving books to children who can’t read yet is like not speaking to a child because they can’t speak yet. As Jacqueline Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” I just take for granted that a teacher should encourage the act of reading in a child of any age, and I was surprised and disappointed to learn my colleague had a different perspective.

I am also a little disappointed each time our school director presents another laptop or a wide screen television to a teacher in our school as part of a government or international aid sponsored program. I appreciate the intent behind these improvements to the school’s equipment (even though we rarely have electricity during the school day), but what I would love to see is those in charge of the school system and their international partners actually taking a step or two back and focusing on supplying every teacher and classroom with entertaining books, and fostering a professional culture in which love of reading, even in first graders, is considered an essential component of a first rate, high quality educational system. Not only are books and a reading culture proven ways to promote better educational outcomes, but books have the added bonus that they do not require electricity.

The author thanks Friends of Mongolia (www.friendsofmongolia.org) for its support.

The original version of this article was first published in The Mongolist. www.themongolist.com

 

 

 

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=3111

Posted by on Feb 28 2013. Filed under breaking news, Opinion, Топ мэдээ. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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