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Students study at the National Library in Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon. A new sub-decree signed by Hun Sen earlier this month will see an annual day of reading start next year in March. Hong Menea

Gov’t to encourage reading

Cambodia will celebrate an annual day of reading from March 11 in an effort to promote the habit nationally, according to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday.

The decree calls on ministries, education institutes, local authorities, NGOs and the private sector to join in encouraging all citizens to embrace a love of reading and “the culture of the Cambodian people”.

Although literacy rates in the country are on the increase – UNESCO estimates almost 78 per cent among adults – popular reading habits continue to lag. According to a 2014 study by the literacy NGO Room to Read, Cambodians consume an average of just 1.5 books per year.

Khlot Vibolla, director of the National Library, confirmed that the number of students coming to research and peruse the facility’s collection has almost halved over the past year to around 100-150 per day.

“People in other countries have the habit of reading – when sitting on a plane or bus or whenever they have free time, they’ll always read,” she said. “But for us Cambodians, there is little of this culture.

We must urge our children from age 5 to read for at least 15 minutes each day.”

Book lovers agree that Hun Sen’s initiative is a good stepping stone to cultivating the habit on a popular level.

“We do not read very much as a culture due to past issues around war and immigration,” says Hok Sothik, president of Cambodia’s Librarians and Document Association and head of the local publishing NGO SIPAR.

“We hope that the national day will awaken or renew Cambodians’ desire to read as in other countries.”

However, according to Siv Meng, the author of several romance novels and self-help books (and a regular contributor to the Post’s property section), the new festival needs to be coupled with a boost to education programs as well as to the local industry.

“The Ministry of Education needs to push their reading program in schools harder, encouraging engagement with the world and critical thought,” Meng said, noting that the low quality of contemporary Khmer literature is an obstacle to cultivating a love of reading.

“Often people don’t want to read because the books available in Khmer are no good. Many writers here have become too proud, so they don’t study, read other literature or strive to improve their writing.”



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Ly Tayseng's picture

I am very pleased to see that the Royal Government of Cambodia starts to encourage reading habit for students, and I would like to applaud the Royal Government and Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen for such invaluable initiative. I believe that personal development by reading books is key to success in both professional and personal lives. I like to share a personal story of a countryside student as below:

In 1995, a farm boy had left his hometown with one bicycle, one pillow, one blanket, two sets of clothes, few books and few bucks in his pocket. He had been struggling to save monies to study at the Royal University of Laws and Economics but he had determined to set aside 20% of his monies to buy newspapers and books to read. For the first two years he could barely have enough savings to buy any books because his daily subsistence of around $4 per week was from his farmer parents' allowance.

In 1997 he started to earn personal income of about $30 bucks per month as an allowance from a godfather through an orphanage association. That student kept buying copied and secondhand books and newspapers to read every month by using 20% of that income plus some saving from the weekly allowance from his parents. He could not buy enough books for his readings at home so he stayed most of the time at the University library. He was known as a student who was the last one to leave from the library and help the librarians to close the doors. I went to all big librarians in the city to find good books to read.

From 1998 to 2000 he increased his income by having part time jobs and earned monthly average 120 bucks and he spent 20% of that monies to buy books, newspapers and magazines.

In 2000 on his graduation and he earned a scholarship to study overseas, his father needed to hire a min truck to transport his books from the orphanage association where he stayed, back to his hometown. He collected around 500 copied, secondhand and original books.

During his overseas study from 2000-2003 he kept spending 20% of his income which has increased around 10 times of his previous incomes and bought in average 5 original books and 10 copied books per month. After two and half years overseas study, he collected around 300 original and copied books and import them back to his home.

From 2004 to 2010 he kept spending around 20% of his incomes which he could buy an average of 20 books per month for reading. His incomes have increased twice the amount of scholarship granted by a foreign government.

Now in 2015 he is still committed to spending 20% of his incomes to buy books to read and he could buy in average 150 books per month if he uses the set aside sum as his income has increased around five times of the previous income. He keeps reading in average two books per month and his reading list is very very long. He still has hundreds of books which he has not yet read. Now he is not struggling to save monies to buy books but he is struggling to have time to finish his unread books. His incomes have long bypassed his ability to buy and read the books.

The morale of this story is that the more knowledge you have the more monies you earn. Reading books and learning from experiences of others will drastically increase your income and build up your life in the way you desire to be. So students should start to adopt reading habit from their early age. For elder people, they should continue to have reading habit as well. If they stop reading and developing their personal capacity. It is also the end of your income and personal development.

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