In a bid to cultivate the habit of reading, create a culture of reading and improve the capacities of student as well as the Kingdom’s human resources, the government set March 11 to celebrate National Reading Day. Experts say that in order to cultivate a culture of reading and life-long learning, the habit must to be instilled as early as possible.

Under the government’s policy, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has marked National Reading Day every year since 2016, with reading, poetry recital and writing competitions. The winners all receive the Samdech Techo Hun Sen Education Award.

This year, the 7th iteration of the day was celebrated under the theme of “Reading helps promote quality of life in the digital age.”

The day aims to contribute to protecting and strengthening Khmer culture and civilisation, maintaining the value of human legacies, and focuses on achieving sustainable development goals to ensure equal and inclusive quality education.

Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha urged the promotion of reading in the curriculum at all levels, especially the in grade 1 reading programmes and primary school math classes.

“We promote reading everywhere, along with the provision of library services, both in schools and through mobile libraries,” he said.

He added that many scholars and those who read purely for pleasure are now reading through many different mediums, ranging from traditional books to computers, smart phones, and even social media, through applications such as Telegram.

“We are proudly promoting the development of the 21st century library,” he continued.

Soveacha said that 4,148 primary school libraries were in use nationwide in 2021-2022, along with 708 in secondary schools and 525 in high schools.

He set that the government had set the day through a September 2015 sub-decree. In addition, the government issued circular 2 on the celebration of National Reading Day in February 2019, to reflect the changing technology that was available.

Room to Read Cambodia literacy director Hor Sokhak said reading is very important, especially for children in the first and second grades.

“If we don’t help children in the first or second grades to learn to read, the rest of their lives will not be as fulfilling as they could have been. They need to be equipped to employ reading to develop their careers and better themselves,” he added.

This basic skill is becoming ever more important, as the direction of 21st century education pivots to promote lifelong learning.

He said that since 2003, Room to Read has helped more than 2 million children with their reading and writing and established 2,121 standard libraries at school across Cambodia. The organisation is currently working to promote reading and writing in more than 200 schools.

He added that during the Covid-19 pandemic, while schools were temporarily suspended, Room to Read had collected data on students who had borrowed books from its libraries and discovered that each student had withdrawn and returned an average of 4.2 titles.

He said that his organisation had designed and published 350 books which were designed to promote children’s reading. They had been incorporated them into the education ministry’s curriculum.

Room to Read also collaborated with the ministry to promote literacy by preparing additional reading packages. The ministry was now integrating these programmes into schools in the capital and 17 provinces.

Bunna So Sihanead, senior director of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Programme, said that in order to promote reading and writing for children, they carried out two main activities. The focus of the first activity was to determine which children usually try to read and drawn on knowledge from libraries and online systems, while collating important documents from the organisation’s officials. The second was to promote study clubs, with student team leaders. The leaders were expected find good sources of materials for their team members.

“These two activities encourage children to try to read and research more, especially those students who are selected as team leaders,” she added.

Khlot Vibolla, director of the National Library and deputy director of the Books and Reading Department under the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said that reading is very important. If it was not, the government and the education ministry would not have dedicated so many resources to establishing libraries at schools and universities.

“Reading is essential for people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. Even unborn babies need to get into the habit of reading – they will learn to listen from the womb and develop a reading habit. We must not focus on smartphones and forget to read,” she added.

A student studying in France who also enjoys reading, Heng Udom, said that reading was sometimes not as enjoyable as hanging out or meeting up with friends, but that reading offer many possibilities and opportunities for young people.

“Reading is not perceived to be as fun as drinking. It is clear that if we have time to drink and socialise, we have time to read. From a young age, we should take advantage of our spare time to expand our knowledge of the world around us. One of the best ways to do this is through reading,” he added.