The annual National Reading Day is a significant event for every Cambodian as it provides updates on the competency levels of Cambodians and the role the government has played in promoting reading culture and literacy among the people.
I have been following the events annually and over the years to understand how the preparations are done and what the government aims to achieve through the national reading day. I have been impressed by the preparations and activities conducted towards making the event a success.
The previous events have been held in a physical space, thus allowing students and professionals to interact one-on-one with their peers. However, due to Covid-19, last year’s national event was held online to promote the safety of all people (Dara, 2021). The event’s theme was “Reading in the Context of Covid-19.” The 2022 event also had some activities held online. This year’s event was themed “Reading helps promote quality of life in the digital age.”
It was the first time the event was held online, but it was successful and positively impacted the language literacy in the community. It was encouraging to see how different events such as poetry readings, reading contests, and writing contests were successfully held using different online platforms such as zoom for 2021 and 2022 events.
Being in a digital age, I feel that the online event was impactful in opening up other ways through which digital platforms can be applied to promote reading and the development of a literacy culture in Cambodia.
The online discussion interaction among students, authors of books, scholars, parents, and writers was the most important development of the event. It was a source of knowledge for different groups in society and helped promote a culture of language literacy in Cambodia (Kunthear, 2022).
From the interactions with professionals, parents understood the importance of promoting reading and writing for their children. Children got an opportunity to ask questions about improving their skills and got assessed by professionals about their literacy levels.
Through the online discussions, the professionals learned the gaps in literacy skills and the task ahead of promoting effective reading and writing among Cambodian students. The online interaction among these groups was something that was made easy through digital gadgets and the internet.
However, my arguments to this event are having it more often and doing it at a school level to let students gain more benefits.
It would be encouraging if similar events were to be adapted more often to allow students more chances to interact with professionals and get more knowledge that can be a driving force towards language literacy in the schools or their community.
However, the government through the education ministry has a role to play in ensuring the full participation of Cambodian students (Dara, 2021). On the just concluded annual reading day in Cambodia, not all students were engaged in the online discussions due to various reasons such as internet connectivity and lack of access to technological gadgets.
Reading helps promote quality of life in the digital age and should ensure the inclusion of all students regardless of their economic situation or where they come from. Some rural areas of Cambodia have poor internet connectivity, which prevents students from engaging in online discussions (Dara, 2022). Therefore, if this event takes place at a school level, teachers or librarians who might organise the event might have better understanding what actually happens and how many students might involve in the activities since they are local to students.
Staying close to the students while conducting the activities, teachers or librarians can take immediate actions to get better student involvement, or switch to physical event when possible, so the students involves more in the event.
Additionally, students from low-income families may lack the financial power to acquire smart gadgets that can be used for online learning.
The education ministry has a role in ensuring that these students are offered a chance to learn and engage with others digitally by improving connectivity in the rural areas and providing incentives to students to acquire smart gadgets for education even if they students might not be able to get one device each, those who have one would have opportunity to share with their peers. Through this, the goal of promoting language literacy in the community will be better achieved without leaving many students behind.
The government through the education ministry needs to have a good plan to achieve gradual change.
In conclusion, the development of a literacy culture has faced different challenges. Other challenges include lack of reading materials, inadequacy in training, and poor implementation of the curriculum.
In the spirit of “reading helps promote quality of life in the digital age,” the government should engage stakeholders in the education sector to ensure that more online reading materials are made available for students. Accessibility of the materials should also be promoted to ensure that students do not struggle when reading or writing.
Furthermore, the government should promote proper training of teachers and educators on how to undertake online lessons (Dara, 2021). Through this, the government can promote the proper implementation of curriculum as teachers and educators will have the knowledge and skills of how to promote literacy culture in the community. The national reading day Cambodia for 2021 and 2022 has shown that online learning is achievable.
Bunhorn Doeur is a PhD candidate in TESOL at the University of Southern Queensland and a guest editor of the Cambodian Education Forum. Prior to this, he was a senior lecturer at Pannasatra University of Cambodia in Siem Reap province and Build Bright University in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.