“My kids don’t read the newspapers at all,” a friend said to me recently, as he knows I work for The Straits Times.
My reply: His children could well regret this when they find themselves seeking a job later.
Noticing his visible shock at my remark, I explained that when children don’t read the newspapers, they are indicating that they either dislike reading or have no interest in events that are happening in Singapore or abroad.
Left unchecked, these traits could impact a child’s breadth of knowledge, which may return to haunt him when he joins a competitive working world.
The benefits of reading newspapers, which are timelier than textbooks and keep readers updated on current events, have been stated by various studies.
Years of research have led organisations, such as the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, to conclude that students who read newspapers more have shown greater interest in their government, neighbourhood events and foreign affairs.
Such interests would also spur them to read more, and they become better students by improving their language skills.
Parents who want their kids to do well should note that it is not just about tuition. If children are not reading, how can they acquire knowledge and language skills that will help them later?
Ponder for a moment – if you have done well in your career, I am sure you didn’t get there by not having a habit of reading. If so, can the future generation do better if they skip reading and, by extension, miss an opportunity to be better learners?
If parents think that their children’s knowledge gaps could be filled in schools and universities, they are in for a surprise.
American educator Roland Barth noted that while it might be true that formal education some 50 years ago could equip college students with 75 per cent of the skills they might need, the figure today has fallen to just 2 per cent at graduation. That means that they have to pick up the rest on their own.
While we can debate the percentages, many graduates will tell you that not everything they learn in school will be applicable at work, even for the most specialised courses, such as law and medicine.
Those who want to do well in their careers will have to constantly update and upgrade themselves. And one can’t simply plug in and download the latest version of knowledge to the brain. You have to do it the old-fashioned way, which is by reading.
If children do not develop a habit of reading from a young age, how will they acquire knowledge and language skills that will be critical to them later in life?
By reading, I mean reading content that is useful, and not their friends’ social media posts on what they did over the weekend.
Doing the latter only turns a child into someone who is clued in to what his friends are doing but an ignoramus in the real world. Reading other people’s posts of articles also won’t make you smarter, simply because your consumption will be dependent on what others want to read first.
Things were much simpler 50 years ago. There were fewer distractions – while you could watch TV and movies, they were not as widely accessible as today.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I recall reading a lot – not just a book or two, but entire collections by famous writers like Enid Blyton.
Some of my favourite novels were by American author and National Geographic Society correspondent Willard Price, who wrote about the adventures of two brothers who accompanied their father to track down endangered animals in far-flung places around the globe.
Although these were just stories, they excited my young mind, as I learnt about places which I had never heard of.
More importantly, these books made reading fun and inculcated a thirst to gain new knowledge. Reading also helped me to write better because I learnt how authors used different styles in their works.