Inculcating in youths a love for the written word Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
May 2, 2002

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LATE in 1998, an educator on a radio talk programme lamented the lack of conversation in the home these days, and blamed the non-interest in reading and the written word on this lost aspect of communication. In arguing that children nowadays are not encouraged to verbalise their thoughts, the academician stated that parents and other adults in the home must find the time and the patience to encourage children to express themselves. This column had noted in November 1998, that while some aspects of this assertion are true, we could hardly subscribe to the basic generalistion that all children have been denied the opportunity of expressing themselves and being seriously listened to by their parents, teachers and other adults.

It is no doubt true that a personís creative self-expression is directly a function of the social and economic circumstances of his or her life. For the abandoned, the marginalised, and the victims of abject poverty, creative self-expression has to be subordinated to the quest for basic creature comforts such as foraging for the next meal and seeking a shelter from the elements. The mother, who has to spend most of her waking moments eking out a crude livelihood from a hostile environment, is so chronically burdened with drudgery that she is unlikely to find any pleasure in communicating with her clan beyond the exchanges concerning purely functional matters. However, the mother in more comfortable circumstances would be able to so organise her daily routine that she would have the time to engage her children in the kind of conversations that are designed to elicit their views and responses to the world around them. These are the mothers who would be reading to their children from their infancy so by the time those children are five or six years old, their imagination has been so stimulated that they are already in love with the endless wonders of the written or spoken word. They are able to articulate their thoughts effectively and are beginning to develop a critical faculty that is a most important tool in their armory as they prepare to be fully rounded adult personalities.

When the local television industry began to flourish in the 1980s, many educators correctly predicted that if children were not carefully monitored and were allowed to spend too many hours in front of the boxes, their reading and writing skills would suffer a negative decline. Educators, many of whom had lived and studied abroad, knew the terrible effects that too much television viewing had inflicted on some societies. In the United Kingdom in the early 1980s, managers of small businesses were documented complaining of the inability of a generation of school-leavers to make change without the aid of a machine or a calculator, or to even file papers or letters in alphabetical order. Persons with minimal literacy and numeracy skills get by in the industrialised societies because there are automated machines to dispense any number of goods and commodities. It is only when those persons are asked to compose an essay or fill out a form that their deficiencies are made manifest.

The Internet revolution of the 1990s has fuelled a worldwide explosion of information, which many predicted would soon replace the written word in the traditional forms - books, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets and documents. While the Internet has proved a haven for those who have no love for books, it has also been a boon for those who despise doing any research and who have absolutely no scruples about plagiarising huge chunks of material from various websites.

If children are not taught early in their lives to explore the world of books, to enjoy unlocking the mysteries of the universe through the written word, they will grow into adults woefully lacking one of the most important traits of a civilised mind.