The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Textbook link to juniors’ reading habits

If children are losing interest in reading, does their textbook in school have anything to do with it' Perhaps yes, feel professionals in the publication industry. But take heart. For Bengal is one place where the reading habit has taken the deepest root in the country.

“The choice of pieces in the school text helps generate a child’s interest in story books,” said Usha Aroor, publisher, ELT and Indian languages, of Orient Longman, one of the frontrunners in the school publishing segment. Aroor and other senior members of the Orient Longman school education team were in town for the national launch of A Magic Place, a series of English textbooks for Classes I to VIII.

The Magic Place team looked at thousands of pieces and consulted teachers around the country before drawing up the final list. “The enjoyment factor was of greatest importance to us. Children should be given what they like to read. If it is a good story, only then would they want to go back to the original book on reading an extract or an adaptation,” pointed out assistant publisher, ELT schools, Vani Vasudevan.

Another related factor that has recently come into play is the emphasis on the communicative or the structural approach to the teaching of English, replacing the literature-based method. “There is a legitimate need to have effective communication skills in today’s world, so the approach is definitely valid. But it also has its pitfalls if proper care is not taken,” explained corporate marketing manager Sheila J. Kurian.

Direct teaching of language may result in trite passages being chosen in which the sense of reading a story is lost. If a chapter is supposed to teach a certain structure, like “this and that”, often this is artificially built into the text. This impedes its natural flow, she added.

There is also the problem of “empty stories”, which do not leave a mark on the mind. “A good story, in contrast, stays with you and stimulates thought,” Kurian explained.

Other than a good text book, schools, they felt, would do well to adopt other promotional techniques like the Drop Everything and Read (Dear) programme that has been a rage in classrooms worldwide. “We have seen this implemented in schools in Delhi and Hyderabad. A bell rings and for the next half-an-hour everyone in school, from students to teachers to the administrative staff, finds a book of one’s choice and reads. It has had an amazing response,” Kurian laughed.

In a multi-lingual country like India, the educationists feel, the reading habit is vital to develop acquaintance with a foreign language like English. “You can pick up your vernacular language through other ways, like speech. But children need to read to gain proficiency in English,” observed Aroor.

If children everywhere are turning away from books to TV and video games, Calcutta, however, still stands out. “People are deeply interested in reading here. A good book generates a discussion. This habit among adults naturally leaves its mark on children.”

In a survey conducted among schools around the country, it was found that teachers here put the greatest stress on good literature. “This certainly augurs well for the students here,” concluded the educationists.

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