Cambodia lacks reading culture, experts say

Participants in a forum in Phnom Penh organized by the National Library of Cambodia and the Australian Embassy said yesterday that Cambodia lacks a culture of reading.

“Cambodian society is a society whose people do not like reading very much, and we have some reasons for this problem,” said Pal Vannarirak, director of the Federation for the Development of the Book Sector in Cambodia, a local NGO.

Ms Vannarirak cited poverty as one impediment to widespread reading.

“Buying rice is necessary, not buying books for reading,” she said in her talk at the two-hour forum, held at the National Library. “And if they read, they read what relates to their skills, and intellectuals only read books in the form of international languages.”

Ms Vannarirak also cited illiteracy as a stumbling block. Literacy has risen sharply since 1998, but Cambodia still trails most of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, according to the results of the government’s 2008 census, the most recent available. The number of literate Cambodians jumped from 62.8 percent in 1998 to 78.35 percent in 2008.

In a telephone interview after his talk at yesterday’s forum, Heng Sreang, a lecturer with the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Department of Philosophy, agreed that Cambodia lacks a culture of reading.

“Young people, even academic students, they do not read much,” he said, adding, “I have observed the quality of Cambodian students at the university level is poorer and poorer.”

Mr Sreang, a RUPP lecturer for the past six years, said one possible reason for this was because Cambodian students believed that finding a job “does not depend on learning, but on political-social networks.”

But Mr Sreang cited one cause for optimism, saying that although there was a shortage of academic texts in Khmer, “Khmer literature has been growing.”

National Library Director Khlot Vibolla said at yesterday’s forum that each day some 20 to 120 students visited the National Library.

“We motivate parents to allow children to do a lot of readings, not only at the National Library but also in all libraries,” she said, adding that there is a shortage of librarians across the country.

In a telephone interview after the forum, Mak Vann, a secretary of state with the Ministry of Education, said his ministry has been working to encourage reading.

“I observe that some children and students read Khmer literature books, but they do not do a lot of reading of them,” he said. “We encourage them and make them read their books.”

Soeurn Puthida, 21, an English student at the Human Resources University, said she was too busy to do reading outside of her coursework.

“I don’t have much time to read at the library because I am very busy,” she said.


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