Reading was my first love, and, for a long time, my only love. I got into it as a fifth grader, and, as a secondary school student, I would spend so much of my free time reading — including during the weekend — my parents were worried that something was wrong with me. Looking back now, I credit a lot of my success to my reading habit.
During my two-week visit at Kopila Valley School earlier this year, I worked with teachers and also presented to the students. One of the things I did was to make presentations about…of course…reading. I did that to both students and teachers. My goal was to impress upon them the benefits of reading (English) books and novels for leisure.
I shared my own personal story of the areas that reading likely helped and how it likely made a significant difference in my life. I also shared results of studies on the importance and impact of reading in academic performance as well as later in life, as an adult.
In this blog I reproduce the most important bits from one of those presentation to a group of students.
I started with zero English at St. Xavier’s Godavari School and failed the subject in the first term. In the second and third terms, I did better (see image below). After getting into reading in fifth grade, however, I topped the class in the first term of grade 6.
One of the other reasons behind my reading appetite was the realization that, to accomplish my dream of going to the US for further studies, I had to be really good in English. And reading, I had somehow learned or decided, would help me with that.
Not only that, in grade 6 (see image below), I consistently ranked second in English throughout the year, behind a classmate who had grown up in the US.
According to my grade 6 library card (image below), I had read 42 books that year alone. It looks like you could check out a book from the library for three days. I sometimes completed a book in a day!
Moving on to secondary school, apart from checking out a book from the school library, I also enrolled at the British Council library and checked out three books at a time from there. (Membership was cheap enough that I could afford it.)
One of the dividends of my voracious reading was being selected –either in 6th or 7th grade — to represent the school at a short story writing contest. My story came first! The image below is part of my winning story as published in the school magazine! As a matter of fact, the story was very much influenced by one I had read!
At some point during my secondary schooling, I came to realize that one of the ways to improve my English language skills was to increase my vocabulary. To that end, in addition to getting books to help me improve my command of the language, I also invested in dictionaries.
Being good in English helped a great deal because except for Nepali and history in grade 8, all other subjects were taught in English. Furthermore, most were taught by North-American teachers.
So, in addition getting very good grades in the high school diploma examinations (called School Leaving Certificate in those days), I also did very well in grade 11 (see results below). I often used to get the highest marks in math and science tests and examinations from grade 9 onward, not just in grade 11. Incidentally, ALL the subjects in grade 11 were taught in English, except, of course, Nepali.
Not surprisingly, even as an adult, I have been reading though not as voraciously as I did as a student. I always carry one or more books in my bag at all times (see image below). (I showed them the two I was carrying and reading at the time.)
I am constantly on the lookout for books I want to read. To that end, I maintain a book list (image below) on my phone and from time to time visit bookstores in Kathmandu to see if they have them. The last time I visited a bookstore though, they had maybe just one in my list.
I also have a few stacks of books at home that I haven’t read, stacks I am working through! In the stacks are books I acquired as far back as two decades ago but haven’t read. The reason I still have them is that I don’t throw books out or give them away. I still own most of the books I bought and have read!
Apart from reading, I also write a lot. I maintain a personal blog where I publish a lot of original blog posts on a wide range of topics. My reading, obviously, is behind my ability to write!
Studies have shown a distinct different between average children who read and those who don’t. Not only do they have better verbal and linguistic skills — i.e. better command of language — but also display considerably more empathy. On average, they are more creative (such as being able to create and write stories), and they perform better in both mathematics and science.
Studies also show that adults who read, on average, make more money and live longer than those who don’t. So instilling a reading habit in children could be a poverty-alleviation project!
For those reasons, I have raised my little nephew by reading to him from when he was a baby, from when he couldn’t speak or walk. Reading to him as a baby, for periods of time he would have a favorite book that he would want me to read during our reading session. When given the option, even as a baby who could only crawl, he always picked whichever was his favorite book at the time. My bed-side table looked like this (image below) for a long time when the routine was for us to do some bed-time reading before he went off to bed with his parents.
If you want to do well in school then read read read is how I ended the talk.
What do you think?