Thais are spending more time reading, but millions have yet to catch the bug
The good news is that Thais are reading more. The bad news is that fewer Thais are reading.
That’s the bittersweet word from the National Statistical Office, whose sixth “Survey on Reading of Population” determined that Thais now spend on average twice as much time reading as they did two years ago.
The same poll of 55,920 households across the country in 2014 and 2015 also found, though that the percentage of the public who read declined in that time from 81.8 to 77.7.
The office says 48.4 million Thais read and spend an average of 66 minutes a day at it. Younger people are more avid – children six to 14 read 71 minutes a day and youths 15 to 24 devote 94 minutes a day to the written word.
Among the working population ages 25 to 29, the average time spent reading each day is 61 minutes. Senior citizens 60 and up are reading 44 minutes a day.
“We were very proud to learn that Thais are spending more time reading, although the number of readers has decreased,” said Pattama Amornsirisomboon. The director the government’s Human Resource Development Bureau presented the results of the survey during a seminar on Wednesday at the National Book Fair at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre.
Citing limitations in the data she and other speakers at the seminar weren’t sure why fewer people are reading.
More than 83 per cent of those contacted filled out the survey questionnaire, Pattama said, the highest number since the first poll in 2003. “This was the fourth time we included pre-school children under six in the survey and the first time we asked about reading from online sources and e-books.”
The context was narrowed, however, to reading outside the workplace and the classroom and excluded email, letters and chat messages.
“Ideally we’d like to do this survey every year, but often there are more pressing matters on the national agenda that we have to work on, so it’s conducted every two to three years,” Pattama said.
“Also, it has to be kept in mind that these are preliminary findings – more specific studies are needed to answer more specific questions, such as whether it’s better to have more readers or people reading longer. And why aren’t 22.3 per cent of the respondents not reading? That represents 13.9 million people in the overall population! Plus, how do we determine the quality of the reading time?”
What the latest survey could assess was that readers still prefer printed reading material (96.1 per cent) over the social media (45.5 per cent) and websites (17.5 per cent). Meanwhile e-books – widely seen as a key tool in promoting reading – gained slightly in popularity in the past two years (1.9 per cent).
More than 67 per cent of the respondents read print newspapers, while 51.6 per cent get their news online, often from the social media, and nearly 40 per cent stick to magazines. The news remains the most-read content, followed by material related to general knowledge and entertainment.
There are some indications as to why a lot of people read nothing at all. The five reasons most often cited, in descending order of prominence, are a preference for television, lack of interest, lack of time, inability to read and finally visual problems.
“I can’t really say why we’re reading more and it would be quite a challenge to find out,” Federation of Thai Printing Industries president Jaran Homtienthong observed.
“I personally think it’s because of ready access to the Internet and the social media, which encourages people who might not like reading novels or long articles to spend more time reading. The limited space for posts and comments on the social networks keeps the reading brief and there’s a lot of informative graphic content.
“But, once you get hooked on reading, you want to explore a subject more and get the full version. You become more curious and feel inspired to look for more in-depth information.
“If you’re a reader,” Jaran said, “you’ll read on any platform. It’s not a question of the reading material – it’s more about how to encourage people to read more. We need to find ways to get those 13.9 million people reading.”
While kids under six are happy enough being read to, the survey found, 2.7 million of them are budding bookworms, spending an average of 34 minutes a day reading on their own. Unfortunately there are also a lot of tykes who can’t read and aren’t being read to – because their parents think they’re too young for it.
“Children are our best chance to build a nation of readers, especially from birth to age three,” said Sudjai Phromkerd, manager of the Reading Culture Promotion Programme.
“Starting reading from infancy enhances children’s linguistic skills, which in turn improves their learning ability throughout life. Studies have found that people with better language skills learn more easily and are better at analytical thinking and more receptive to complex ideas. It’s much simpler instilling this skill set early on rather than later in life.
“In Thailand,” Sudjai said, “400,000 students dropped out of school in the past decade because they ‘couldn’t learn’, and this is a problem that can be traced back to their early childhood. Encouraging reading when children get to school is too late – it’s much more effective to start at home, very early.”
Sudjai urged parents to read to their children and give them picture books, even before they learn to talk. “You’ll see wonderful results. A lot of children who are regularly read to by their parents quickly learn to read by themselves. And, when parents read to children, a deep bond develops, and the kids gain the ability to feel compassion towards others.
“You don’t need to read to them 34 minutes a day – just 15 minutes is more than enough. Reading not only makes your kids smart, it makes them caring, understanding and kind people, too.”
Go get a book
The 44th National Book Fair continues at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre through April 10, daily from 10am to 9pm. There is no admission charge.
Until Monday the 2015 “Survey on Reading of Population” is on display as an infographic exhibit in the Eden Zone on Level 3 of CentralWorld Plaza.