An average Vietnamese only spends US$10 a year on books, according to an insider
In the age of smartphones, some high schools in Vietnam have taken the initiative to make reading a compulsory subject in an effort to reintroduce students to the appeal of books.
Building on a library period where students are allowed free time to browse the school’s library, Phan Huy Chu High School in Hanoi has officially added “reading culture” to its list of subjects students are compelled to take.
The idea was initiated by two school teachers who had been to South Korea on a government-funded training course about the reading culture.
“Reading is oftentimes a lonely experience as there are only the reader and his book,” explained Nguyen Kim Anh, one of the teachers.
“From what I learned through the training course, students could come to love reading if we can somehow make the experience less lonely, by getting them involved in activities during and after reading,” she said.
A council composed of literature, history, geography, and civics teachers have been established to design the “reading culture” curricula for all three years of study.
Each month, a topic or theme is decided by the council, and students are given freedom to register their favorite book on the theme for reading, which they can borrow from the school’s library or from any source available.
February’s topic for tenth graders at Phan Huy Chu High School was “season of love,” and as the month came to an end last week a special period was held where students shared stories they had read with their classmates.
The book review was followed by a discussion session where students drew lessons from each book they had read during the month.
For students at the Wellspring International Bilingual School in Hanoi, students are encouraged to explore literary classics such as The Alchemist, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, and so on.
Book presentations are held regularly where students use pictures, computer slides and animations to summarize the books to their friends, among other activities.
“Reading activities are designed to be compatible with the students’ progress in other subjects, especially literature,” said Doan Tuyet Mai, the supervisor of the reading subject at Nguyen Sieu High School in Hanoi.
“Books about sex education and behavioral skills are popular with students, which reflects their need for such knowledge that is not taught in school,” she added.
The reading rate among the Vietnamese population remains low despite its growing publishing industry.
“Vietnamese people read only one book per person per year” if textbooks and school-related materials are not counted, Le Hoang, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Publishers Association, said at a publishing event in 2016.
Hoang added that an average Vietnamese only spends $2 a year on books, compared to $10 by the Chinese and upwards of $200 for those in developed countries.