A little over 35 years ago, an era where there was no television, books were the main source of entertainment, which is not the case today. In the modern world, it is not only television that has taken over, we have another factor called Google - a phenomenon which has probably limited our reasons for referring to encyclopedias or gathering knowledge through a process of reading vast volumes. The search engine itself with its key words has now transformed the way we look at research.
But what is worse is that we can sometimes mistake information for knowledge. In this scenario, it is still important to have books around but what has become the vital question is how do we train and educate the future generation in knowledge processing.
Books vs. Internet
At the beginning of this year, the Borders Group Inc. an international book retailer announced its liquidation and the closing down of its 226 stores. In March 2008, the Borders Group had announced its intention to sell the chain because of financial difficulties. The last time Borders made a profit was in 2006. Its yearly income had dropped by $1 billion in the four years since, as there was a decline in sales figures, which has resulted in the bookstores closing down.
Considering the fact that telecommunications have a high penetration in the country, one would imagine that educating people through this process, especially in the rural sector of this country would somehow become easier. But, contrary to such thinking, books still hold sway over the internet when it comes to affordability. Vijitha Yapa who operates a chain of bookstores in and around Colombo, and has been a publisher for 10 years now, says that the affordability for children, especially in the rural sector in getting access to a computer and also the accessibility I downloading books still seems to be a difficult task.
Therefore, the traditional library concept would certainly be the next be solution. It is more a case of going in the reverse, especially when the rest of world, with its concepts of globalization are beginning to depend more and more on the Internet. But, as Yapa says, the "conditions are different here in Sri Lanka opposed to the West and a book in a library out- weighs anything in cyberspace."
But, have our support for these books vanished altogether? Isn't it time the coporate sector looked at books and book reading, from a corporate social responsibility point of view?
Right to education
Today, the right to education is high on the agenda within communities across the globe. In the Millennium Development Goals, established by the United Nations, the world's governments committed to achieving universal access to free, quality and compulsory primary education by 2015. In 'A World Fit for Children', the outcome document from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, governments reaffirmed their commitments to these goals and agreed to a range of strategies and actions to achieve them. More ambitious targets have been established in several regions.
In neighbouring India, home to more than a billion in population, executing literacy projects is a greater challenge. As the country with the second largest populous in the world, occupied by 16 % of the world's inhabitants, India, despite recent economic growth, still faces an incredible lack of basic resources for most of its people. The diversity and complexity of the country probably adds to this challenge.
While the field of mass education, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) continues to play a lead role in the evolution and monitoring of policies and programmes, there are large gaps. To fill this gap, Public - Private - Partnerships (PPP) are coming up in large scale.
NGOs like Room to Read which is present in India and also in Sri Lanka, are playing critical roles in sustaining the reading habit, boosting children's cognitive development and providing access to knowledge.
By setting up libraries in government schools and non-profit alternative educational centres for underprivileged populations and in community centers, they are providing children a friendly learning environment that encourages a love of reading in areas where illiteracy rates remain high and few educational resources exist.
A number of corporates in India have joined the initiative such as Cairn India (whose Sri Lankan arm is exploring for oil and gas in the Mannar Basin), Coca Cola and Bharti Airtel. These organizations are actively participating with the NGOs and government to support this initiative.
While literacy rates might be the highest in Sri Lanka within the South Asian region, the overall socio-economic environment in the country is still at a developing stage. With Sri Lankan incomes on the average at very low levels, purchasing of good quality reading materials is essentially out of the question for most people. In the schools where libraries do exist, they are typically filled with old, dusty, books that have little or no relevance for children.
Given these facts, it is time for the corporate sector to take notice. October which has been declared the international reading month is a good time to give some thought to such projects. It is important for business to position their CSR for the next generation if they are in it for the long haul.