[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Study addictions cut out causal readingMy friend “K” enrolled in a university three years ago. He can’t remember the last time he read a book from cover to cover. As an elementary school student, he held the record for reading lots of books. But when he became a junior high school student, textbooks and workbooks took over and computer games replaced books as his hobby. He thought if he matriculated, he would read lots of books and would be a cultured man. But blind dates, parties and club activities came along, followed by diving grades at the end of the semester.
Newspapers, television and every professor we meet in class emphasize the importance of reading. But reading books must have been difficult for”K,” who complains there was “no time and no place” for reading. Don’t we all complain of the same thing?
The reading ratio for young Koreans is ranked low among OECD nations, but the costs and energy Koreans spend on education always ranks first. Students say they want to read, but don’t have time. As they move to higher grades, this only intensifies. So the Education Ministry starts an essay test and an oral examination to encourage students to read. But contrary to their expectations, this only leads to greater popularity for hagwon teaching, speed-reading, enunciation and dictation. These institutes usually limit themselves to techniques involving reading in a short amount of time.
In the wake of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, youth unemployment reached 7.4 percent, and contract workers came to make up 40 percent of the workforce. There must be a structural problem behind this, but most people don’t understand these social problems can be solved through reading. Students only study to pass state or company examinations. This creates a society far from cultivated and mentally mature. Korean society only focuses on bringing up technical people, not cultured people.
At Sejong University, the fiction books students have borrowed most often from the library in the last two months are fantasy novels.
I recently conducted a reading habits survey of 200 students. My first question was, “How many books do you read in a month?” Fifty-five percent of the students, or 110 people, answered they read one to two in a month, 23 percent of the students, or 46 people, answered that they read three to five a month. But the remaining 6.5 percent, or 13 people, answered they read zero books in a month.
My second question was why the respondents didn’t read. Forty-five percent of the students, or 90 people, answered that they don’t have time to read. The second reason was that they have hobbies other than reading, which was the response of 19 percent of the students, or 38 people. Sixteen percent of the students, or 38 people, answered they do not feel the necessity to read because they can get all their information from the Internet.
Shame on those who don’t read like my friend “K,” but considering Korea is a nation that has a very strong will to learn and study, it is likely that most students feel the reading environment is inferior. So instead of criticizing them for not reading, why not suggest they take some time off to read while studying for other practical goals, such as getting a job?
*The writer is a reporter at The Sejong Times, the English-language news magazine of Sejong University.
by Cho Eun-ju