Declining propensity to read books in higher education

The World Culture Score index has shown in the past that India holds pride in being the nation with the highest 10.42 hours spent per person per week followed by Thailand, China, Philippines, Egypt etc. Maximum time spent by Indians on reading is attributed to the proclivity to seek knowledge through formal/informal modes of education ending up in strong reading habits. Despite the statistics showing a good amount of reading time, the tendency of reading books is drooping among the students of the present education system. 

Going by the stratified education system as primary, secondary, and higher, self-learning is slated in the later stage, and it is worthwhile to delve into it.  Higher education caters to the learning needs of reasonably matured students for imparting knowledge competencies to them as per the respective programme of study.  The rigour of classroom interactions and examination systems sets the benchmark for the learning levels of students. Any deficiency in learning is bound to have long-lasting implications in the form of insufficiently equipped human resources, which may have limitations in sustaining and carrying the growth of civilization forward.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions led to a shift from offline to online mode of teaching and more reliance on content sharing in digital form in the last two years. But, the lack of access to e-books to all due to the prevailing digital divide and varying socio-economic conditions resulted in reduced opportunities to read books for sound knowledge. Also, the ease of passing the examination using the digital resources shared by teachers emboldened students to rescind the reading from different books.  

Without entering discourse on the adequacy or inadequacy of the content shared in the classroom in the form of notes/study material, the moot point is to figure out the implications and causes of learning poverty. Nevertheless, learning poverty may have many contributors, but the lack of interest to read books also appears to be a significant issue to be brooded upon, especially in the higher education sector. 

Why student’s do not want to read books

Gradually the chalk-and-talk methodology of teaching is losing its sheen across the education system in the country. The practice of using readymade PowerPoint presentations and digital content through technology-enabled interactive boards is making inroads in the classrooms at every level of the education system, however, it is ubiquitous in the higher education system. Fast pervading use of electronic aids in the classroom offers a lot of ease to teachers and also facilitates enhanced onscreen/off-screen content delivery to the students. Such content is usually perceived as sufficient learning material by the students and prompts them to skip reading beyond it. This has catalysed the penchant to not read the books for completing the learning in respective subjects.

The majority of students look out for a shortcut to meet their academic requirements with minimum reading efforts, barring those who are passionate about learning the subjects deeply. The teachers and institutional governance try their best to feed nearly complete content to students in different forms to ensure that learning resources are with everyone. The textbooks and reference books are told by the teachers, but the simultaneous sharing of relevant study material in the respective subject does not prompt the students to go through books thoroughly and instils reluctance to reading books. Textbooks are scantily read for understanding the deeper concepts, however students do use books for numerical and exercise solving through solved problems given therein. 

Generally, a substantial number of teachers do not pose complex, comprehensive, and tricky problems to the students to solve them either in classes, tutorials, assignments, etc which routes to complacency with the exhaustive reading. In such a situation, the teachers are also responsible for handling their classroom interactions in a slothful manner without completely preparing their class interactions a priori. It goes without saying that teachers possess the opportunity to ignite student minds and generate their interest in the subjects taught by them. The apathy of students towards classrooms breeds from the unexciting class dealings and simultaneous availability of customized learning content like notes, handouts, powerpoint presentations, the selected portion from books, etc. from subject teachers and the easy access to digital e-content nearly freely.

Besides the lackadaisical class handling, the evaluation tools used for learning level assessment do instil the necessity of deep learning. The lessening rigour of examination question papers, absence of novelty in questions, and standard of questions in the examination question paper(s) are unable to challenge the students appropriately. Question paper setting with questions with low and average difficulty levels leads to hubris. Easy question papers permeate non-seriousness towards formal studies and the learning poverty gets impregnated systematically. 

Perils of Learning Poverty in Higher Education

The lessening focus on the teaching-learning-evaluation process in higher education in particular ushers the whole education system to mediocrity where such graduates and postgraduates who have undergone limited learning become its custodian as teachers. This germinates the vicious loop of lesser-read teachers teaching the students who eventually pass out without deeper learning getting back into the system and there is an overall decline. 

The learning poverty is reflected in the poor employability of a sizable fraction of graduates and postgraduates rolling out from the education system of the country. The inability of formal degree holders to prove worthy of market expectations from the respective qualification is an accepted fact nowadays. Nonetheless, it is not true in all situations but it is worrisome in most of the higher education sector.

The poor socio-economic conditions compelling highly educated ones to queue for lower strata jobs furthers this perception and the standard of higher education comes under scathing attack for its failure to provide good quality education. Importantly, the circumstances indicate that the more customized facilitation of tailor-made learning material in abridged and crisp form is nurturing parasitic nature in students along with lessening the quest for deeper learning in domain areas. 

The ranking frameworks have worsened the situation further, and the institutional rankings are also an indicator of the education standards. 

Given the above, the discussions remain abuzz for imparting special-purpose skill training to those pursuing higher education for their enhanced utility. Unarguably, the education system intends to create a pool of competent human resources with requisite skill sets which is the collective responsibility of the education system at all levels i.e. primary, secondary, and higher. The deficiency in desired soft skills must come into focus of the primary education system so that the further levels of the education system can inculcate the inevitable competencies and meaningful knowledge. All members of the higher education system of the country ought to contemplate the precarious tendency of students to not read books and succeed with good scores despite having knowledge gaps. Teachers must resolve for making their classroom interactions interesting, creative, and challenging so that the students essentially read the good books of the respective subjects along with the digital e-content and readymade learning material supplied to them.  Also, the learning assessment tools are to be designed for setting up a compelling ecosystem towards deep learning by the students so that the higher education system serves it sacrosanct purpose of knowledge creation.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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