IT is time for Malaysia’s decision makers and the leadership to craft a strategy that includes reading as a pillar in boosting levels for creativity. Creative manpower will create a progressive and dynamic nation.

There is no point in promoting IR 4.0, if we have a nation that is lacking the fundamentals of a civilisation, which is the ability to think and create.

The ability to think can only be enhanced through reading.

Dark horizons await the Malaysian reading culture if our leaders do not address this issue with awareness and also a serious budget to cultivate reading habits among Malaysians.

Not everything can be cured using vaccines, antidotes and medicines as some things are much deeper than this.

When talking about reading, it reminds most of a nagging mother.

But this problem is much more serious than one can imagine.

Reading is an action that a person does to obtain a wider knowledge through his or her experience and this process may lead that person into an eye-opening self-discovery.

After 65 years of independence from colonial power, the country’s reading habit rate is still low.

Some studies have shown that a Malaysian on average reads only two books per year, but I believe that it is even lower.

Snowballing the problem is about 80% of Malaysian university students are reluctant readers.

They can read but choose not to read long form, usually limiting themselves to reading social media postings.

While I think we can all agree that reading is important, many in Malaysia – including leaders – do not understand why it is important.

Usually the benefits of reading are perceived as a method to read and memorise to pass exams.

Reading is understood as a process of education only, which many find to be painstaking.

On other matters, we can also all agree that smoking is bad for one’s health, that eating green vegetables help digestion and provide vitamins for our bodies, that exercise is good to keep the blood flowing and workout the heart, that exercise makes your body sweat and reduces body weight, that eating rich food excessively can lead to fat and cholesterol problems in our body and so forth.

The government and citizens are more conscious about physical health today compared with the early days after Merdeka, but when it comes to mental health, the awareness is still limited.

This can be narrowed down to the point that it is due to our people and government’s lack of understanding the importance of reading as a form of exercise for the brain.

Similar to the heart, our brain requires a good work out as well.

Strengthens brain activity

Inevitably, reading strengthens brain activity. Reading gets your mind working across different areas.

For starters, it involves comprehension to process the words you read.

Reading also helps in your analytical abilities, stimulate memories and even broadens your imagination by reading words off a page.

Reading is a neurobiological process that exercises brain muscles.

As you read, you can help slow down cognitive decline and even decrease the rate at which memory fades.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have even found that reading reduces the level of beta-amyloid, which is a protein in the brain that is connected to Alzheimer’s.

Reading boosts communication skills. Both reading and writing work to improve one’s communication skills.

That’s why if you’re looking to become a better writer, many of the suggestions will include reading more.

Reassuringly, reading helps in self-exploration. Books can be both an escape and an adventure.

When you are reading, you have the opportunity to think about things in new ways, learn about cultures, events and people you may have never otherwise heard of.

Through reading one can adopt methods of thinking that help to reshape or enhance your identity.

For example, you might read a mystery novel and learn that you have a knack and interest in solving cases and paying attention to clues.

Be well read intellectuals

Reading will also make one intellectually smart. When you read a lot, you undoubtedly learn a lot.

The more you read, the closer you can make it to the level of being considered “well-read”.

Some people may argue that “ignorance is bliss”, but the truth is “knowledge is power”. The more you read, the more you get to know.

The Malaysian problem is not literacy, because of our free education, we can all read.

But do we read long-form material such as books?

The government, especially after Covid-19 has slashed spending on education and libraries tremendously.

Borrowing eBooks from digital libraries reached a new peak during the pandemic and have remained high ever since.

However, procurement from libraries to keep this reading momentum have literally gone down the drain.

The National Library for instance has skipped procurement for local ebooks this year due to no budget allocation.

The nation keeps arguing about this matter, but when the opportunity arrives at our doorstep we just brush it off and create a seminar to talk about the importance of the opportunity that we just sidelined.

My fear is that Malaysia will have a future generation that cannot read and write well.

This will result in incompetent thinking, weak thought processes to write well and speaking fluently.

Perhaps this might be good for political parties as citizens are not smart enough to think, perhaps it will also be good for banks and insurance for selling loans and policies, perhaps it will also be good for product manufacturers as people become shallow and use material to be differentiators.

But in tandem with this, we will have a generation that has a deficit in logic and creativity, meaning we will be sluggish in productivity and are only producing human resources that are dependable and are end users.

I urge Malaysian leaders to formulate a blueprint to seriously salvage Malaysian reading habits.

Faiz Al-Shahab is the Co-Founder and CEO of e-Sentral, which is the biggest ebook store in South East Asia. Comments: