The State of Cambodian Reading
This is the story of an accidental discovery. Though I am not a researcher by any shape or form, this discovery was compelling enough that it merits, I think, sharing with the Cambodian public at large.
Starting almost a decade ago, I, in collaboration with some of my friends, have worked on creating reading books for Cambodian children. We divided the books into three volumes. As each volume was completed, I would go to Cambodia, publish it, and distribute it to poor children. In 2008, I distributed some books to a group of poor children living near my aunt’s house. Due to limited number of books, I gave the books to only those children who could read. The ones who could not read yet had to wait for next time. However, one courageous boy, who had just begun learning in the first grade, came up to me and asked if he could have a book to keep with him so that when he was able to read he would learn to read that book. Unable to turn down his request, I decided to give that boy a book and hope that he would keep his promise.
Earlier this year, after getting the final volume of the children’s books published, I went to visit my aunt’s home again and sought out that boy to whom I had given a book 3 years ago. He is in the third grade now. I told him that I had some new books that I would like to give him and his friends if he would mind going around asking them to come to receive the books. The boy went around the neighborhood and found a few of his friends to come and receive the books. As a way to test the children’s ability to read, I decided to ask each child to read me a story while I am recording them on my digital camera.
While I was listening to the children’s reading one after another, I noticed that their reading ability varied greatly. As it is evidence in the video clip below, the boy (wearing red vest) to whom I gave a book 3 years ago could read very well while his classmates were performing rather poorly. I know this is a very small sample of subjects on which to conduct a study, but the finding has nevertheless given us an indication on how much difference supplemental reading books could make. I hope that this finding would generate some interests among Cambodian researchers to conduct a more systemic study to see how great an impact supplemental reading has on children’s ability to read.