The young learners of today, are our communities future leaders. The Asia Foundation has remarked, “books give free rein to young people’s imaginations and expose them to information and possibilities that can change the trajectory of their lives.” Cambodia today, is not described as a nation of readers and employers complain they can’t find enough competent employees. In fact, this is a problem in many countries. The World Bank reports that up to 50% of private firms in East Asia and the Pacific are concerned about inadequate worker education and skills.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by the convergence of digital, biological, and physical innovations, is on everyone’s mind in Cambodia these days. The Royal Government of Cambodia through a loan from Asian Development Bank (ADB) is promoting sustainable growth through economic diversification, strengthened competitiveness and increased productivity. Part of the program includes “upskilling and reskilling opportunities for existing workers to address skills gaps and skills shortage in the industrial sector through work-based learning programs”. These are valuable investments to truly prepare our workforce for the Fourth Industrial.
In fact, librarians can play a crucial role in creating an enabling learning environment for students and instilling the knowledge and skills they need to grow to their fullest potential. Librarians are knowledge gatekeepers and they can be game changers for our students and schools.
Recognizing the untapped potential of librarians and libraries, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in July 2019 organized a Consultative Workshop on updating primary school libraries to help encourage a lot of reading. Education-related development partners, such as The Asia Foundation, Sipar Cambodia, and Room to Read, together with officials in charge of library management from 25 Provincial Departments of Education also provided input to revising librarians’ criteria.
Strategies discussed at the workshop included cultivating librarians who are creative, love reading, and enjoy and understand young children; empowering librarians to organize learning and reading activities such as storytelling and drawing, on their own and with teachers and parents, to promote a positive learning environment inside and outside the school; encouraging librarians to create attractive, relaxing places where students can enjoy books that interest them; and equipping librarians with tech know-how so they can access online resources to inspire and introduce children to new fields of interest, including STEM.
It is undeniable that human resources were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. For decades since, the government and development partners have deployed strategies to help rebuild human capital to support the country’s advancement. At least one strategy –recognizing the importance of libraries and reading – is already a part of our history and can be traced back to the Angkor era when libraries were built at Angkor Wat and over a thousand other temples. In fact, evident from ancient libraries, it is said that early Khmer people were bookworms.
All these years later, as we prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the evidence still points to the central role books, libraries, and librarians should and can play in inspiring students to read based on their preferences and needs. This will attract students to love reading today, and enable them to develop the critical thinking and creative problem solving skills they will need to be competent workers tomorrow in multiple sectors.
Sornnimul Khut is a Senior Digital Program Officer of the Asia Foundation (TAF). Sornnimul oversees a number of education and digital media related programs, one of which is TAF’s Let’s Read Initiative [www.letsreadasia.org], a community and technology driven solution to book scarcity in Asia.