Growing in a No Reading Culture

  • It is not that people stop to read books… it is that they are reading books in digital forms. 
  • In Cambodia there is not a culture of reading and the process must start by supporting schools and creating a national campaign on education. 

In Cambodia there is not a decline in the culture of reading books, as it is the case in many countries. They can say that during the last decade new generations read less and less books, but it is not the same in Cambodia. After the troublesome decades of wars and conflicts, there is not a culture of reading books and, frankly, there are very little efforts to promote reading. It comes especially in a time of crisis for the paper book before the advance of digitization. According to a report by Spanish blog Ser Escritor, only in Spain two bookstores are closed everyday, a phenomenon that happens in industrialized countries, while developing nations increase their consumption of books (Ordoñana, Merino y Mayoz, 2015.)

Among the ten leader world countries in the book’s market we have in order USA, China, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain and Brazil. The main books’ exports by order are United Kingdom, USA and Spain. But the decline of the book industry is not that less people buy less books. Actually it is because more people are buying less paper books and turning to e-books and it is appropriate to our time. The complain of less people buying books come of course from editorial houses attached to the old times of the press and their denial to joint the new digital culture led by sites such as Amazon:

“In the first place, the editorial industry looks down on the upcoming of Amazon and the rest of digital shops, reacting badly and late to a model that reduces the mediation’s cost and was offering a fast and efficient service.” (Ordoñana, Merino y Mayoz, 2015.)

The case in Cambodia is difficult because our country after the war is one without a culture of reading, while entering now in a digital revolution. It is like passing from the farms to the computers without knowing the books. In this blog, the author mentioned the following reasons for the lack of reading in Cambodia:

  • Poverty. 26% of Cambodians are still living under the poverty line. So, for them food for the stomach is much more important than food for the brain.
  • Illiteracy rate. It is estimated that around 30% of adults could not read and write properly.
  • turbulent history. Many educated people, including writers, were eliminated during the Khmer Rouge period. The country needs time to produce new human resources to be able to read and write.
  • wrong perception of some people: “reading makes headache or learning makes you crazy”.
  • passive learning culture. Most teachers still required their students to learn by heart. Good students should be able to memorize all the learning stuff and put on the paper during exam to get good points.

These points are real, but I would add the following reasons too:

1. There is not yet a national campaign on education. There is a lack of interest in transform the Cambodian schools into a real process of education for the new generations. It is more important to build casinos, resorts and benefits for the rich, than schools for the people. It is not also enough to build schools: it is more important to create real schools with the guarantee to educate children and youth in a proper way, with the ambition for a better development of the country.

2. Teachers do not read and don’t promote students to read. It is of course logical: if a teacher never reads, they do not think reading is important. If teachers don’t read, we are talking of persons that do not update their own knowledge, keep a very short projection of science and culture and ignore the advances of the modern world. Evaluating the general culture of students I use to receive from 12th grade, you can prove that our Cambodian youth ignore concepts or the development of science in general. In 15 years I never have found a Cambodian young person declaring that they have read a single book – different to lessons books for English or whatsoever.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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