Art and Literature in Education in the Digital Era
By Bob Abor
This topic of discussion comes in the context that the number of children and adults reading physical books are declining rapidly in the digital age. In line with this, three talented writers Patricia Forde, Tuutikki Tolonen and Mr. Yang Qingxiang shared their views on this issue with participants at the 4th EU-China International Literary Festival held at Bookworm, Sanlitun branch.
Patricia Forde, who is excited to be in China for the first time, said that she started as a primary school teacher and taught for some several years. She was also a director for international arts in Ireland. She has been a writer for television and young people. She wrote her first novel four years ago.
Tuutikki Tolonen from Finland who writes for children said that one of her books has been translated into Chinese and she is so happy to be in China. She also teaches creative writing for children in Helsinki.
Yang Qingxiang, who teaches Chinese literature at Remin University, welcomed his colleagues from Europe and also expressed happiness that one of his books has been published in English.
Getting children into reading when they have so many options available is a daunting task. The moderator acknowledged that even her daughter is not interested in borrowing books and reading. She says reading feels like homework. She prefers YouTube where she finds everything. Tuutikki Tolonen, who has been writing for children for 20 years, said that patience is the answer to this problem. “Do not just run. I have to calm down,” Tuutikki said. It is because everything is fast today. A book is some somehow a slow medium. She explained that you have to read many pages to determine whether the book is good or not. If you read only five pages, you won’t know that it has what you want. She advises parents to create a peaceful environment where children can concentrate.
Reading culture is inculcated in different ways. For Tuutikki, she developed interest in reading at the age of 8 when she was admitted in the hospital due to prolonged illness. “I was bored on my hospital bed. I had nothing to do. But when I started reading I got better and better. It inspired me into writing. I had never completed reading a book,” she recalls. However, she advises participants not to wait to get bored to start reading and writing. We should invent.
Unlike his counterpart from Finland, Mr. Yang Qingxiang said that his reading culture was shaped by physical books because there were few televisions. “During my generation in the early 1980 and mid 1990s China was not yet well developed. Only physical books were available to us. We did not have choice unlike today where there is new media,” Mr. Yang explains. Therefore, the only way to know about other countries was by reading books. He also developed interest in story telling at young age. He recounted several incidences when he had to wake up his father purposely to listen to his stories. According to Mr. Yang, human character and spiritual thought is born when you are young (about 16 years). This is when you develop your character and acknowledge this world and critical thinking of the world shaped who he is now. Despite being a serious book reader and author, Mr. Yang said that his daughter aged eight is not interested in reading books. Instead she is interested in playing video games. He advises parents to read and discuss book contents together with their children.
Like Mr. Yang, Patricia Forde said that she also grew up in an era of limited options when there were no computers and telephones. Reading was the only way to keep them busy.
She noted that even in the midst of the digital revolution we still have one weapon; we can inspire than anything. “I think we need to exhaust parents and teachers to capture the attention of children because they forget easily. The most important challenge for children is a door to another world, not just home work,” said Patricia Forde. She explained that reading a picture book is a way parents can share with their children. Another way of encouraging children to read, according Patricia Forde, is rewarding children with books whenever they do something good. Lastly, she hinted that she would read a book to the children and leaves it at a point when it is so interesting and then, she tells them that I will not read the rest for you. Therefore, children are compelled to read.
The authors addressed several issues during the Q&A session
A study she read about in a journal of paedriatics where parents were locked with their children in a room with books and computers. It was established that the parents that read books interacted more with their children. Is it advantageous for children to read physical books? How important is this factor actually, books physical or on devices.
Tuutikki Tolonen responded that as long as children are reading books it is okay. It is the knowledge they can absorb from the book that is important, not the format. Mr. Yang sees it differently. He replied that a book is real, makes him feel safe, home and it is authentic. Electronic is space. “We want to keep something forever like in museums. For the physical book we can touch and feel. Digital books can be deleted easily and we cannot feel it,” Mr. Tang explains. He also emphasized that Chinese characters are spiritual and magic, we therefore they cannot be banned because they were written by their ancestors. To Patricia Forde, storytelling is very important in Ireland. She, however, noted that in Ireland teachers are not exhausted enough to cope internet in drawing attentions of children.
A participant observed that China is at the forefront of developing these technological devices such as mobile phones, television, computers which are diverting children from reading the physical books.
Mr. Tang replied that he thinks the sellers of these devices will be happy because digital books promotes sale of their products.
Jennifer, who teaches children, aged 15-18, said that studies showed that children need not to read for long, she would use short stories. When they get older they cannot follow that structure anymore. How do we cope with this?
Patricia Forde responded that we need to get children more time; they need to read and become more creative so that we have a society of creative people.