19 June 2011

Filipinos and Reading

The other day, I was in a local bookstore waiting for a friend to show up for dinner. As it was a bookstore, I went inside and browsed some books. What I saw was rather pathetic.

Well, the thing is, I was browsing the selections and wondering whether there would be some book that would interest me. It turns out that there wasn't any. And it made me realize how reading is not a big thing when it comes to Filipinos.

See, I have been riding the public transportation here whenever I would be out. I have a book with me, and I would read it in the bus whenever I am traveling. However, for the other people, the habit I have isn't well-received.

Yes, I haven't seen anyone else reading while traveling. Books simply aren't something that people clutch in their hands and utilize. And because of that, bookstores aren't well-stocked with books. In fact, bookstores are known more for selling school supplies, rather than books themselves. In fact, since the school year is about to begin, that's about all of the things I see in bookstores here, from bags to notebooks to school uniforms, the bookstores have it.

I suppose another factor that is in play here is poverty. If one is poor, would one want to use their money to buys books, or to buy something that one can eat? Perhaps most people will choose the latter option, as that is the one that is more beneficial. I suppose this reminds me of Abraham Maslow's humanistic psychology, that people try to satisfy more immediate needs first, such as food and survival, before trying to satisfy more abstract and mental needs, such as reading. For me, I read because I want to temporarily escape reality, for the moment, and that is something I need. But perhaps if I had the same standard of living as most people here, then I would first try to feed my stomach before feeding my mind.

(Path, from my Ollantaytambo Series)


  1. Now that you mention it, I noticed the same thing in bookstores in the Phils. I love to read, but I can't read while taking a ride because it makes me dizzy.

    Btw, i'm happy that you got the small package from Norway :)

  2. I'm surprised! Stupid stereotypes I know, but most Asian countries consider education important and surely, reading is part of education... no?

  3. Charles,

    I'm happy I got it too! Thanks a million!

  4. Zhu,

    Oh that's too big of a stereotype Zhu. Asians do excel in education, compared to Caucasians and African-Americans, at least that's the stereotype here in the USA. But the reality is different. The Asian whizkid might be true for Japan and Singapore, which have top-notch education programs. However, for the Philippines it is different. Believe it or not, we only have 10 years of pre-college education (as opposed to the 12 years everywhere else). I personally had 12 since I went to school in different countries due to dad's job, but most people graduate from high school at 16.

    And yes, reading is part of education, but if you look at the government budget on education and the needs it is supposed to meet, you'll gonna have a nightmare.

  5. Hi! I understand your point 100%, but the issue is really complex.
    I am not familiar with the particular situation en Filipinas, but I sense it's similar to what happens here in Chile.
    Most people don't like reading (my personal appreciation) and books are something most children aren't familiar with.
    Also, Chile has a 19% tax for books. Just today I wanted to buy a book for my son- just a regular book for kids- and it costed 16USD which is almost 5% of the(monthly) minimum wage.
    I hope the democratization of knowledge will come with the masification of ebooks and open initiatives.
    With what I don't agree with is applying the Maslow pyramid. (Please excuse my English, I'm really struggling, but I wanted to comment :)) The problem with that is that I feel it continues the problem. People say "poor" have other priorities... Well they obviously do!!! but "poor" children shouldn't be "denied" the access to books or other "superfluos" items of knowledge just because they where born in this environment.
    uff I mean, books ARE essential for the healthy growth of children and as such "the state" should warrant the easy access to them. I think that by not warranting recreational reading to ALL children we are violating their rights to grow in equal conditions.
    I'm sorry for the lenght of the comment but this is a topic that really moves me.

  6. Kami,

    No problem in the length of the comment. Discussion is always good!

    But I guess you misunderstand what I was saying regarding the Maslow pyramid. I still believe that "poor" people have other priorities. If I were poor and given the choice of a plate of rice or a book, I personally would grab the plate of rice, because that is the most beneficial option.

    However, you are correct that agencies such as governments should make efforts to balance out the pyramid, and allow easy access to books even to poor people. By trying to equalize the pyramid, then the poor are also given a chance to succeed and escape the otherwise vicious cycle that their life is in. As you said, books are essential for the healthy growth of children, whether they are poor or not.

  7. Hi Jeruen,

    I actually wrote a paper discussing where "music" and "reading" would be located in Maslow's pyramid. Ofcourse this was several years back and I was purely in a ideal socialist mindset. I argued that factors like these, if provided at the physiological level, would actually expedite the transition to self-esteem/self-actualisation level. Therefore, it is the duty of the state to make access to facilities like books and music (through public libraries and public concerts/festivals) straightforward and free.

    Alas this requires vision and democratic governments in developing countries don't quite have it.

  8. Priyank,

    I agree. Governments have to make the initiative to actually let books and music and reading accessible to all. But you're right, sometimes the governments need more initiative than they currently have.