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English language reading: lack of engagement at middle level a major challenge

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“Reading does not consist merely of decoding the written word or language; rather, it is preceded by and intertwined with knowledge of the world which always precedes reading the word,  involving critical perception, interpretation, and rewriting of what is read,” writes Rifat Syed, quoting Paulo Freire, Brazilian Educator, Philosopher, and author of the ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. She has conducted a research study on “Lack of English language reading engagement among middle grades level: causes and remedies” under the supervision of  Dr Yuling Liu Smith as her supervisor, Dr Mirat Al Fatima Ahsan, as co-supervisor and  Dr Dilshad Ashraf as facilitator.

By Rifat Shah

The importance of reading skills cannot be denied in a rapidly changing world. Literature in this regard shows that it is a fundamental skill among the four skills of the English language to improve learner’s overall language proficiency. An Australian linguist David Nunan also confirms that language proficiency contributes to the cognitive development of a learner which fosters independent learning.

In Pakistan, English is not the native language of learners; either it is spoken as a second (ESL) or foreign language (EFL). Researchers in Pakistan also highlight that learners are often reluctant to interact with reading due to the language barrier, which adversely affects the development of their reading skills. One challenge for ESL and EFL learners, especially learners from Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) face is reading engagement. But the question that arises is what reading engagement itself is?

According to literature, it is the willingness to interact with the reading text, in which engaged readers are those who are interested in reading and enjoy reading. As an English Language Teacher (ELT), it’s my observation that students are always disengaged from reading; instead, they prefer engagement in sports and other indoor games. It is essential to maintain our physical health but for the maintenance of our cognitive health, reading engagement is one of the healthy activities.

Although there are many reading initiatives launched by the government and private sector organizations in Pakistan, particularly in GB, still students’ engagement and motivation towards reading is disappointing. Parents also seem to be complaining about children’s disengagement with reading. Given the situation, I have conducted a study to explore the perspective of students about reading engagement.

The target group was grade eight students because the experts in the English language believe that middle grade is a critical and complex transitional period for English Language students (ELS), where they generally show a decline in reading motivation and reading engagement. This decline can be due to multiple reasons such as learners’ lack of self-efficacy, lack of engaging teaching activities in class, lack of parents’ awareness about the importance of reading and teacher’ teaching. Moreover, the students’ perspective could help to open the ways for teachers and parents in reading engagement.

Teachers play a pivotal role in the reading engagement of the students. Based on the study findings, it could be claimed that teachers’ use of teaching-reading strategies has an impact on the learners’ reading engagement. It is so because the majority of the students agreed that teachers’ use of interesting reading strategies and materials spring their motivation towards reading. In addition to that, peers and siblings also influence students in reading engagement.

The study also reveals that when children spend more time with their peers with similar reading skills, they may further encourage one another, and this has an impact on the development of their reading skills. Furthermore, the parents’ role is equally important to enhance the reading abilities of their children. In the light of findings of this study, the students expect more from their parents to give them quality time at home and provide reading material.

Further, the study findings suggest that reading materials along with pictures or images, praise words by teachers and parents boost motivation in reading which leads them towards reading engagement. It was also identified that reading was the second most favorite skill of many students and they are also aware of the importance of reading skills for their future.

Moreover, the majority of the participants were agreed upon story reading as the best medium as compared to other texts such as poetry and non-fiction. This indicates that teachers and parents need to carefully choose reading materials for teaching and reading and give them recreational reading materials at home in the form of stories. Parents and teacher are further suggested to create an open reading environment at home or school where the influence of peer or sibling’s reading make them a better-engaged reader.

One of the findings of the study in the context of Ghizer highlights that students here prefer to read online than the printed material. This might be possible due to the availability of 3G and 4G internet in the region which attracts students towards online reading. The finding clearly shows that students preferred online reading. Hence, students should be provided internet and computer facility at schools.

The study further identifies the correlation between reading engagement and socio-economic status. Based on the findings, it is stated that the people of particular research sites are neither very rich, nor poor and there is a weak positive correlation found. It means that they can easily provide reading material for their children at home. The study further recommends English language teachers to carefully choose teaching reading strategies in class to sustain the motivation of students for reading. Further, they should get training for teaching reading.

Further, the study findings suggest that reading materials along with pictures or images, praise words by teachers and parents boost motivation in reading which leads them towards reading engagement. It was also identified that reading was the second most favorite skill of many students and they are also aware of the importance of reading skills for their future.

Paulo Freire believes that teachers must learn from their students in dialogue. His practice is imaginative, inventive, re-inventive, and thoroughly pragmatic.

Thus, reading engagement inside as well as outside the classroom is possible when teachers and parents pay attention to the students’ needs and choices towards reading.


Rifat Syed is doing M.Ed at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (IED). She will be graduating on Nov 30. She is a teacher serving at one of the AKES schools in Gilgit-Baltistan.  

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