opinionBy Austin Onwubiko
Reading culture can best be explained as a learned practice of seeking knowledge, information or entertainment through the written word. Such practice can be acquired by reading books, journals, magazines, newspaper, etc. having a reading culture has become imperative in the 21st Century for everybody, especially our children, the future of the nation. To participate effectively in our children is a task that we must take very seriously. This should be the primary goal of institutional heads, teachers, parents, and our communities at large. The declining interest in reading exhibited by our children today is a cause for alarm and a challenge to all.
Reading is obviously one of the basic things a child begins to do in the early stages of formal education, within the school building. Some children also learn to read from the parents even before they start schooling. It is through reading that children broaden their understanding of life.
Reading opens up a whole new world from which to see themselves and others. Reading enables creativity to blossom in the child. It gives them the tools to explore their talent while learning about themselves and their societies. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) the English Philosopher once asserted that reading maketh a full man. Speaking...a ready man. Writing maketh him exact."
This assertion has never been proved otherwise. Great readers have always made great writers as history, autobiographies and biographies of great men have taught us. The great writers in Nigeria such as Chinua Achebe, Wole soyinka, T.M. Aluko, Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, Elechi Amadi, Edwin Clark, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, to mention but few are home grown examples of great readers and writers. It is therefore, proper to say that those who can read definitely have an advantage over those who cannot. In other words "Readers are Leader."
There is a story of a man who could not read, but he wanted his challengers to know he could. He pretended that he could read; so one day, he was put to the test. "Read this newspaper to us," his friends challenged him. "What did Zik say in today's paper?" he took the newspaper, turned it upside down and began to...mumble. He did not even know which side of the newspaper should be up.
Reading culture among children in modern Nigeria
There is no doubt that the reading culture among Nigerian children is tragically deficient in comparison to other Western nations. One can even say that the past generation of Nigerians-our fathers and grandfathers had a remarkable thirst for knowledge through education despite the scarce resources that they contended with.
They had a better appreciation of the value of education as a better appreciation of the value of education as a status symbol. There are examples of parents who deprived themselves of everything to see to the education of their children, a situation that was also economically and financially viable or rewarding. Thus, to know how to read for its own sake is an invaluable asset.
Sadly enough, this is not the case among many Nigerian children in the 21st century. The importance of reading for its own sake has taken a bad hit, and reading culture has steadily declined over the years. Where do we look for the source of this problem? Who do we blame? Our parents, the children, the educational system, the nation? What has happened to Nigerian Child of old and that love for reading so well exemplified by the past generation?
Why is the Nigerian child no longer interested in reading except when he/she is sitting for an examination? Why the lack of interest in knowledge for knowledge sake? Indeed, this poses a problem for the future of this nation. How can a nation sustain itself in the future without great readers and writers with the imagination and creativity that characterized the Chaucer's the Shakespeare's, the Achebe's soyinkas, or even the younger voices such as Adichie?
I would like to uncover some of the roots of this problem so that we can begin a modest search for a remedy.
Lack of motivation among children
it is my belief that the Nigerian child is presently lacking in the motivation that creates a strong reading culture in the nation. There is a general apathy or loss of value for reading.
The youth is distracted by the fall outs from technological innovation in the world today. These include the easy availability of entertainment media, games and gambling. Rather than read a good novel or biography they may prefer to play card games or indulge some other pastime outside of reading.
Lack of parental guidance and encouragement
parents should encourage children by providing them good books to read at home. Those with access to modern technology such as the internet should monitor closely and restrict access time for the children. They should remember that all that glitters is not gold. Technology can also be source of endangerment for our children's moral growth.
Inadequate funding of educational institutions
The government can help by assisting schools with functional libraries (which are repositories of knowledge) that children can loan books from and read at leisure.
Poor economy and low standard of living
A hungry man with N1000.00 naira in his pocket knows whether it is better to buy books or food for his child. Most parents live in reduced circumstances. They can ill-afford a three-square meal a day, how much more buy books for their children.
Owing to hardship, most parents cannot provide good books for their children-especially in a situation where price of goods and services continues to skyrocket-with government not doing anything to better the situation. As a result of this, most parents cannot send their wards to school so as to be able to read and write. The only option left for such parents is to drive their children into the street-to hawk banana, icep-cream, vegetable etc.
Quest for money
Another distraction is the quest for mone-Granted that some parents may sometimes use their children's help in supplementing family income because the times are hard; however, facts and stories show that some children. Without any duress form parents, would go seeking money rather than reading or doing their schoolwork. They hawk and sell...a situation where children engage in economic activity to sustain the family.
The Examination Code
Nowadays, many children care only about passing their examinations - without acquiring the basic knowledge that come with education. Hence. They have no need to study their books.
According to Professor Kelue Okoye in his book - "Schooling without Education." "The import of education, therefore, includes acquiring the knowledge and skills required for proficient professional service, in addition to character formation". But sadly enough, our present-day school children only go to school for formality sake without as much as having the least idea of what education entails.
Some of these children depend on the "mercenaries" hired by their parents to write examination for them. For this reason, these children no longer bother their heads to read their books.
Considering that education is a life-long phenomenon, its distortion or misdirection under whatever guise or circumstance robs our children of great opportunities inherent in human potentialities. And the distortion or misdirection of education implies, in reality, a negation of the process of developing the best of individuals for the collective well-being of society.
Absence of School and Public/Community Libraries
The community libraries are another target for improving reading culture. Existing public libraries are another target for improving reading culture. Existing public libraries should aim to update their collection; their services should be made pleasant enough to attract children of all ages to read outside of their teacher-assigned texts. Indeed, going to a library should be a pleasant experience for every child interest in reading. Communities can be called upon to help in building up their libraries for their children's sake.
Increasing Cost of Publishing
Furthermore, supporting indigenous publishers has always been the best bet for any country interest in its children's education. This support can come in various ways ...reduced import taxes...and tariffs...on print materials for local production in order to reduce cost of book. Government should also consider also consider a complete waiver of import taxes and duties. VAT on education materials from abroad.
Advent of the Internet and ITC
The Internet has made its marks as a reliable source of information. So when given an assignment, children run right away to the computer and search through the internet for information which they download and submit straight to the teacher. It will even be a waste of time for them to go through what they have downloaded before submission.
They no longer read to source information through books, magazines, newspapers or even listen to radio and T.V. news since the information is always there on the internet waiting for them to download.
The Role of School Heads and Teachers
What can the School Heads and Teachers do to help?
•Cultivating a reading culture will require institutional or curricula changes in the long run. But what can we do in the short term to address this situation in the classrooms and in our homes? What can we begin to do to build the appreciation of reading?
Can we, for example, adopt the newspaper or educational magazines in our classrooms as a tool for reinforcing the teaching of civic knowledge, or economics, or social studies? Children can be asked to read and bring information from the daily papers as a group or individually.
•We can begin by looking to the community for support for our school activities (extra curriculula) that are hinged on learning; school debates, drama, and so on. These can be organized and made to attract parents' interest.
•Fund raising can be organized to equip school libraries on a modest level
•Offer incentives to students who can read a certain number of books in school year. Cash awards are always memorable reminders to other students to emulate their peers.
•Writing contests, book reviews, story telling sessions of books read outside of class can be woven into the school curricula.
•Honouring parents who support school libraries either by donating books or paying for certain books to be placed in the libraries for the children's use. Maintaining strict lenders' and borrowers' regulations and privileges are necessary to preserve library books.
•Seek collaboration with publishing companies to sponsor children who perform well in reading contests. Companies can also support school libraries through book donations, etc. Let me use this opportunity to commend companies like Zain, MTN, Shell, NLNG for their efforts in equipping schools with libraries as part of their corporate social responsibility.
I believe we can start somewhere; and we can do it. Our children can do it too. There should be a revival of reading culture among our children that has the potential of exceeding that of past generations. It can be made possible if all hands are on deck working with a beautiful goal in mind - the parents, teachers, governments, and our communities working together with a vision of a better future for our children.