27 November 2012

Namibia: Do We Really Have Sufficient Reading Ability?


When one asks you, 'Did you buy the newspaper for today?' or 'what is the world talking about today?' - one may say, 'I bought it but I just read the headings, I don't really know what they are talking about.' That is one thing that many people struggle to do.

We do not have a culture of reading. It was observed sometime ago when one man stood at the shop for long hours waiting for the people to come open the shop.

He did not read the notice that stated the shop will remain closed because there is stocktaking. He stood there complaining to himself why people were wasting his time, until another person came and helped him to show him to read the information on the door of the shop that explained why the shop was closed that day.

He blamed himself for not reading that notice earlier.

The notice clearly stated, 'We cannot open today due to stocktaking, sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.'

The lack of a reading culture is also proved by the proverb, "If you want to hide something from a man put it in black and white."

This means if you want to hide something from many people, write it down.

This leaves me with many unanswered questions such as, is it because English is used as a second language by the majority of Namibians or is this the case with native languages also?

This article will talk about the importance of reading.

Reading is not only important to people who are busy studying but to anyone who wants to enrich their mind with current affairs, applying for jobs or reading for entertainment.

Reading comprehension refers to the ability to understand information presented in written form. While the process usually entails understanding textbook assignments, reading comprehension skills also may affect one's interpretation of instructions on exams, labs, homework, assignments and completion of job applications or questionnaires. Another simple definition of reading is that, it is "the construction of meaning from a printed or written message". Moreover, reading should be "rapid, purposeful, interactive, comprehending, flexible and gradually developing".

Clearly, reading is a complex process as the mastery of a variety of reading skills is required in order to allow the reader to understand a written text in such a way as to extract information from it as competently as possible.

These skills are processed simultaneously, in parallel processing mode, from processing individual letters and their sounds, to recognition of words, until sentences and paragraphs in much longer texts are understood.

It is observed that there is a strong relationship between academic performance of the learners and their reading ability. Better readers perform better academically.

Poor readers, if not taught how to improve their reading skills, will not overcome their reading problems.

As responsible citizens we need to reconsider how we can influence reading habits and attitudes of Namibians, especially young people.

Educators at tertiary level notice that many students in Namibia who speak English as a second language are not adequately prepared for the academic demand of tertiary courses mainly because of poor reading skills.

The poor reading skills can be attributed to their poor background in terms of reading.

As a result those students do not read extensively, because reading is a skill that takes time to develop.

Furthermore, poor reading skills lead to poor performance, in other words this means students with good reading skills are likely to have good academic performance as well. It is assumed that students who read less or have not been exposed to wide reading are poorer performers compared to students who read more.

Continuous reading and comprehension skills enable students to access knowledge, understand and elaborate on concepts and to integrate information from lectures, reference books and journals.

As reading is about comprehension, students who are unable to identify and analyze main ideas from the texts are severely disadvantaged in the ability to evaluate and synthesize their own ideas. Consequently, it is important that students learn techniques for reading that will enable them to develop the skills of critical reading which, in turn, leads to the development and enhancement of critical thinking. However, this is perhaps making an assumption that students 'cannot read at all' - this clearly is not the case. Students would not have met the stringent entry criteria necessary for higher education if they were unable to read. It is rather implying that they may not read enough or as it is expected of them.

English is not the first language of most students at the tertiary education level in Namibia, but they receive their tuition in English.

They are expected to acquire English and learn the academic content simultaneously through their school career, without adequate environmental support.

Of all skills young children can acquire, reading is the one they will use most, so reading is regarded to be the most important skill required for academic success at a tertiary level since information is, to a large extent, transmitted in print form via text books, the internet, study guides and notes from lecturers.

This knowledge, acquired through the printed word is then displayed by students in writing when they submit assignments and write the examinations. Since reading is evidently the vehicle of learning, the implication is that low reading levels can result in low academic performance.

More complex academic demands are made on students especially as they progress through the various stages of their studies.

This means in order to excel academically at academic institutions, they are expected to have an advanced knowledge of the language of instruction, know the high frequency words as well as have an extensive academic vocabulary.

Poor reading abilities are the result of poor proficiency in the medium of instruction (MOI) and poor proficiency in the MOI results in poor reading ability and poor academic performance.

We must be clear that reading ability and language proficiency are not the same. Although language is the medium that enables reading to occur, improved language proficiency does not necessarily lead to improved reading ability as these are two different competencies that are developed through different cognitive procedures resulting in specific conceptual and cognitive skills. This means that it is attention to reading that improves reading skills, while the process of language proficiency improves and as a result of improved reading, academic success also increases - as has been mentioned, better readers perform better academically.

Let me use this chance to encourage people to do extensive reading, as this helps one to develop good reading habits. In this way, vocabulary and knowledge of language structure are developed simultaneously

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