By Daniel Ighakpe
Once upon a time, Nigeria paraded the best set of authors and publishers in Africa. At that time, reading was an innate affection for both young and old. This reading culture reflected so much on the quality of leadership and civil discipline that it brought pride to Nigerians anywhere in the world!
But now, the rich literacy history the country was famous for is gradually been eroded. A new type of reading problem is sweeping our country. It is called ALITERACY. Aliteracy is defined as the quality or state of being able to read but being uninterested in doing so. Yes, reading which was once indulged in as a pleasure is now often spurned as a chore.
Nigeria has been rated by the World Culture Score index as one of the countries in the world with the lowest reading culture. Available statistics from the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education show that 38 per cent of Nigerians are non-literate, as 4 in 10 primary school children cannot read for comprehension. Regrettably, this adverse development is an ominous challenge that the country seems not to be paying the needed attention.
What are some of the factors that contribute to the poor reading culture in the country? The downturn in reading and book readership actually has a global dimension, especially given the onslaught of the digital revolution. Globally, the influence of new technology has altered the disposition to reading. Perhaps the most time-consuming competitor of reading is television. Also, the decline in the standard of education has seriously affected reading ability. Before now, schools engaged and participated in reading activities to enhance the thinking and creative ability of students. But lack of availability of suitable reading materials, absence of well-designed reading activities, insufficiently trained staff to prosecute reading culture in schools and ineffective monitoring and evaluation of readership promotion programmes are constant challenges currently affecting readership development.
Another possible factor contributing to the poor reading culture in Nigeria is perhaps that our socio-economic environment is not reader friendly. The daily struggle for economic survival provides little or no time for people to cultivate a good reading habit. Equally, high cost of books, particularly imported ones, as well as a dearth of dedicated quiet reading spaces like libraries, has contributed to low readership promotion in the country.
Why is reading important, and what benefits come from developing a good reading habit? Reading is the key to unlocking many kinds of knowledge, skills and enjoyment. Reading stimulates the imagination, develops verbal skills by helping us build up a good vocabulary, and reading also promotes the fine, godly quality of patience. Also, studies have shown that there is an almost symbiotic relationship between reading and intelligence. The analytical skills that provide the ability to understand issues and solve problems are the product of intensive reading. Reading regularly is also a way to mental health, which enhances emotional intelligence, helps with self-awareness, empathy, social skills and managing relationships more effectively. Reading also provides a therapeutic effect and inner tranquility, while also slowing mental decline. Thus, the relationship between reading, knowledge acquisition, intelligence and personal development is crucial for economic and social development. A critical mode of thinking is lost in the absence of reading.
True, the ability to read with ease and fluency does not come without real effort. But for the effort we put forth now, we will be repaid many times. In our waking hours, we daily face things to read: signs, labels, books, magazines, newspapers, forms, also letters. All of this can be an unpleasant chore for those who read poorly. However, if you learn to read well, you will find your life greatly enriched in a pleasurable way.
How can parents help their children become good readers? They can do this by (1). Setting a good example of being good readers themselves. (2). Having lots of books around. Children will read if books are readily available. The incentive to read will be even greater if the books are part of their own personal library. (3). Making reading enjoyable. They can do this by (a) setting limits on television time (b) creating an atmosphere that is conducive to reading (for example, quiet times and areas with good lighting). (c) Not forcing reading. Make the materials and opportunities to read available, but let the child develop the desire.
It is commendable that certain individuals and organizations are making concerted efforts to revive the reading culture in the country. To improve the reading culture among young ones, more books should be procured for children than smart phones and tablets. Nigerian homes need to be fitted with more bookshelves and bookcases than flat screen TVs and laptops. There should be increased funding for the education sector and the government must take an active role in resuscitating good reading habits. Existing libraries should be refurbished, and there should be a redesign of the school curriculum to incorporate more reading activities. There should also be effective campaigns to bring back the libraries to our schools and communities. Also, efforts should be made to reduce environmental noise, which is inimical to reading. If these steps are taken, it will result in an improvement in the reading culture among young ones and old alike.
Ighakpe, a Social Commentator, writes via [email protected]