By Emmanuel Edukugho
Once again, the countryâ€™s attention has been drawn to the declining interest in reading exhibited by children which has become a challenge that must be taken seriously by institutional heads, teachers, parents and communities at large.
The Deputy Managing Director, Africana First Publishers Plc, Mr. Austine Onwubiko, making a presentation at the Conference of Primary School Headteachers of Nigeria (COPSHON) in Kano, recently, said there is no doubt that the reading culture among Nigerian children is tragically deficient in comparison to other Western nations.
He pointed to the past generation of Nigerians – our fathers and grandfathers who had a remarkable thirst for knowledge through education despite the scarce resources that they contend with. They had a better appreciation of the value of education as a status symbol.
There are examples of parents who deprived themselves of everyhting to see to the education of their children. Therefore to know how to read for its own sake is an invaluable asset.
â€œSadly 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?â€ he asked.
The Nigerian child is no longer interested in reading except when he/she is sitting for an examination. He expressed concern over the lack of interest in knowledge for knowledge sake which poses a problem for the future of this nation.
He asked further:
â€œHow can a nation sustain itself in the future without great readers and writers with the imagination and creativity that characterised the Chaucers, the Shakespeares, the Achebes, the Soyinkas or even the younger voioces such as Adichie?â€
Onwubiko delved into the roots of this problem in order to get a remedy. These were listed as follows.
* Lack of motivation among childrenÂ – Todayâ€™s child is lacking in the motivation that creates a strong reading culture. There is general apathy or loss of value for reading amongÂ youths as they are distracted by the fallouts from technological innovation whichÂ include easy availability of entertainment media, games and gambling.
* Inadequate Funding of Educational Institutions – The government can help by resourcing school libraries so that children can have libraries in their schools to loan books from and read at leisure.
* LackÂ 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 internet should monitor closely and restrict access time for the children.
* Poor Economy and Low Standard of Living â€“ A hungry man with N1,000.00 in his pocket knows whether it is better to buy books or food for his child.
Most parents live in reduced circumstances. They cannot afford three-square meals a day, how much more to buy books for their children.
* Quest for Money â€“ Another kind of distraction is the quest for money. Some parents may sometimes use their childrenâ€™s as help in supplementing family income because times are hard. They hawk and sell to sustain the family.
* The Examination Code – Nowadays, many children care only about passing their examinations without acquiring the basic knowledge that comes with education. Hence they have no need to study their books.
* Absence of School and Public/Community Libraries â€“ Community libraries are another target for improving reading culture. Existing public libraries should update their collection and theri services should be made pleasant enough to attract children of all ages to read outside of their teacher – assigned texts.
* Increasing cost of publishing â€“ Supporting indigenous publishers has always been the best bet for any country interested in its childrenâ€™s education. This support can come in various ways like reduced import taxes and traffics on print materials for local production in order to reduce cost of books. Government should also consider a complete waiver of import taxes and duties; VAT on education materials from abroad.
* Advent of the Internet and ICT
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 for information which they download and submit straight to the teacher.
They no longer read to source information through books, magazines, newspapers or even listen to radio and TV 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 Meads 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 ue. for example, adopt the newspaper or educational magazines in our classrooms as a tool for reinforcing the leaching of civic knowledge, or economics, or social studies? Children can he 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 curricular) that arc hinged on learning; school debates, drama, and so on.
These can be organized and made to attract parentsâ€™ interest.
* Fund raising can be organised 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 cither by donating books or paying for certain books to be placed in the libraries for the childrenâ€™s use. Maintaining strict lendersâ€™ and borrowersâ€ regulations and privileges are necessary to preserve library books.
* Seek collaboration with publishing companies to sponsor children who perform well in rending contests. Companies can also support school libraries through book donations, etc. Let me use this opportunity 10 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 loo. Then should be a revival of reading culture among our children that has the potential o exceeding thatÂ of past generations, ll can be made possible if all hands are on dec! working with a beautiful goal in mind _ the parents, teachers, governments, and ourÂ communities working together with a vision of a better future for our children.