Clearing the hurdle of poor reading habit

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Olunike Asaolu

A popular American autobiographer and poet, Maya Angelou, once said, ”When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”

A Scottish satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle, also said, ”All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been-it is lying, as in magic preservation, in the pages of books.”

Both comments reflect the importance of reading, especially for children. Unfortunately, analysts have constantly faulted the reading habit of Nigerians, particularly children. There have been calls for the revival of reading culture among Nigerian pupils.

For instance, to promote reading culture among pupils, the Lagos State Government once came up with the idea of Reading Time. At such time, pupils are expected to stay back after school hours, specifically to read. The state expects the children to read journals, magazines, newspapers and other books.

A few weeks ago, an education agency came up with a project aimed at reviving reading culture in Lagos State schools by producing Eduquest, an educational magazine, designed specifically to develop pupils interest in reading. The magazine, produced by the Management Education and Training Limited, treats some subjects that are taught in school such as mathematics, English, biology, physics, chemistry, and computer studies. It has a counseling column that addresses different topics that range from adolescent issues to pupils‘ guide on study patterns and career choices. It is also filled with jokes, quotes and activities for the young ones.

According to the Chairman, MET, Mr. Bamidele Omotosho, the objective of the magazine is to promote reading culture among pupils.

In April this year, Eduquest was approved by the Lagos State Government for use in its schools. But the approval looks rather incomplete, as the state government is not buying the magazine for its pupils. Individual pupils have to decide on whether they are buying or not. According to the state Director of Curriculum Service Department, Mrs. O Oyenugba, though the magazine has been approved by the state government, it has not mandated the company to sell to its schools.

She said, ”The company is supposed to sell privately to pupils; Lagos State Government is not going to buy a copy for its schools or pupils. The company can sell directly to individual pupils if they wish to buy on their own. Public schools are not under any obligation to buy it. Nobody is being forced to buy it. There is no requirement for buying it. But pupils are free to buy it if they wish.”

Reacting, Omotosho said this could discourage the company and other publishers from investing in education. ”The state government just approved the magazine. Approval only cannot sell the magazine. Government still has to lead by example by buying for its schools. This will serve as a motivation for private schools to buy. This is the only impetus that will compel schools to buy the magazine.

”From our findings, the only thing that motivates schools to buy educational materials is their relevance to examination, directives and approval by authorities. These schools cannot take independent decision, just a few private schools have appreciated our work. Based on this, we have made a presentation to the office of the deputy governor and we are awaiting the approval. We need empowerment from the government, not only for us but for other publishers.

”But we are not resting on our oars. That is why we have decided to take it to other authorities and agencies that have educational function. We have been to different local governments in the state and now we have five local governments that have bought for their schools.”

However, despite the efforts of the state government to revive reading culture among pupils, some public school teachers still complain that pupils have not shown any interest. According to a public school teacher who prefers anonymity, the inclusion of reading time in the school curriculum has not yielded any positive result. It is not effective and not achieving the purpose for which it was established.

He said, ”You ‘ll discover that most of these pupils, during and after school hours lose concentration on whatever you are teaching them. Remaining in school beyond 2pm is like compounding their problem. I think the problem of reading is not the issue of government, but that of the parents. I don‘t see how we can tackle the issue of poor reading habit and poor performance in examination from outside than dealing with it from home. There should be a kind of follow-up at home, and this is lacking in our society.

”We always blame government because the economic situation is not favourable. And this is where everyone is having problem. Parents are not able to carry out their responsibilities because of economic reasons. I implore the government to improve on the economic situation in the country for the betterment of all.”

A civil servant, Mr. Obinna Chukwudi, also said, ”Government should not be blamed for pupils‘ poor reading habit or their failure in examinations. The state government on its own volition decided to provide free textbooks of schools. Some parents refrained from getting these books just because of the caveat that government placed on it that the books should not get torn, otherwise parents would pay for them. Government is doing this to get parents involved but they are shying away from their responsibility.

”There is lack of parental involvement in the education of children. Everything that has to do with education, whether morally or academically, should begin from home. Frankly speaking, parents have abdicated their roles to either teachers or to the electronic media to cover up their inadequacies. These days, how many parents take the time to go through the academic work of their children? I think all parents should go back and be the parents they ought to be, that is, parents in the real sense of the word.”

The Chairman of Landmark School, Lagos, Mr. Isiaka Oyebamiji, believes that the pattern adopted in educating Nigerian children leads to poor reading habit. ”The cause of this problem is the pattern of education we have developed for ourselves. Our pattern of educating our children is quite different from what obtains in advanced nations. In this part of the world, we hand over what the children need to them, we give them what they need to know, whereas that shouldn‘t be.

”We are supposed to create a kind of learning environment whereby they sit down and deduce knowledge on their own. All you need do is to get them educational materials. Allow them to make some discoveries on their own. By so doing, you challenge their quest for knowledge. This forces them to go the extra mile in getting the information they need.”

Oyebamiji also blamed the problem on everyone – the parents, the government and the school. ”Everything, even education, starts from home. Your own school as a parent is your home; teach your children what they need to know at home. Create a time-table at home in order to monitor their daily activities. Even if they have to watch television or surf the net, encourage educative programmes. Then the best thing government can do is to assist schools, particularly public schools, in equipping their libraries.”

The Head of Art and Communication, Bellina College, Mr. Nwokpa Promise, said the problem could be attributed to the types of books we get and the information therein. ”Many of these books do not measure up to what the pupils want. That is why many of them prefer surfing the net instead of reading their books.”

On what makes reading interesting, Nwokpa said, ”Pupils are likely to read what they have interest in. I advise writers to concentrate more on the entertaining aspect of books for school children. Books should be both educative and entertaining. If you are writing a book, it should be presented in such a way that when pupils read it, it will catch their attention.

”They should not also forget the fact that the internet is competing with other sources of information and knowledge. In this case, they have to go the extra mile in retaining readership. If you publish books, journals, magazines and pupils don‘t read, it is a waste of money. While giving them what they want, give them what will benefit them academically.”


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