Are Nigerians Reading Less?

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

The abysmal outing in the November/December 2009 NECO examinations, which recorded a 98% failure rate has been linked to a number of causes. While some contend that the results are a boomerang of decades of decline in the educational funding, others assert that this is just one more manifestation of government’s broken promises. Remember the slogan of ‘education for all by the year 2000’? The results, in my opinion, were bad because Nigerians are reading less.

Why do people read? Many read for pleasure, some for knowledge, most for utilitarian value. Plainly speaking, asides reading prescribed texts, very few make an effort to pick a book outside their specialisation. Since their reason for reading is either to gain a meal ticket or to make money at all costs.

Unfortunately, most no longer read even to pass examinations. With the development of chips, why take the tedious route of gluing two elbows on a desk?  Cheating in examinations has undergone tremendous evolution in Nigeria’s educational system. From the age old spying or giraffing, students – with the connivance of their parents and teachers – have pushed examination misconducts to digital proportion. This malpractice is almost equated with charity (an act of love). Little wonder, it has “has been baptised with esoteric aliases like symbiosis, mgbo, help, memory backup, mercenary, missiles, dubbing, Xeroxing, etc.”

Digging deeper, as much as the students may not be fully exonerated, it is a pointer to the erosion to a once vibrant reading culture in the country. Gone are days when students took pride in bragging about the latest Pacesetter, Mills and Boon or African Writers Series novels they have read. The greatest gifts used to be books, now try that with a teenager and you’ll get the worst shock of your life.

Kindly spare me, the over hyped notion that books are expensive. Sure right they are, but can you compare it with the cost of recharge cards or junk food. “Now we have the luxury of seeking all shades of an issue, we work harder, we report deeper, but even the deeper you go about it, the more you are losing your readers to the tribe that seeks that pleasure of a roaming GSM,” laments Onome Osifo-Whiskeyof TELL magazine.

Besides if books being costly translate to poor reading culture, then it must be a miracle that most publishing houses have not gone solvent. The waves might be stormy, affirms Gbenro Adegbola of Evans Books but the “reading culture is not dying but it is slightly poor in Nigeria.” He however, maintains that in a country of over 150 million, books will continue to have an appealing market because, “we have the advantage of the buying power of the elite class that manages to sustain the industry.”

It is obvious that for any culture to take root, it must be preceded by a habit. No one is born reading, we all acquire the taste for books over time. For many avid readers, the origin for their romance with books started at a very tender age. It was either at school (pre-school, primary) or in the home that the interest in books was nurtured, developed and blossomed.

If children, especially at a tender age, come to associate reading with fun, then the habit sticks with them to adulthood. Unfortunately, most teachers are simply the catalyst that snuffs off the reading flame and vice versa. Teachers hold the magic wand to get their pupils hooked on to books. The passion from a teacher in love with words is contagious and students easily get infected. Some teachers however make kids see reading as a bitter medicine or a punishment. With that attitude most burn their books as soon as they leave school.

Parents being the principal educators of their children cannot pretend that sending their children to schools will necessarily morph their kids into book worms. Buy books; encourage them to read newspapers, magazines and other literature. If the home is clean, I see no reason why a child should waste time counting the number of tiles in the rest room, rather than read a book.

Noma Sodipo, TV presenter of Story-Time with Auntie Noma, insists “that children learn in a variety of ways – taking learning outside the four walls of a classroom. It creates a vibrant and refreshing approach to life from a child’s perspective.” However, for multimedia tools to hold the attention of a kid, it need not be “a dull straightforward educational programme, it is entertaining, exciting whist being very educational.” This means that tons of creativity is needed by the producer or presenter.

The effect of a shallow reading culture is evident not only in terrible NECO results but haunts an individual all through life. Some university graduates find it gruesome to speak or write proper English. The seeds sown earlier in their homes and school follows them to their grave. Safiya I. Dantiye captures it in these words, “I used to believe that teachers take pride in imparting knowledge and seeing their students competing to do their best, so I wonder what those types of teachers feel when all their students perform poorly, because it could not be the fault of all the students.”

If reading culture is that easy to imbibe, then why are we reading less? Though I must admit that in this country the easiest things are sometimes the most difficult. I concur with Hillary Ike Ugwu that “parents should learn to expose their children to reading. In so doing they are shaping their little mind towards greatness. Professors and teachers should expose their students to disciplined culture of reading and research.”

4 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this piece which I earlier read through Mr Castellote’s facebook.

    It’s really sad that the reading culture had declined to such and abysmal level in this country, however I will disagree that cost of books is not one of the major factor to the decline, I will give some examples.

    Right from the junior secondary school level, I enjoyed reading Readers digest and lots of other interesting comics, I don’t ask my parents for extra money to continually keep my shelf abreast with new editions on weekly and monthly basis, I simply take it out of my pocket money (just three Naira) now as a Physician practicing for about 20yrs in Nigeria, its terribly hard to keep the habit from my income.

    My Dad is not a University graduate, nor a secondary school certificate holder, but I remember as a kid, how vendor supplies variety of paper on daily basis to our house which greatly help in creating a reading habit for me, how many Professionals today can truly sustain what my Dad did in 70s and 80s from their income? No wonder there is growing membership of free readers association at the newsvendor stands.

    As undergraduates I cannot count how many of books I bought out of pocket money, including a number of very good spiritual books (The Way, Friends of God…etc)unfortunately getting access to books continually gets difficult, such that by the time we are passing out we are battling with 0-0-1, 1-0-1, 1-0-0 formula of feeding, which is why some of us are much thankful to a place like Irawo University Centre Ibadan, that does not only provide the human, intellectual, and spiritual formation, but enhance our academic formation with well stocked library and a very conducive environment both as home and study!!!

    I can go on and on with examples, in addition I believe reading culture decline in Nigeria, because the society premium on intellectualism declined tremendously in favor of materialism, gone are the days when Headmaster of the school is well respected, and given a place of honor, now what counts is how much money you have irrespective of how such wealth is acquired, the lesson for the youths is that you don’t have to read, probably the more ignorant you are the better.

    Lastly the environment for reading is no more there, how do you read in a bus when you are sweating under like a Christmas goat? How do you read when you spent like last ounce of your energy looking for water, with competing generators, dousing the whole environment with fumes, and cranking your ears with deafening decibels?

    To recreate the reading culture, we have to recreate an environment that put a very high premium on knowledge, there has to be policy both at National, State and Local government level that promotes this. We must have leaders that are not intellectually bankrupt, and inwardly empty.
    There is need to have policy in place that breaks the barrier of financial accessibility, such as reducing import duties on books and educational materials, there need to create an environment that rewards intellectualism, that encourage many people to write books, publishing companies to flourish and ofcourse with severe penalty for piracy.
    To further promote reading culture, there is need of an effective policy that ensures each local government in this country has a least one functioning and well stocked community Library. If there was no community Library, the famous Pediatrics Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, would probably not have achieved the intellectual and Professional feat in the United States.

    Victor Koledoye MD

    Reply

  2. Why are our youths not reading? Why should they?

    TV used to start at 4pm and end at 12am…Now there are 24 hour soccer or movie or music video or Reality TV channels

    Why read when you’ve got an Ipod, a Playsation or PSP, a laptop and 24 in one DVD.

    Why read when the successful role models the D banj, MI Rooney C Ronaldo’s JayZ’s don’t?

    Why read when it seems obvious that some of our leader don’t or even can’t?

    Reply

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