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.”