17th September, 2012
By Funmi Fasipe
According to the online dictionary, reading is defined as a multifaceted process involving word recognition, comprehension, fluency and motivation. Reading isn’t about escaping into the world of fiction- it is also about providing context to our environment- both real and imagined. But reading in the context of this piece, is reading for a purpose that will enhance intellectual and socio-economic development. Reading habit is having a strong desire to read everything ‘readable’ every time and everywhere.
A popular maxim says ‘readers are leaders’ and amongst the things that affect people in life includes the books they read. Reading is one of the best ways for training and bringing up children. Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills. A good book has a salutary effect on the mind of its reader. It elevates the spirit and thoughts. It augments his store of knowledge. Books help in correcting moral ineptitude, especially in these days of mechanical existence, the best source of acquiring knowledge are books. Reading brings about a revolutionary change in the outlook of a person. It keeps a person busy when he has nothing else to do.
Embracing a reading culture is vital to the individual and to the overall development of any nation. The significance of reading in a nation’s development cannot be overemphasised. It is essential to uphold a reading culture to checkmate literacy from reverting to illiteracy. No country can dream of meaningful development if its citizens cannot read. An enlightened citizenry can readily be mobilized for the attainment of political, social and economic goals of a nation.
It is, however, sad that the reading culture is fast declining across the world. The declining interest in reading, especially among youths today, is a cause for alarm and a challenge to all. In Nigeria, for instance, it is, perhaps, safe to say that reading culture has died. Except, perhaps, in the case of students who must read to pass examinations or for any other such involuntary factors, the culture of reading is fast fading in the society. In most tertiary institution, academic libraries get filled up to the brim only when exam is at hand. Today, the youth will rather listen to all sorts of music; watch the English Premiership and party around.
The reasons for the decline in reading culture are not far- fetched. For one, reading is a tasking exercise that involves full concentration. Second, in our society today, nobody is interested in embarking on any activity that has no corresponding financial gains. Third, our socio-economic environment is not reading friendly. The daily struggle for economic survival provides little or no time for people, especially those living in the cities, to cultivate a good reading habit. Also, the decline in the standard of education in the country has seriously affected reading culture in the country. Equally, high cost of books, particularly the imported ones, has contributed to a decline in reading culture in the country.
It is, nevertheless, encouraging to note that the National Library is gradually coming up with strategies to stimulate reading culture in the country. This it has been doing by organizing seminars, workshops as well as other public enlightenment devices that could enhance the revamping of reading culture in the country. Equally, the National Library has embarked upon a plan to expand libraries across all states in the country. Recently, the Benue State branch was inaugurated while in due course the prototype branches in Bauchi and Yola will be commissioned. According to the chairman of the National Library Board, Alhaji Zannah Mustapha, the board is committed to fostering the growth of development of knowledge and also deepens the experience and the enhancement of skills in the country by making the recorded knowledge freely available.
In Lagos State, the state government has been embarking on programmes and activities that encourage reading culture. In recent time, the government has made the annual World Literacy Day one of the most celebrated in the state’s official calendar. Indeed, in one of the editions, the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) read a whole book to the pupils of St. Paul Anglican Primary School, Alausa, Ikeja. In another edition, it was the Nobel Laurel, Professor Wole Soyinka, that read a book to the pupils while on another occasion, the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope Adefulire broke Guinness World Record after reading to over three thousand (3000) students and also reading along with about four thousand five hundred (4500) pupils the book: ‘Time Changes Yesterday’ written by Ngengi Koin.
Similarly, the Lagos State Government has adopted a policy of “No Child left Behind” by making basic education free, qualitative and compulsory for all children regardless of ethnic backgrounds. In order to create and sustain awareness on the benefits of a robust reading culture, government has equally conceived the ‘Eko Akete’ reading programme to encourage children to embrace reading culture. Also, government has rebuilt the Broad Street library to an ICT Centre cum library where resources running into millions could be easily accessed by interested users. Aside this, Lagos has over eleven public libraries with at least one in each of the five divisions in the state. The State’s Public Service Library is equally well stocked with books and well managed by professionals. In all, the state government has massively invested in the acquisition of books for its libraries across the state.
To revamp the culture of reading in the country, parents are the first agents in encouraging reading habits in the society. Governments, librarians and other non-governmental organizations should be given maximum support to build up a society that comprises of intellectuals and educated minds. Every nursery, primary and tertiary institution needs to launch a readership promotion campaign which will help to inculcate the culture of reading in the children. Governments across the country must begin to subsidize the cost of publishing essential books to encourage local production. There is also an urgent need for Governments across the land to build more libraries to accommodate more users in areas yet to be reached. Private organisations, individuals, NGOs should help in the provision of infrastructures which would stimulate and foster good reading habit.
The absence of a widespread culture of reading is an effective barrier to a civilised political culture and economic prosperity. For our country to attain the socio-economic height of our dreams and aspirations, we need to develop literate citizens that are able to read widely and apply it practically for development. It is, therefore, essential to make the present generation further conscious of the importance of reading as well as ensure that they have the required literacy skills in our contemporary society.
•Fasipe, a student of the University of Ilorin, is on Industrial Attachment with the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja