By G9ija

The poor reading culture among Nigerians, especially students, has become a subject of concern among critical stakeholders in the education sector. Certain factors are said to contribute to fueling the ugly state of affairs. EMMA ELEKWA examines the nauseating phenomenon.

Of late, concerns have heightened over poor reading culture among Nigerians. There have been blames and counter-blames with regard to whom, among the government, parents, teachers and the larger society, is not doing the best to inculcate the virtue in our young ones.

Several suggestions have been proffered as ways to revive the culture of reading.

However, experts have maintained that one of the ways through which the ugly trend could be salvaged is a genuine commitment, on the part of parents and teachers, to ensuring the revival of reading culture in our schools.

Authorities in the knowledge industry have described reading as the gateway to learning without which children cannot access a broad and balanced education. In today’s literate world, academic success, securing employment and personal autonomy depend on reading and writing proficiency.

Reading is a skill that begets many other skills because it constitutes a key part of our capacity to increase our capability in all we do.

Scientists now believe that 95 per cent of all children can be taught to read. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, there is an alarming prevalence of poor reading culture among all segments of the Nigerian society; especially among the basic education school segment.

With little or no direct instruction, almost all young children develop the ability to understand spoken language. The majority never learn to read unless they are taught to.

That Nigerians, especially school children, have poor reading culture, is an indication that the majority of Nigerians are poor readers.

Studies have shown that the best way to stop reading failure is to teach reading in an organised, systematic and efficient way by knowledgeable teachers in a well-designed instructional approach.

In the past, everyone who went to school learnt to read. But about 30 years ago, experts say, many teachers, professors of education and publishing companies adopted the look-and-say method of teaching reading now called whole word or whole language.

The result is the disaster we now call poor readers. The problem is that they have never been efficiently and effectively taught to read. Sadly, the whole word method of teaching reading which dominates this practice in Nigeria today places undue emphasis on vocabulary and encourages memorisation.

According to specialists in Linguistics, the English language has more than 1, 000, 000 words and no one is known to have memorised all the 1, 000, 000 words. What a reader needs most is how to decode and comprehend a word. Every primary school teacher in Nigeria knows that the greatest problem of children with reading disabilities is decoding.

However, a good instructional approach will not produce the desired result without a knowledgeable teacher. Teaching reading is a job for experts. Learning to read is a complex linguistic task that is, in itself taxing. For many children, it requires efforts and incremental skill development.

On the other hand, teaching reading requires thorough knowledge or skill acquired through focused study and supervised practice. It is indisputable that classroom instruction works more than any other factor towards ameliorating reading problems.

Again, some attribute the challenge to the defective education system and reading language problem, others link it to lack of well-equipped or functional libraries in schools, institutions and state as well as low patronage of school libraries, among others.

Research reveals that 40 per cent of Nigerian adults find it difficult to read a non-fiction book from cover to the last page after they finished their education careers. The average Nigerian, it is said, reads less than one book a year, and only one per cent of successful men and women in Nigeria read one non-fiction book per month.

The same study showed that 30 million Nigerians have graduated from high school with poor reading skills. If regular reading and studying is a required condition of one’s job or profession, this, in effect, means that one will be compelled to read, even if it is under duress. The magnitude of this problem jeopardises the future of our younger generation.

What is most frustrating is that many of these reading problems are caused by the inability of the government and teachers to apply what is known as reading instruction or techniques.

The vast majority of the world’s information currently is not digitised; it is in print form, mostly in books. Reading among young adults is not exactly on the wane, but the delivery mechanism has changed.

Poverty is also observed to be a contributing factor to poor reading habits, not just among Nigerians, but in sub-Saharan Africa. Only a few people live above the poverty line. About 80 per cent of Africans live under hazardous conditions. The per capita income of an average citizen in Nigeria with its abundant natural resources is two dollars.

This affects the reading habits of most Nigerians. Many are too poor to send their children to school. They lack money to buy books and pay school fees.

Another factor is the governments’ inability to establish libraries in schools or build public libraries where individuals could go and read or carry out researches.

In Anambra State, for instance, the conditions of most of the libraries in the state have elicited serious concerns.

Those who spoke to The Nation lamented the sorry state of libraries in schools. In the existing ones, the books and journals on their shelves are outdated.

According to them, most of the libraries, particularly the ones in the commercial city of Onitsha, which were established on November 26, 1966, needed a complete overhaul in terms of structure and content.

They also observed that the locations of some of the libraries could constitute discouragement to prospective users in view of the busy nature of the environment.

They argued that for the facilities to be up to standard and to function maximally in the 21st Century, the government and other relevant authorities must intensify efforts towards renovating and equipping them to meet international best practices.

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A student, Miss Precious Okoye, who was seen reading in a library in Onitsha, decried the poor state of the facility, noting that it lacks modern books for research.

“Many of us have resorted to online research to ensure we updated our knowledge because most of the books here are outdated,” she said.

A resident, who identified himself as Maxwell Udodiri, said the location of the library alone could pose a serious impediment to prospective users.

He said: “The location of the library alone is a major challenge. A library is expected to be in a serene and quiet environment to allow maximum concentration and assimilation.

“But the library is sited at one of the busiest roads in the commercial city where thousands of motorists ply daily, blasting their horns indiscriminately.”

An official of the library, who preferred not to be named, regretted the gradual decline in patronage to the library, attributing the situation to dilapidation as well as lack of modern books and journals.

She said: “The number of users has dropped drastically because the facility lacks modern books and journals and the structure is dilapidated. These are some of the major challenges we are facing here.”

One of the stakeholders and an educationist, Mrs Ego Mgbagwu said the idea of establishing libraries in various schools in the state was informed by the growing need to acquire knowledge, particularly among youths in the country.

Mgbagwu, Chief Executive Officer, Zaccheus Onumba Dibiaezue Memorial Libraries (ZODML), described education as the bedrock of development in any society, hence the important role of the library in students’ academic achievement and lifelong learning process and self-education.

She said: “The establishment and equipping of many libraries across primary and secondary schools in the state have helped to revive the dwindling reading culture, which, in turn, helps in eliminating illiteracy, keep history afresh and help our students to be abreast of developments around the globe.

“There is also the need to assist students in the public primary and secondary schools that might not be able to afford the relevant books due to financial constraints.”

On the state of libraries in the state, the Chief Librarian Mrs Nkechi Udeze said the state remained one of the states that had the best libraries in the country, a feat she attributed to the attention the government had given to upgrading the facilities.

She said of the 11 libraries located across the state, some undergo regular equipment with up-to-date books, while others, particularly those managed by the communities where they were located, were yet to receive the needed attention.

She said: “Anambra State ranks high in library management when compared with other states in the country. Some states at some point had to close down some of their libraries for lack of interest of the government and other stakeholders.”

Udeze, however, revealed that the renovation of the libraries was captured as capital projects in the annual budget after a memo was sent to the Ministry of Education to that effect, adding that the contractor had visited some of the sites.

“The library in Abagana has been re-roofed by the lawmaker representing the constituency while Atani library is currently undergoing routine maintenance. In fact, communities are expected to assist in maintaining libraries in their various localities,” she added.

She attributed the proliferation of special centres and mercenaries for examination malpractices to a lack of seriousness on the part of the government and the reading public attached to the library.

She said: “If up to 50 per cent of Nigerians appreciate the value of library and what they stand to benefit therefrom, most of our libraries won’t be in the dilapidated state they are currently.

“Parents too are not helping matters. How many parents encourage their children to study? You see most parents watching TV with their kids. Some children even threaten to kill their parents if they don’t pay for special centres for them.

“The situation is quite discouraging that if not for the passion some of us have for the job, maybe we would have left this job. Personally, I chose Library Science as a course because I wanted to work in a public library so as to serve the masses at the grassroots.”

On the location of the Onitsha library, the Chief Librarian said there was no need for that, disclosing that the building is sound-proof.

“There’s no problem with the location because if you enter the building, it’s so quiet that one won’t even hear any noise. Whoever complains about noise in the Onitsha library is not yet serious to read.

“It’s even Nnewi library that one can complain about the noisy environment. But talking about relocation is a huge challenge because it will involve land which nobody will be willing to donate,” she noted.

She listed other services being provided to the public by the library management to include health talks, skill acquisition across all the libraries in the state, among others.

To end reading failure and teach the children how to read, the government should show more commitment to drawing a rewarding reading programme for Nigeria.