Literacy As Nigerians joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s International Literacy Day, which is celebrated penultimate week, stakeholders have raised concern over the dwindling reading habit and culture among Nigerians children and students. However, beyond its importance as part of the rights to education, literacy empowers and improves lives by expanding capabilities which in turn reduces poverty. This is as a call has gone to the government at all levels to rise to the challenges of poor reading habits and culture among various segments of the Nigerian population, but particularly students, which would slow down learning rate and standard of education in general.
The theme of this year’s edition of the International Literacy Day is “Promoting Literacy for a World in Transition: Building the Foundation for Sustainable and Peaceful Societies,” which according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), engages the nexus between literacy, sustainable development, inclusive, peaceful, and just societies. The Literacy Day challenges policymakers, educators and other critical stakeholders to evaluate progress made so far and strive for desirable literacy outcomes. However, it is still appalling that 31 per cent of the Nigerian population is illiterate, while according to report by UNICEF states that about 20.3 million Nigerian children are out-ofschool, a development which has put the country in a tight corner given the rising cases of insecurity, especially in most states in the North.
“This is a wake-up call on the national and sub-national governments to close the literacy gap,” UNESCO stated, saying literacy helps to reduce poverty with positive effects on people’s health, economy and sustainable development. Despite the efforts of UNESCO and UNICEF to address the literacy level globally, especially in developing nations, the Federal Government put the national literacy rate at 69 per cent, which smacks a wrong signal for the country. Thus, the 36 states of the federation and FCT Abuja should invigorate mass literacy programmes, there is the urgent need for free, compulsory primary and secondary school education for all children, and free adult education. In fact, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its report indicated that Yobe State had the lowest literacy level of 7.23 per cent in 2017; Zamfara 19.16 per cent; Katsina 10.36 per cent and Sokoto 15.01 per cent, while Southern part of the country were far better with Imo the highest with 96.43 per cent, Lagos 96.3 per cent, Ekiti 95.79 per cent, and Rivers 95.76 per cent.
According to UNICEF, the rate of school drop-out of children of school age from primary school before reaching the Junior Secondary School, who are mainly female children from the Northern states, is alarming. Reading habits While the country is grappling with the problem of the low-level of literacy rate of its population, more concerns have been raised about the poor reading habits of Nigerians, especially among the children and students. Faced with this dilemma, more concerns have been expressed by stakeholders, about the poor reading culture of Nigerian children, which has been said to be alarming, as most children nowadays take to the Internet, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), WhatSapp that have impacted negatively their reading habits and learning as they read mundane things rather than things that will enhance their learning outcomes and education in general. Therefore, they called for concerted efforts on the part of the government, parents and schools to put in place an enabling environment that would tackle this menace in order to change this narrative with a view to raising the bar of reading among the younger ones. Ordinarily, to them, a library is not only to serve as a repository of books, especially in this digital era, but to facilitate knowledge and enhance the teaching-learning process.
However, inadequate functional libraries, as it has taken over 17 years for the country to complete the National Library of Nigeria Headquarters; lack of modern books and poor facilities, have made reading and research somewhat uninteresting to learners and children. Assessing the situation, the stakeholders have further attributed the major causes of poor reading culture among Nigeria children to defective education system, language problem, lack of well-equipped or functional libraries in schools, and low patronage of school libraries, among others. This has greatly influenced their manner of writing, where the Received Pronunciation has been substituted for American English.
For instance, most Nigerians today write favor for favour, center for centre, program for programme; labor as labour; honor as honour, among others, leading to children’s poor performance in examinations. Stakeholders Piqued by the development, a Professor of Transport Planning and Policy at the Lagos State University (LASU), Samuel Odewumi, described poor reading habits of students “as a very worrisome” situation in the nation’s education system. He blamed this phenomenon on the attitude of Nigerians, especially the young ones and students on untoward use of social media, which according to him, has taken over the better part of the people.
“Although it is a global phenomenon except in Asian countries such as China and Japan, where despite the heavy internet and social media presence, the culture of reading is literally enforced,” he stated. Odewumi, the former Dean of School of Transport and Logistics at LASU, however, said that though the literature texts itself is migrating to the digital space, as a change that has come, the impact of which will be very difficult to determine in the long run whether positive or negative. “So, one of the ways of dealing with it is a long-term longitudinal study to monitor the rate of change and the impacts,” the don added. For Nigeria to change this narrative of poor reading habits and culture, and the impact of social media, Odewumi advised that the country should ensure that the teaching learning arrangements should be made to accommodate or indeed be mandatorily programmed to run on both digital and analogue texts. He explained: “Our transition must be sequenced in full recognition of our level of ICT compliance; technologically, socially, infrastructural and the competence of the teachers. While most subject areas are still very much in the hard copy format, the traditional novels, biographies and inspirational texts are taking significantly noticeable back seats.
“However, since no result of empirical research has given a measured change in habits and impact, as a scholar, I am keeping my mind open to what the degree of positivity or negativity of the change. “It must also be accepted that life itself is dynamic and can never be held static by any generation, and hence change can only be managed through human wisdom and scientific evidence.” On the issue of “well-stocked” libraries, which he said is now up for interrogation as a microchip of one terabyte, could hold the entire national library texts, even as he noted that what constitutes a well-stocked library now is a question of where you stand on the digital-analogue divide. “A laptop can hold more texts than most school libraries. Not only is it more compact, it is easier to search and retrieve texts or documents.
So, physical libraries are of necessity yielding to virtual space. They may serve some purposes in transition but eventually libraries as we know it yesterday and today are on the last leg of their relevance. That is the reality,” the don added. Odewumi, who also explained that the number of students found in the libraries is dwindling rapidly, however, pointed out that online libraries are getting more and more subscriptions. “Rarely do anybody consult a physical encyclopedia nowadays whether Britanica or Americana. Many final year students have never consulted any, what for? They have their one and only ubiquitous Google,” he said. On his part, a Professor of African Literature and Poetry, Prof Ademola Dasylva, said that it is neither clear yet, nor is anyone sure, if the current trend of low reading habits of the students and children could be halted. “You see, the internet technology, the Artificial Intelligent (AI), the new media, and so on, are all products of cultural dynamism, and there is no stopping it.,” he noted.
He recalled his school days, saying: “Books were very important in my generation as a secondary school student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We were encouraged to read, at least, two novels per week. By the time we were in Form Three in those days, you would have completed reading all the E. Blyden “Five on Adventure” series. In Form Four, we covered the whole of Hardly Chase and Nick Carter novels or series. “Mind you, the series were outside our recommended textbooks for our subjects. They were to help us cultivate the right reading habits in the library, and outside the library. It was exciting and it became more or less a healthy competition, and we had to share what we read. “This went a long way in boosting our proficiency and general competence in both the written and spoken English language expression.”
But, he expressed consternation that gradually, television arrived and children began to spend more time watching all sorts of things on television, and less time on books. Then, Dasylva noted that computer and android phones, the internet, and cyber space, among others came, and the most recent being the Artificial Intelligence (AI), which have completely revolutionised the book reading tradition or culture of our people and particularly children. Worried by this development, the retired don of the University of Ibadan and former Dean of Faculty of Arts of the institution, insisted that teaching and learning process, and specifically reading would have to be guided and deliberately designed in a way that they will be compliant and internetfriendly by education planners and policymakers. As a way forward, he said publishers must also brace up to settle for e-books for greater visibility and accessibility, while the government on its part must also create an enabling environment and the requisite infrastructure to consciously support the emergent IT-driven teaching and learning culture. Although an expert’s handling of the subject might be completely different, reading and writing are skills developed over time, and they are not ends in themselves, they are means to some ends. He added: “One reads in order to access information, while writing is to communicate information.
You will agree with me that to communicate or pass information and access information can be achieved by some other means. “For instance, information can be communicated via signs, pictures, cartoons, drama or film, among others, so the same information a child can get through reading a book can also be accessed through signs, pictures and cartoons. “On a more serious note, there is an early stage in a child’s life when cartoons prove a better means of effective communication for a child, say between 18 months and four years. And, between five years and eight years, writing and reading skills can be developed.” However, for the child to sustain both reading and writing culture, he said this would require the collaborative efforts of parents and teachers to monitor the child, and ensure that there is hardly any distraction. Towards this end, the retired don stated that this would further require strict measures, such as denying the children access to the television during a specific time allocated to reading assignments alone, especially at home. “Again, parents may, as a policy, allow a child access to the usual cellphone, but should deny the child access to Android phones until the child is 18 years old. If reading is made compulsory in school, and assignments are given and appropriately assessed on a regular basis both in school and at home, a child might sooner internalise the reading habit,” Dasylva insisted. Meanwhile, the National President of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) and Proprietor of Lagooz Schools, Lagos, Otunba Yomi Otubela, said the concern about the reading culture among Nigerian children and students, is a topic that warrants attention and action.
This is even as he pointed out that the incursion of the internet and social media has indeed brought about changes in the way the younger generations consume information and spend their leisure time. Therefore, to properly situate the problem and approach what he described as a crucial issue holistically, he said the impact of technology – the internet and social media – which offers incredible resources for learning and communication can complement traditional reading habits. But, according to him, the goal as teachers, parents and other stakeholders should be to encourage responsible and balanced technology use while fostering a love for reading. Otubela, who traced the poor habits to lack of books and libraries and noted that access to a wide range of reading materials is fundamental to developing a reading culture, said the government, teachers and schools must address the issue of inadequate libraries and the availability of books, especially novels and non-academic literature in schools.
“This may involve collaboration with government bodies, NGOs, and the private sector to improve library infrastructure and book supplies,” he suggested, saying that to promote a reading culture among the younger ones and students, the Proprietor insisted that as educators and parents, there is the responsibility and need to instill and inculcate the value of reading in the children from a young age. This is said the parents, schools and teachers could do this by creating dedicated reading times at home and school for students, organising book clubs, and celebrating literary events in the schools. On digital literacy, Otubela in his exclusive chat with New Telegraph explained that given the digital age we live in, there is the need to integrate digital literacy programmes into the nation’s educational systems, stating that could be done by teaching students how to critically evaluate online content and use digital resources for research and learning. Besides, he stressed the need for partnerships towards improved reading habits of students, saying that collaboration with publishers, authors, and organisations that promote literacy should be fostered as this could help in providing books and reading materials to schools. Similarly, he added that partnerships with local communities could also encourage the establishment of community libraries.
While underscoring the relevance of technology in the teaching-learning process, NAPPS President said that while technology has brought changes to the people’s reading habits, it should not therefore be a barrier to cultivating a strong reading culture. “We need a multi-pronged approach that includes improving access to books and libraries, promoting responsible technology use, and fostering a love for reading through various initiatives. Together, we can ensure that Nigerian children and students continue to appreciate the value of reading in all its forms,” Otubela stated. On his part, an English language and Literature-In-English teacher in Lagos State secondary school, who did not want his name mentioned, also raised the alarm over the poor reading habits of Nigerian children and their obsession for the internet and other social media platforms. The teacher, who told New Telegraph that ideally, the education in the 21st Century should be synonymous with technology (internet), insisted that there is nothing wrong with the internet and technology, but the manner in which they are being deployed by the students. He, however, hinted that ordinarily technology increases communication and collaboration, personalised learnings, enhances curiosity due to engaging context and also transforms classroom experience. The Internet, the teacher stated, has little or no business with students’ poor reading culture because the internet itself should act as a catalyst to reading as listed above, even as he noted that a student’s reading culture or habits primarily depends on the student’s background and environment in which the student grows up and finances. “The quest to get rich quickly or become a star overnight made students addicted to the internet for dubious reasons and not for its uses for academic purposes,” the teacher explained.