That reading, whether for pleasure or for academic purpose, is an essential habit that forms the bedrock of greatness in everyone, regardless of age, gender or status is hardly disputed. However, imbibing it has not always been as widespread as accepting its importance.
The practice, which was common among Nigerian students, youths and even adults in the past, is gradually being eroded.
Some education stakeholders have attributed the drop in reading culture in Nigeria to the lack of adequate awareness on it importance, inadequate library facilities, poor access to books and other reading materials, among other factors.
However, a major phenomenon that has been linked to dwindling reading culture is low level of computer literacy among citizens. Added to this are the distractive and wrong application of information and communication technology device and the high cost of books.
As good as ICT is, many observers say it has also cast some measure of negative effects on Nigerians, especially on their reading habits. This is also, as they say internet obsession has caused many kids to waste valuable times surfing diverse anti-moral and socially inclined websites.
Also, the introduction of the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) in Nigeria has been viewed as one progress that has come with certain negatives tendencies that are detrimental to the culture of reading in the country.
Executive Director, Institute of Media and Society, Mr. Akin Akingbulu, describes reading in two dimensions.
To one end, he says reading is for self development, and to the other he thinks of it as a means to passing examinations.
Speaking on computer literacy and its relevance to reading to Nigerians, Adegbulu said the level of computer literacy in the country is still very low while access to the internet is still poor.
This he stressed, hinders people’s access to online reading resources such as e-books.
He said another factor that contributes to poor reading culture is the prices of books which are on the high side.
“In our days, you could pick a Chinua Achebe’s or Wole Soyinka’s book for just N150 if you wanted a novel to read. But now the prices have gone up. You get to a book store and you are asked to pay N700 or N800 for a book. So the affordability becomes an issue to many children who would have wanted to read,” he said.
He added that the Nigerian environment has also contributed to the reduction in reading culture among youths. He noted that the young generation sees the leaders pocketing so much money and breeds the feeling that there is always a short cut to making money.
“The young generation sees the leaders pocketing so much money and so the nurse the feeling that I do not really have to give myself any drudgery; let me just look at a short cut to make money an feel good,” he added.
College Liberian of Osun State College of Education, Ilesha, Mrs. Bolanle Malomo, speaking during a lecture in Lagos said little attention has been paid to the need to improve reading habits in Nigeria.
She said her experience as a professional librarian shows that reading culture among all strata of the Nigeria populace is dwindling giving grave concerns to Liberians.
She added that this should be of concern to everyone including parents, government, teachers, authors, publishers and educational managers.
Speaking further she said that it is in attempt to highlight the concern for decline in reading habit that the President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, launched the ‘bring back the book’ campaign 2011. The objective of the campaign according to her, was to re-awaken Nigerians on the importance of reading.
Malomo further said the general perception is that reading is meant for academic or school work alone, adding that reading for other purposes such as for pleasure, fun and recreation, is considered by some people as not quite essential.
She noted that libraries are essential instruments for promoting reading culture as they serve as recreational centres and provide creative development to the children and local young adults by providing recreational reading books for their personality development and spiritual growth in their leisure time.
She further said most of public and private primary and secondary schools in the country do not have structures designated as school libraries since library development has taken a back stage or not even visible on their priority list.
In his view, the principal of Kings’ College, Lagos, Dele Olateju, said dwindling in the reading culture has been a challenge that that is why stakeholders have been crying that the level of functional literacy is reducing and is making attempt to bring back the culture of reading.
According to him; “what we do here in Kings’ College is that, for every holiday that a student goes, he goes with a novel, when he comes back, a welcome test is given; it is not a theoretical one. It is like fill-in the gap to cover all the content of the novel.
He further said the school discovered that the decline is not limited to English language, but also with indigenous languages.
“The Igbo cannot speak Igbo; the Yoruba cannot even communicate in Yoruba. We are now going back to the time of reading Yoruba novels and we have started introducing them to those things we learnt when we are in school like the Yoruba poems and the likes. We are reintroducing them as part of the supplementary reading for students in Kings College so that they would be able to embrace hard work and core values of life,” he said.
Commenting on the effect of technology on learning in Nigeria, Olateju said the most of the children are good in watching television and playing with computer with little time for reading.
On how to pop up the reading culture again, Malomo said there must be inclusion of library education in the curriculum of studies in primary and secondary education by the nation’s educational planners, stressing that if library education is given formal recognition in the school curricula, library education classes would provide platforms to educate and teach students on the general concept of reading.
Furthermore, she noted that Nigerians need to be strongly educated on the importance of reading, noting that parents in particular have a very good role to play in teaching their children how to read.
“To help children learn to read as well as read to learn, it is better to introduce them to reading right from the homes in their early years,” she said.
“To channel children’s interest towards reading, parents should ensure that their children observe them while they are reading, keep reading materials in the house, take children along to public libraries, buy books as birthday gifts or reward for good performance,”
She added that there is need for a paradigm shift in Nigerian’s poor book buying habit to a good book-buying habit that private and home libraries must be established by parents in their house to stimulate reading.
She added that at the primary and secondary educational levels, teachers should make it a point of duty to encourage pupils to imbibe the culture of reading through inauguration of reading clubs as well as introduction of activities like reading competitions, library or reading day.
She therefore called on all stakeholders to come together and synergise to promote reading, adding that librarians need to work more on their advocacy and sensitisation strategies in order to save the nation from the trend of decline in reading culture.
Malomo also said government should support indigenous publishers and authors to ensure effective performance of their roles, stressing that it would encourage local publications or production of books and other reading items thereby reducing the high prices tags on books.
She further called on philanthropists, corporate organisations, social clubs, multinational corporations, non government organisations and development partners to assist by donating books to public and school libraries towards encouraging reading.
According to Akingbulu, government should find a way of encouraging and promoting development of publishing books at reduced prices to make them affordable for people to buy and read.
He also said educational institutions should take decisions and make specific policies to engage students to read.