National Librarian: Policy on reading not obeyed
Lagos: We’ll bridge reading gap among pupils
The nation’s reading culture is in jeopardy given the steady decline of the reading habit of Nigerians, especially among the younger generation. REGINA OTOKPA looks at its implications and efforts to change the narrative
Despite several millions of naira invested, as well as various efforts and programmes initiated at the federal and state levels by successive governments and private organisations over the years to enhance the reading culture of the country, the nation’s reading culture is in jeopardy.
The World Culture Score Index in its recently released statistics, ranked Nigeria as one of the lowest reading culture countries of the world. In the ranking by the agency, only two African countries were listed among countries that are reading, and these countries are South Africa and Egypt; but Nigeria was not listed among the countries despite its huge population.
But, determined to ensure that the people effectively cultivate lifelong reading culture, there had been efforts by the Federal Government through the National Library of Nigeria (NLN) such as the Readership Promotion Campaign (RPC) which is appropriate and relevant to the quest to lift reading culture in the Nigerian society.
Under the re-launched National Library of Nigeria’s (NLN) Readership Promotion Campaign, which is one of the several efforts made by the government to raise the bar and boost reading culture of the country, the Federal Government was said to have invested N100 million to boost the campaign.
Other reading campaign programmes initiated and launched in the country at one time or the other by various arms of governments, non-governmental organisations and international bodies over the years towards inculcating reading habit and establishing future reading culture among the Nigerians, include the adult education and literacy which dates back to 1930s; the first national mass literacy programme launched in 1982 and re-launched in 1992; the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education; the National Library of Nigeria Readership Campaign between 1981 and 1985, which included a 15-state National Reading Week culminating in a National Seminar on Reading in Nigeria, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) Young Readers’ Club (YRC) in every state, which was launched in 20 states of the federation but failed to yield the needed results.
Many other initiatives had also failed to improve reading culture in the country due largely to the dearth of reading materials, absence of well-designed activities, trained staff and effective monitoring and evaluation.
Reacting to the recent ranking, the National Librarian and Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), Prof. Lenrie Aina expressed worry that Nigeria was rated as one of the lowest reading cultures in the world.
Given the dismal report, stakeholders, especially scholars and experts have also expressed dismay over what they described as poor reading habit and use of social media among Nigerians, especially the younger generation.
As part of moves to tackle poor reading habits among Nigerians, Aina recalled that this prompted the National Library to encourage Nigerians to read, even as he added that the organisation had to embark on a reading campaign in primary and secondary schools across the country, as well as approaching nursing mothers and hospitals to read to their children.
According to Aina, in the last three years, the Library had been very active because of the World Culture Statistics appraisal of arts of reading all over the world, and which report had propelled the NLN to intensify reading campaigns across the country.
Also, the Lagos State Government through the Office of Education Quality Assurance designed a reading initiative, tagged: “Read-Aloud, Lagos,” geared to create and stimulate the interest of school children in reading books.
The initiative was said to have been introduced to encourage all children, within the primary school age bracket in the state to imbibe the culture of reading, as well as increase their knowledge and improve their comprehension.
The programme, according to the department, was initiated to bridge the identified reading gap among school pupils, revealing that the information available to the Office shows that the time currently allocated to reading, during and after school hours, was inadequate.
Under the programme, the state maintained that the reading ability of children would greatly improve if they have role models to look up to since children should have role models that will guide them on how to pronounce words, read books and think critically.
According to findings, Nigeria’s poor reading culture, which cuts across every sphere of the society and the various levels of the education system, is worst among primary, secondary school and tertiary students, who have imbibed a habit of reading just for examinations.
Meanwhile, the poor reading culture in the country has been attributed to a defective education system, dearth of functional or well-equipped public or private libraries, low patronage of school libraries and the problem of reading language.
Besides, poor availability of suitable reading materials, absence of well-designed and coordinated reading activities, insufficient trained staff to prosecute reading culture in schools and ineffective monitoring and evaluation of readership promotion programmes, have gradually reduced Nigeria’s readership development to lower ebb.
Piqued by this report, Aina further recalled that there was a policy on education as far back as 1977, which mandated all primary and secondary schools in the country to have a functional library either private or public, and to be manned by a qualified librarian.
“But that policy has not been obeyed; there are many schools in Nigeria today without a library yet the policy states that every school must have a library,” he lamented.
According to stakeholders, it is expected that the global digital revolution would champion a rebirth of reading and book readership through e-books, but the reverse was the case,
as the influence of new technology altered the disposition towards reading, as people spend long hours on social media platforms chatting, watching videos and reality shows.
Apart from the effects of social media, the untold socio-economic hardship, poverty, corruption, ineptitude towards reading, and a decline in the standard of education have left unpleasant footprints on reading culture.
It is also worrisome that for people to spend money acquiring books or going to the library to read a book or two, they are more engrossed with how to meet their daily needs in order to survive.
A student of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Josiah Anumbor, told New Telegraph that books are pretty expensive, especially the foreign books.
Anumbor, who stated that reading of books no longer appealing to the current generation, added that times had changed, and that there is high enrolment in schools either primary or secondary schools, while few schools that have libraries have limited space to accommodate the students. He also blamed the poor reading culture on parents, who no longer monitor the activities of their children, especially reading of books.
Anumbor added: “We have found ourselves in a situation where even a seven-year-old child has a smart mobile phone and all they do is surf the internet, chat, download music and videos or even engage in other destructive activities.
“Another key issue affecting our readership culture in Nigeria is examination malpractice, bribing of lecturers and employment of unqualified teachers, who lack the required knowledge and teaching methodology to impact quality teaching and learning skills on students.”
But to remedy the situation, some experts and stakeholders insisted on the importance of activating good reading culture among the children right from the womb. Still in efforts to redress the situation, Aina noted that the National Library was already taking some proactive steps to remedy the condition, saying: “Our literacy level is relatively high, but being literate is not enough.
You must read from cradle to grave. But most Nigerians only read to pass examinations and to attend interviews. Reading should be part of our culture so we can know what goes on.”
He added: “The World Culture Statistics compiles the number of hours per week a nation used for reading and they were able to compile about 50 countries and Nigeria was not listed. Only two countries in Africa; South Africa and Egypt were listed.
“That supported us to say that we should bring reading culture to the front burner which we have been doing in the last four years by going round the entire country with our campaign.
“At first, our target was just the primary and secondary students, but as time went by, we felt we needed to extend it to pregnant mothers because research has shown that reading starts from the womb and we went round hospitals across the country.
“We also decided to extend the reading campaign to the vulnerable people and we visited all 36 states Correctional Centres. We went to see how the inmates can imbibe the culture of reading to better their lives; we went to motor parks to talk to drivers, conductors and passengers.
“We are going to increase more reading outlets. In this year alone we donated books over 50,000 to one prison in each of the 36 states and we have promised that by next year, we are going to increase it to 100,000 books in each centre.
“We are trying to increase the tempo, involve more secondary schools and primary schools and the government is giving us a lot of money to do all these and clearly we cannot say funding is a problem.”
Aina further noted: “We have brought the consciousness back to Nigerians and we do it every year, but we could not go to these places physically this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We had to use electronic media, especially television stations by inviting personalities to talk to Nigerians on the importance of reading. We started few weeks back and we have so far featured personalities such as Prof. Wole Soyinka and Anikulakpo and we have also featured Eugenia Abu, a former television broadcaster.
“The government is equally interested in ensuring that Nigerians read because when you have a society where people read, it is easier to rule them rather than spreading rumour from one place to the other. We are slow given our poor ranking in reading all over the world, but in the next one or two years we will carry out a survey to see how far we have made an impact on reading.”
Despite the ranking, Aina pointed out that reading during the COVID-19 lockdown received a boost given the long duration when people were forced to remain in doors to keep safe from the virus.
“Contrary to insinuations that COVID-19 pandemic impacted negatively on reading, we felt it should be positively looked at from the point of the time we were restricted from going out for nearly six months. In fact, interaction with some of my colleagues showed that many people used the time to read,” he said.
Following the nation’s poor rating, the federal and state governments have been condemned for paying little or no attention to providing adequate space and comfortable reading spaces, as well as libraries to help people engage in reading activities.
Stakeholders also blamed the people’s poor reading habit to some challenges inhibiting reading culture in the country, which include lack of current books, dilapidated library buildings and infrastructure, lack of enabling and quiet environment for reading, lack of electricity supply and well-mannered library officials, among others.
Aina, who noted that the National Library prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic took steps to address these challenges in all its branches located across 30 states of the federation, also added that further steps were taken to engage state governments to chart a new course.
He said: “We involved the state governments because they are in a better position to promote reading culture. We have branches in 30 states so with that it is easier for us to mobilise the various states and we are always utilising the state library boards and governors to ensure we reach as many people as possible.”
On the volumes of books in the various libraries, Aina said that as a transient agency, the NLN headquarters buys books and deploys them to the branches. Towards this end, he pointed out that the National Library has over one million books in its branches as the books are taken to the states.
“We try to buy new books every year and for each book we buy, we ensure one of the books goes to each of the 30 branches. Hopefully by next year we want to increase them.
We have between one to two million books with between 200,000 and 300,000 books per branch and we have old documents that are very valuable and existed before independence, as well as gazettes, and rich collections,” he added.
Underscoring the significance of digital revolution in the development of a country and its heavy footprints in Nigeria, the National library, Aina noted was set to digitise its operations by 2021, as it has begun the processes to convert all its physical publications into digital/online formats, known as virtual libraries.
The Librarian added: “We have bought all the machines, we have set up a committee; we are working hard on it. We are starting with government documents; in the next one or two months, you will be able to access government documents from anywhere in the world through our website.
“We have bought powerful scanner machines and we are already working on the virtual library. People no longer need to travel long distances once all our documents including gazettes are converted since they can be accessed from anywhere in the world.”
To further boost reading culture among students, the national library has commissioned people to take a survey nationwide to determine the number of primary and secondary schools both public and private per state, and how many have functional library facilities.
The data generated in the next three months is expected to be released to the Federal Government in order to take its position, aligning with the 1977 policy on education to ensure that all schools in the country have functional libraries in the next five years.