According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Reading is the activity of skill of understanding written words. One major avenue for acquiring information is reading and reading is the foundation upon which other academic skills are built (Ogbonna & Obiozor). We can define reading culture as the continuous and perpetual reading of books and information materials. We can also say it is the environment where reading is treasured and actively encouraged. Reading informs not only the reader but also boosts human potentials, and is the key to lifelong learning.
Reading culture is an integrated pattern of reading behaviors, practices, beliefs, perceptions, and knowledge (Behrman (2004), Magara, and Batambuze (2205, quoted by Ruterana, 2012, p. 18). They refer to the reading culture in their study on ways of creating the reading culture as, a culture where reading is part of the people’s living and constitutes a habit that is shared by members of the society. Therefore, reading, whether for academic or for pleasure, is perceived to be the key to lifelong learning. The principal aim of cultivating and promoting a reading culture is to make reading a habit that is appreciated and loved by citizens. To make it so that reading should be not only when one would sit for exams, but to read widely, for leisure and as a habit. The benefits of reading widely, outside the normal school curriculum, helps one not only to grow intellectually, but also enable one to develop the skills of locating, selecting, organizing, manipulating, evaluating, and processing information. Studies have shown that there is an almost interdependent relationship between reading, learning, and intelligence.
READING CULTURE IN NIGERIA TODAY
The World Culture Score Index rated Nigeria as one country with the lowest reading culture in the world. It is common knowledge that a country that wants to develop must invest in the educational sector. The growth of any society is the function of the extent to which that society is involved in reading. The acquisition of effective reading skills has a direct effect on the human capital of that country. The quality of every country’s human capital lies in the reading culture of that country. We can attribute the difference in level of growth of the developed countries and the developing countries to their literacy level. Nigeria would grow and be a better country if the reading culture of the country can be boosted.
Sadly, there was a time in history when Nigeria was rich in literacy and boasted of talented authors and publishers. Nigeria could raise its shoulder in the world of literature back then.
I remember while growing up on the streets of Nigeria; one became popular by the number of books one had read. We saved up our lunch money to buy books so that we could exchange them with our friends. We sit down to talk about books as if they were movies.
Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon, wrote in his biographical book Gifted Hands on how he was doing poorly in school and his mother decided to put a stop to it. What she did was made him and his brother– Curtis– to read books and write reports of what they had read. Ben Carson narrated how he and his brother read and learned so much from world books. Within one year, Ben Carson catapulted from the bottom of his class to the top. It was the reading that Ben’s mother inculcated in him that transformed him and made him one of the best neurosurgeons in the world.
CHALLENGES TO READING CULTURE IN NIGERIA
There so many reasons that caused the decline of reading culture in Nigeria today. I have outlined some reasons below:
Government Negligence: The government of Nigeria has so far exhibited a dispassionate attitude towards the reading culture of citizens. The government has so far done nothing to promote and encourage reading culture, most especially in school children. Sadly, there are no policies in the education system of Nigeria that promote the reading culture. It is alarming to note that some schools do not have a library and adequate reading materials. How do such schools motivate the students to read? There are very few public libraries where people can comfortably read books.
Modern Technology: A large percentage of the youths are obsessed with social media. Most of them would rather spend many hours on social media, rather than visiting sites that are educating. Of course, modern technology can be used to our advantage if we surf sites that are educating and get materials online that can improve our lives.
Harsh Economic Environment: It is just a few people that are living above the poverty line in Nigeria. They can barely afford food to eat, and so buying books is out of the question. The hike in prices of goods and services has also affected the prices of books. Books are gradually becoming too expensive for the average person to afford. The price of publishing a book has become
Lack of Parental Encouragement: Most children had their first contact with books when they started school. Reading culture is something that grows with the child when it is inculcated early. The earlier a child is exposed to books, the better. Parents should invest in the buying of books and not just that, but try to encourage their children to read.
WAYS OF IMPROVING OUR READING CULTURE
The government should give education priority. The government should deliberately improve the education sector of the country by channeling sizeable resources into developing that sector. This will foster learning and revive the reading culture in the country. We will have quality human resources who will build the country.
Government should also put policies that will make continuous provision and access to books for the citizens. Make reading a pleasurable experience and make schools have reading periods on their timetables. Reading competitions should also be organized where winners should be rewarded.
Building libraries and reading parks: Government and wealthy individuals should build well-stocked libraries where people can get books on every topic. We should also build parks where people can sit and read. Those libraries and parks should be user and reader-friendly to encourage people.
Parents should teach their children: Parents should be encouraged to teach their children to read from a tender age. Reading is a discipline that when inculcated early, it’s like engraving on a stone where time and season cannot erase it.
The need for our reading culture to be revived cannot be overemphasized. For us to achieve the desired growth in Nigeria, and to have the future we have always dreamed of, we need to read. Reading not just to sit for an examination, but for us to grow intellectually as a reading nation is an informed nation. There is this saying that readers are leaders. Fortunately, with modern technology, one can sit and read educational materials with the same data that one uses to visit trivial sites on the internet.
The world of books is an exciting adventure. One can only have a taste of the wonders of reading when one engages in the exercise. I have been privileged to travel around the world and had a taste of many intercontinental dishes from the comfort of my home through books.
Reading culture can be reawakened in Nigeria as all hope is not lost. We – the government and individuals – need to be deliberate about it and invest time and resources into making it achievable.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org