I grew up under the tutelage of a very firm and well-organized father. He was so regimented that you dare not misbehave in his presence. No matter how cheery, breezy and fun-loving he was, his belief was, everything should be done properly and done right. That was the slogan of my late father. In one spell moment, he displays the inflexibility part of him. In another, everyone is on the floor, laughing their hearts out. His style of leadership was quite unpredictable.
As a teenager, one of the things I never liked about my late father was the ‘punishment’ of visiting the Ghana Library Board (Accra) to read on weekends, especially on Saturday mornings. Interestingly, after reading, you had a task of summarizing every information gathered to his hearing…hmmm. You dare not manoeuvre to create your own story as he was skillful in asking questions relating to every chapter of a book. This was a self-taught man whose room was full of variety of books and newspapers. Indeed, he was a walking encyclopedia, as his knowledge base was crammed to the brim.
Growing up, the pressure from my father to visit the library especially when school was on recess, made me develop the habit of reading and writing. In fact, most of my secondary school and university days were focused on reading on issues or disciplines outside my scope of study.
To a larger extent, I believe that our system of education should be encouraging students to go beyond sheer classroom work and stretching to gather healthy information in order to be erudite individuals, fit to be an indispensable device to his immediate environment. Until we appreciate the value of didactic reading, our analyses of incisive issues, and the managing of our lives will be in total shambles. Like a prescribed medication, reading is a bitter pill to swallow by a greater number of people, even among the elites in our society.
According to Kamalova et al (2016), they assert that, ‘the decline of reading is a global phenomenon.’ In his paper, Cultivating The Culture Of Reading: An Imperative For Nation-Building, Mahala (2011) upholds that, ‘the trend of globalization of media and the rapid development of the entertainment industry have displaced reading and thus have been instituted as a vital source of information and a pleasant and prestigious form of leisure.’ Several scholarly works have been done in countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya among other countries, all in identifying the causes of poor reading culture, and measures to be put in place in addressing this situation. The poor reading culture is what I call, a bitter pill for most people to swallow, especially when ignorance of self-identity and the value of pertinent information is of no crux to them.
It is throbbing to note that, statistically, there are 814 million illiterates in the world, with the huge percentage coming from the developing countries. This assessment was done by Bosede Sotiloye and Helen Bobunde in 2018. Earlier, there have been similar research works done by other academics on the influence of literacy, education, and publishing on reading in Africa and the world at large, all pointing to the poor culture of reading, resulting in this abysmal number of nonreaders in our society. A literate society is not only based on formal education. It can also be by self-education or self-tuition. The desire to know the right information must be everyone’s wish. Our dislike for reading makes an unassuming or self-effacing word looks quite new and captivating in the ears of people. In his article, Poor Reading Culture, which was captured on GhanaWeb on Wednesday, March, 17, 2012, Dr. Kwesi Atta Sakyi observed that:
“It is a pity and a national embarrassment that the mere mention of the word, gargantuan, sent the whole of Ghana agog, with many tongues wagging, as if some unprintable or unmentionable taboo word has been uttered. I wondered then that what was so special about such a bland and banal word. He continued to say that, ‘I asked myself reflectively, do Ghanaians read at all these days?’ What is this hullaballoo, kerfuffle and media excitation about a commonplace word? I thought to myself that perhaps the circumstances surrounding the application of the word made it the more intriguing.
I also wondered why many Ghanaians were caught flat-footed or taken aback or flabbergasted, stupefied or befuddled by an ordinary word.” To him, his conclusion was the poor culture of reading which has sunk to its doldrums or abysmal low point.
Such an observation is a clear indication of the dwindling effect of poor reading culture in our country, Ghana. This has therefore manifested itself in the academic performance of our students across the nation. Today, most students prefer cooked answers to write an examination to sitting down to read on their own. Reading to most students of today, is a bitter pill to gulp.
Today’s students do less individual analytical reading, hence, they cannot fully interpret issues relating to examination practices. If the foundation of work done in the classroom is porous, the outcome will be like uncontrolled baboons swinging on the twigs of a tree having a very feeble stem.
In general, I know how hardworking some instructors are in the delivering of relevant information. However, others in some quarters are producing false equilibriums with their work output, thereby making students inactive as they are promised fabricated information to take an examination. In fact, most students do not know what they want to achieve, so any crooked person can easily mislead them in taking unapprised decisions. These selfish, duplicitous and dishonest instructors, in their bid of supplying answers to students in the examination hall, are not only teaching them to steal but also, invariably opening their doors for annihilation.
Again, this deceitful act suggests that there is no need to read wide to acquire information in becoming a well-informed, up-to-date, or knowledgeable person. We have therefore destroyed our society and given it to malicious persons who are not interested in the well-being of our future leaders. We are so grade-conscious that, most students of today have no time to sit and read. Once you are promised an easy way to pass an examination, from a Machiavellian source, usually in a disguised form, why waste time reading to improve on your worth? This is so sad. If this is the norm in some schools, why should credible instructors waste their time, energy, and mental resources going to the classroom to religiously teach or encourage students to read wide?
Growing up, my late father used to tell to us (his children), how people were abreast with day-to-day information. He said, ‘In the late 1960s, and 70s, most Ghanaians enjoyed reading newspapers and novels as the source came from authentic and well-researched writers. But, from the 1980s, the varying political and economic landscape, changed the priority of the country as a huge number of the country’s educators went to seek greener pastures elsewhere. In other words, the proclivity for reading and writing waned or declined.’ In addition, the desire for quick money through foul means makes the younger generation never pay attention to reading.
They prefer to waste more time on their smart phones looking for frivolous information to satisfy their self-inflated ego. To most young people I have personally interviewed, they say that, ‘it is much easier to pick up a phone to surf on the internet for immaterial stuffs than a healthy book to read these days.’ Even among most adults, hooking onto WhatsApp platforms, Facebook and other social media handles for over four hours, gleaning destructive comments and viewing photos of so-called celebrities in order to gossip makes me wonder, the kind of generation we find ourselves in today. We live in a generation of misplaced priorities. Dr. Kwesi Atta Sakyi in his article, Poor Reading Culture affirms that:
“Everybody is hell-bent on either gaining access to the corridors of power or using every means possible to amass wealth. Our social priorities have been set with education and self-development below the pile. Everybody wants shortcuts to wealth or opulence. There is no dilettante or amateur reader who is reading for fun. Cocaine dealers, portfolio-carrying contractors and bribe-seeking civil servants and politicians, have debased education in our country by their gargantuan malfeasance, diverting critical resources into their personal accounts.
Ghana has sunk to the point whereby it is not what you know that matters but rather, who you know. People use fair or foul means to acquire tertiary education and then use their social networks to gain fast-track upward social mobility. Scholarship in education, in some instances, has been thrown to the dogs. Second, the proliferation of media houses has not helped matters. Some new-fangled media upstarts engage in huge lies on air and in print, peddling insults and obscene professional misbehaviour, which to say the least, is infra dig.
Who will read newspapers or magazines written by these scum of media practitioners? Hence, the waning reading culture in Ghana. Third, many Ghanaians lack knowledge of time management. We fail to utilize the chinks or breaks we get at work or at home to read something new. We fail to raise the bar or set high self-development goals. This is so because after having completed tertiary education, we think we are in a comfort zone, career-wise or marriage-wise.”
Sometimes, I wonder why someone can be on the plane from Kotoka International Airport, (Accra) to John F. Kennedy Airport (New York City), without flipping through a few pages of a book. In essence over eight (8) hours of precious time is gone with entertainment, either on the smart phone or senseless talking, taking over a traveller’s topmost priority. Do you want to know more? You will also be surprised to see an average Ghanaian in a commercial vehicle from say, Kumasi to Accra, Takoradi to Obuasi, or any part of Ghana enjoying rib-tickling movies for over five (5) hours without learning any good lesson from some of these movies. What a waste of time! What a waste of precious life! My point is not to demean a healthy comedy for mental respite but my emphasis is on the length of time wasted on matters of no relevance. Others also prefer to hang on the phone for hours, talking about fruitless things.
Sometime ago, I made a decision not to allow anyone waste my time, or take away my mental strength through unwarranted phone calls or video calls. My time is focused on my assignment in enriching my mind with healthy information through educational reading in order to be a blessing to the generation in which I serve. In other words, my engagement with purpose-driven people is about hale and hearty conversation that enhances human development. That is the path every wise person ought to walk on. Today, make a conscious decision to make your life better.
In a world which is befuddled with much talking with no facts and figures and terrible near collapse of most of our state institutions, the question we should ask is, what next for the succeeding generation to swallow this bitter reading pill? Here are a few suggestions:
- The government must strongly partner with credible stakeholders
There should be a proper cohesive strategy to harmonize and coordinate all activities towards encouraging the culture of reading from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information and other stronger educational bodies in this country.
Ghana is blessed to have several stakeholders like the Ghana National Book Development (GNBD) among others to spearhead this great move of inculcating the habit of reading in the Ghanaian child. The GNBD which operates under the Ghana Education Service has a responsibility to plan, coordinate and manage the various activities of all groups or individuals that are concerned with book development. Furthermore, it has the responsibility to carry out comprehensive study and research programmes on all challenges relevant for the development of the book industry and for the provision of an effective service to the reading public.
Our nation is blessed to have so many agencies like the Ghana Library Association, Ghana Federation of Master Printers, Ghana Booksellers’ Associations, Ghana Book Writers Association among others. But the question is, how resourceful are all these agencies, charged with helping our populace develop the culture of reading? As a country, we must be bold enough to spend money in the establishment of consolidated reading programmes. Establishing libraires and equipping them with the requisite books is one of the key ways of improving the culture of reading.
Other countries in Africa have done it and it is working for them. Malawi, for example, through their Ministry of Education rolled out a national reading programme which aimed at improving literacy levels and encouraging the philosophy or culture of reading. According to www.mbc.mw/govt-rolls-out-nationalreadingculture, this special reading programme was fully funded by the USAID and DFID with an amount of 70 million USD and 6.8 million USD respectively. Ghana has had similar programmes but the question is, has it been sustainable? Various stakeholders must partner with the government in reinforcing our desire to read, more especially among young people.
The home as an agency of socialization plays an important role in the reformation of the mind of the child. If parents do not encourage their children to read wide at an early age, then, the desire to read at an older age may entirely be punctuated with intellectual challenges. The mind of every child is like a garden. If not well-cultivated with the right information, these children will look for junk information on the internet which may not be too healthy for their social and mental development. The time to start encouraging your children to read is now.
According to Rosenberg (2003), reading should be made pleasurable from an early age. Imagine a parent who makes time to buy healthy story books for their children. At the age of 12, the child would have accumulated enough vocabularies for self-development. If you do not encourage children to read but expose them to unnecessary Television programmes, you can imagine the children you shall be raising in the next few years. Your guess may be as clear as mine: they may automatically become a social miscreant or a thorn in your flesh. On the other hand, when children are well-read, they excel in school and as they mature in age, they make informed choices, even in the exercising of their political rights in a democratic society.
It is shameful to see most people casting their vote, solely on political affiliation but have no idea about that supposed political party’s ideologies and policies they intend to bring on board in making lives better. How do you cast your vote? Are you influenced by money, or you are influenced by good policies which when implemented can make lives better? Identifying the two comes by incisive or keen reading. When a community is full of enlightened or open-minded people who believe in reading, you can imagine the state of their country. In 2021, the reading and writing rate for people aged 15 years and above in Singapore stood at 97.6%? Now, it is 97.13%.
What about Finland? It has a literacy rate of 100%. This is according to www.macrotrends.net. Apart from governmental intervention and other societal inputs, parental influence contributes to the high reading skill in Finland. Though Ghana has a literacy rate of 79.04%, how many do continuous reading? Literacy theory suggests that reading must be a continuous or ongoing process and parents have a huge influence on their children’s reading culture. Motivation and development should come from parents and guardians at an early stage through oral language, written language and insightful books.
Reading should be fully reinforced at the basic schools. Schools should have good constructed libraries equipped with variety of books. There should be at most, an hour of reading session on the school’s Time Table where students must be encouraged to read on any subject matter of their choice. Reading must be seen as a self-indulgent relaxation and not necessarily an aptitude test.
Organization of essay competitions and quizzes in schools can serve as a motivation specially to deserving students. Since reading is a skill, teachers must teach students the requisite skill. Whenever students’ reading skills are developed, they will automatically fall in love with insightful reading.
People must know that until they read wide, their value cannot be appreciated in this knowledge-based economy. In other words, the more you know, the better life becomes. In effect, the more you know, the more you have the superiority to lead or serve people better. Start with a book per month and by the close of the year, you would have read twelve books. With time, you can adjust your plan to two books per month. After a year, you would have read, twenty-four books. This is achievable! With time, you can still adjust your reading plan to three books in a month depending on the number of pages. Do you know that there are several benefits of reading? Yes! Reading exposes one’s mind to a new world of possibilities. It makes the mind travel to places, naturally you might not have been there. Reading makes a person intelligent and creative. Reading makes a person wiser as information gathered from active reading, when well-executed, makes a person extremely unique.
Great leaders of our time are avid readers. They read on issues stressing on leadership, management, emotional intelligence, motivation, national and international politics among others. Be abreast with issues on current affairs. Instead of always asking people about the state of affairs, develop the habit of personally accessing current information on the Internet. Your life can only be better if you make ample time to read. Of course, reading on healthy materials that improve on our eccentricity or unconventionality. Remember, the world is not waiting for any lazy person. The world is looking for wise and intelligent people who are well-vexed in matters of relevance.
The sickening level of vocabularies or expressions, more especially on social media is an indicator that, the reading culture in our society is quite below the bar. This has gone a long way to affect academic performance, common expressions in the English Language and most importantly, the thinking abilities of people (particularly young people) on whose shoulders, the future development rests. With the availability of information on social media, one would think that people will make time to read. Notwithstanding, most people prefer to waste time on inappropriate information to searching for the right information. Until we define the wedges of reading and reinforce the superiority of reading over illiteracy, we shall continue to grope in the darkness of no return. The time has come for a major paradigm shift. Read…
The writer is an Academic, Visiting Lecturer, Leadership Consultant and a Reverend Minister with the WordSprings City Church, Kumasi-Ghana.
Email: [email protected]
Grab copies of the writer’s books from Kingdom Bookshop, KNUST, Kumasi and in Accra, contact: Mrs. Justina Asempa (Phoenix Insurance, Ringway Estates, Osu) on 0244 20 88 43 and Pastor Stephen Gyamfi (ICGC, Asylum Down, 054 679 7323). In Obuasi, contact: Sammy on 024 77 3 78 11.