It was the best of days. By the stroke of 5 p.m. WAT, the scheduled time, several participants were already in the Zoom anteroom, patiently waiting for admittance. This was a dialogue that had sparked considerable interest. There was anticipation. Friends had told their friends. And by the time the moderator, Babatunde Oladele, commenced the meeting, an eager group was raring to go.
“As someone who works in a foundation where the primary focus is education, and also as a mother with young children, it’s a very important topic [for me],” said Omatseye Oti, joining in from Lagos, Nigeria.
The Reading Culture Dialogue: A Panel Discussion on the Promotion of Reading Culture in Nigeria, held on Saturday, 26 November 2022, was the first of a series planned by the Literary Renaissance Foundation (LRF) to hold on a quarterly basis. Geared towards a renaissance of the dying reading culture in Nigeria, the event was in fact one of a list of programmes that the LRF have outlined towards this goal.
The conversation centred on the improvement of reading in the Nigerian society, examined from three possible aspects: the home, schools and the workplace. The LRF had previously noted specific actions that could be taken in these contexts to promote reading consciousness among Nigerians, as well as the potential drawbacks for each of those action points. The participants, comprising students and working-class Nigerians from different parts of the country, as well as some currently based abroad, were invited to review these action points as well as suggest new ones.
A revival of the reading culture from the home was seen as feasible with the inclusion of fun, family group activities, and parental guidance. “Parents should be encouraged to read in front of the children,” said Aisha Lamidi, student. “They’ll gradually get built into reading the books too from seeing what their parents are doing.”
Opeyemi Kareem suggested that parents could take their families outside the house to explore reading outside the house, the way they would normally go to parks or restaurants. The strongest drawback to these points regarding the parents was that it would be difficult for illiterate parents, who comprise a significant number of the Nigerian population, to infuse a reading habit in their children.
“The literacy level is below 40 per cent today,” says Edi Lawani, writer and educator. “The chances that literate parents would have children who cannot read or write are very slim, whereas parents who have children in traffic begging alms cannot read. So this question of taking them to libraries, where does it come from?”
Discussing reading in the school context, the contributors suggested that academics in higher institutions should get students to do independent research rather than spoon-feeding them. Many also submitted the view that reading could be incorporated into the school curriculum, with an hour or two set apart each day to creatively drill children in reading.
It was also suggested that there is a need to refocus the school curriculum, with the current model featuring “too much emphasis on exams”. Typically, children are taught only from the perspective of passing exams, which eventually results in cramming and a lack of understanding. Students cram lots of information close to the exams, “pour them out” in the exam hall, and then forget everything afterwards.
Quite a number of participants also emphasised incentivising reading, arguing that incentives would serve as a strong pull towards reading as “everyone wants to win something”. Dr Samuel Okere, an academic, recommended giving prizes. “Everyone gets a prize for what he or she has read and summarised,” he said. “Incentives can be in different ways. It may not always be money. Even a clapping of hands is a commendation.”
In the workplace, it was discussed that a reading habit should be introduced through encouragement and indirect prompts, such as assigning to workers tasks that they need to do independent research on before completion. Other suggestions included introducing a consciousness of reading through organised sharing sessions at the workplace and healthy competition.