POOR READING HABITS AMONG NIGERIANS: THE ROLE OF LIBRARIES
Comprehension is at the center of reading. Collins and Cheek (1999) describe reading as a process that requires the use of complex thought processes to interpret printed symbols as meaningful units and comprehend them as a thought unit in order to understand a printed message. According to Rubin (2002), reading is a total integrative process that starts with the reader and includes the affective, perceptual, and cognitive domains.
Okebukola (2004) affirms that, through reading, humans have the tools to transmit knowledge to each succeeding generation; it allows one to listen to the wisdom and people of the ages. This is emphasized by many different religious traditions. The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy's “Study to show yourself approved unto God (11 timothy 2:15). Islam holds acquisition of knowledge (literacy, reading, etc.) in high esteem. The Holy Qur’an reveals that the first communication (injunction) between Allah and Prophet Muhammad was knowledge-based, - Iqraa, meaning “read” or “recite” (Qur’an 96: 1-5).
Douglas (2000) asserts that every child must become fully competent in reading to succeed in school and discharge responsibilities as a citizen of a democratic society. Reading is the foundation of much enjoyment in life and is closely related to vocational efficiency. Students and employees in every field must read to keep abreast of what is happening in their fields. They must rely on written or digital words to convey information and data. The ability to read well is absolutely critical to success in life.
According to Tracy (2008), reading is the only form of entertainment that is also an essential life skill. Reading is a skill that must be nurtured from a child’s earliest years. Once children know how to read, they still need support to reach their full potential as readers. Most children with learning disabilities have problems with reading and related language skills. The decline in reading among children is an offshoot of technological advancements that have brought about overall changes in family, social, and economic conditions. Poor reading habits occur in children and young people because reading is not considered a relevant leisure activity as it does not form part of children’s social interaction and reading is considered a solitary pursuit and is not attractive compared with interactive activity on the Internet. There is also an overriding desire amongst young people to spend more time with their friends than to remain at home reading. Adults and children alike may enjoy television and films as a way of enjoying their leisure instead of reading. There is an unprecedented rise in the price of books, while DVDs are becoming more affordable.
Children with poor reading skills receive poor grades at school, get easily distracted and frustrated, have behavior problems, seem to dislike school, and often fail to develop to their full potential. According to Rubin (2002), children with poor reading habits have a higher chance of anti-social behavior. Delinquency; school violence, bullying, hacking computers, and even examination malpractices have a correlation with poor reading habits. This does not mean that those with poor reading habits display such behavior; however, poor reading habits are associated with such behavioral patterns while good reading habits help develop a steady and constructive mind.
Need for Effective Reading Culture
The acquisition of reading skills has a beneficial effect on all school subjects, including social studies, science, mathematics, and so on. Poor reading skills can make a child develop a poor attitude toward school and can create self-esteem problems later in life (Fosudo, 2010).
Oke (1996) gives reasons why people read, including self-improvement, pleasure and relaxation, and a feeling of pride and prestige. According to Antwi (1985), studies show a relationship between reading/early literacy and a child’s emotional, mental health, and social behavior. According to him, a study done in the US showed that reading was correlated with delinquency, independent of the neighborhood, ethnicity, and family involvement, and was the same in both ethnic groups sampled and constant over the age range studied. The degree of seriousness of delinquent act was directly correlated to the degree of severity of reading problems. The study also showed that early in the primary grades, children who are struggling with literacy begin to experience failure and related negative effects in interpersonal skills. These effects can include task-avoidance and acting out, lowered levels of personal regard, and seeking personal validation in venues that are anti-social.
In Nigeria, a study carried out by Henry (2004), reveals that 40 percent of adult Nigerians never read a non-fiction book from cover to cover after they finish school. The average Nigerian reads less than one book per year, and only one percent of successful men and women in Nigeria read one non-fiction book per month. The same study showed that 30 million Nigerians have graduated from high school with poor reading skills. Some Nigerians may not read because they are not working in the right field(s). If regular reading and studying is a required condition of your job or profession, this in effect means you read, even if it is under duress. The magnitude of this problem jeopardizes the future of our public schools. What is most frustrating is that much of this reading problem can be prevented if the government, libraries, and teachers apply what is known as reading instruction or techniques. The vast majority of the world’s information today is not digitized; it is in print form, mostly in books. Reading per se among young adults is not exactly on the wane, but the delivery mechanism has changed. Communications with words are thriving, but in a new format, reading online (Okebukola, 2004). For many years, especially in the West, there have been doubts whether the written medium of narration would survive the onslaught of technology. Will children and adults who spend most of their time in front of a television or computer continue to read books? Similar fears were expressed at the end of the 19th century with the emergence of films and cartoons. Books survived that era and maintained their position as a parallel “technology”. Topo (2005) affirms that the need today is the thoughtful integration of book reading with high tech, i.e., the integration of multi-media activities such as photography, painting and drawing, sewing and crafts, 3-D and digital art, hip-hop, claymation, and online services in our libraries. This will reverse the decline in book reading among children and adults. Oke (1996) affirms also that a conscious effort should be made by all stakeholders in the educational system to promote reading habits. According to him, equipping libraries is the first practical step in these efforts.
Poor Reading Culture
The way of life of a nation is influenced by the percentage of its citizen who is literate. Cuba, for example, is adjacent to the US and has the highest rate of literacy in the world. This is among the reasons why Cuba has a vibrant economy despite decades of diplomatic conflicts with the strongest nation in the world (Henry, 2004). Tracy (2008) asserts that being a former British colony, Nigeria’s literacy culture ought to be as standardized as that of Britain. About 99% of British citizens can read and write. The same cannot be said of Nigeria. Henry (2004), states that out of the 814 million illiterate people in the world, developing countries, especially in Africa, represent a huge percentage. However, Latin America, Asia, and others are making frantic efforts to drastically reduce the illiteracy rate, but owing to the following reasons, the same cannot be said of Africa.
Tracy (2008) asserts that being a former British colony, Nigeria’s literacy culture ought to be as standardized as that of Britain. About 99% of British citizens can read and write. The same cannot be said of Nigeria. Henry (2004), states that out of the 814 million illiterates in the world, the third world countries, most especially in Africa, have a huge percentage of these illiterates. However, Latin America, Asia, and others are making frantic efforts to drastically reduce the illiteracy rate, but owing to the following reasons, the same cannot be said of Africa.
Poverty: In sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of poverty is deeply felt. Only a few people live above the poverty line. About 80% of Africans live under hazardous conditions. The per capita income of an average citizen in Nigeria, “the giant of Africa” with its abundant natural resources, is two dollars. This, in no little measure, affects the reading habits of Nigerians. Many are too poor to send their children to school. They lack money to buy books and pay school fees.
Corruption: Corruption has a profound effect in Nigeria. The government is trying to fight corruption, which has drastically affected Nigerians reading culture. Corruption is present everywhere in Nigeria, from government institutions to private organizations. In schools, for instance, many students prefer to indulge in immoral acts rather than face their studies diligently. Situations like trading sex for grades, sales of ungraded textbooks to students at high fees, using money to buy examination grades, and cheating in examinations abound in our institutions of higher learning. Those who engage in these infamous acts consider reading a waste of time.
Noise culture: A learning environment requires places for quiet study. Most schools are in densely populated areas, where distractions prevent the smooth flow of learning. Moreover, the “illiteracy syndrome” has an adverse effect on the psyche of many Nigerian citizens. Most people perceive noise to be an integral part of their culture.
Undue importance attached to wealth: Many Nigerian people celebrate mediocrity at the expense of intellectuals. This is manifest in our rush for material things. Some people abandon their educational careers for the pursuit of money. Many have abandoned their education in search of “quick money,” which they believe can be gotten in business or politics. Many people run away from the village schools to take up jobs in Lagos.
Lack of reading language: In many homes, the language of reading is introduced late; the first contact point of some children with this language is in school. As children grow older, reading and its associated activities become herculean.
The dearth of libraries: libraries play an important role in the promotion of reading habits. However, these libraries (school and public) are either non-existent or not playing their expected role. State and local government, and proprietors of schools (government and individuals) have not complied with library provisions in the National Policy on Education (NPE). Public libraries are not being established where they are needed. The few existing public libraries are neither adequately funded nor stocked with reading resources that can affect the lives of citizens.
Role of the Library in Reading Culture
The need to promote effective reading habits among the general populace of Nigeria has been receiving attention from organizations such as the National Library of Nigeria, the Reading Association of Nigeria, and the Nigerian Book Development Council. Since 1981, the National Library of Nigeria has been sponsoring the readership promotion campaign in the country. This is done as part of the strategies to ginger up the reading culture in Nigeria..