What can we do to dispel the notion that Ugandans have a poor reading culture?

There is a common saying that; if you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book. Its basis is gotten from the notion that most Africans have a poor reading culture. Unfortunately, this trait is not foreign to Ugandans.

The poor reading culture in Uganda has led to an underdeveloped book industry characterized by the scantiness of local reading material. This has affected the social and economic development of many communities in our country.

For decades, reading has been considered to be a responsibility of academicians, students, and those who have got a strong passion for books.

Even in school, most students read not because they want to but because they have to. The importance of literacy not only in Africa but globally cannot be over-emphasized.

The fact is, literacy does not develop suddenly but instead mellows gradually, depending on someone’s exposure to different kinds of reading material.
World book day, commemorated on 23rd April every year was set aside to remind the national and international community about the importance of reading.

According to the Education for All 2016 report, about 95% of the world’s illiterate people are living in developing countries of which 50% are in sub-Saharan Africa.

This partially informs our lack of interest in reading, having originated from our ancestors who were great narrators of stories told in accompaniment with dramatization and demonstrations. Books and libraries are often taken as museums and deemed redundant in our societies which are mainly based on oral traditions and practices.

It is a common practice for people to stop reading once formal education is completed because instead of developing a culture for reading, our education system forces us to read for the sake of passing exams. Many Ugandans more so the school-going children have an unplanned frequency of reading and the only reading that happens is limited to available reading materials and resources.

In 2007, the National Curriculum Development Centre(NCDC), approved the Early Childhood Development Policy in the Education Sector. This policy stresses the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECD); the early stimulation of different parts of the brain to provide social and learning advancement throughout life. Such care does not produce a self-centered child, but rather a child, who trusts, is curious, strives to learn new things, and is skillful in social interaction. This is a good initiative and a potential stepping stone towards achieving a literate generation if implemented well.

However, limited access and availability of reading materials, inadequate reading facilities, and the non-involvement of parents have inhibited the progress of developing a reading culture among school-going children.

For us to achieve a consistent reading culture in our societies, people require knowledge on how to efficiently utilize existing information, materials, and resources.

Furthermore, the attitude towards reading has to be changed towards developing a reading culture for the success of an individual, society, and the nation as a whole.

Therefore, there should be an introduction of reading in mother tongue at infant levels by encouraging pupils to read and write their own stories, availing them with appropriate reading materials, and providing school library services to enable students to grow a reading culture.

Formation of book clubs in schools that would involve parents participating in reading activities in schools and reading should be enhanced by embracing government policies or strategies like the National textbook policy to ensure a lifelong learning environment amongst the young generation.

Let’s make reading new literature a hobby for the improvement of our literacy skills and the development of our community and country at large. Remember, the more you read, the more you learn, and the more you can offer.

By Judith Grace Amoit

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