World Book Day: A reading experience

I once wrote about how sports helped me in developing reading habit. I can still remember turning my used school notebooks at the end of every academic year into almanacs of international sports stars. Also, I remember reading comics. However, my formal primary education reading was limited to the ability to read from any of the passages our class teachers assigned us during English language comprehension lessons. Beyond that, reading was limited to whatever we came across during our health science, maths, social studies and moral instruction lessons. The first day I realised my primary school had a library I think I was in primary 6. It was on a particular day that we were asked to go into a room, the room was always under lock and key, and on entering the room, I saw books covered with dusts and that was the last experience I had of that room and that was supposed to be my primary school’s library.
When I started primary school, there was a local and famous bookshop – Ademuyiwa bookshop – on our street on Lagos Island in Lagos, Nigeria. It was a local tradition in our neighbourhood in those days that parents (mainly mothers) and at times older siblings or adult neighbours would take a child to the bookshop to buy books based on government’s approved reading list for the academic year that the child was starting. Also, there was the time that public schools were supplied with books for parents to buy for their children at government’s subsidised rates. I can still remember one of such books was my primary 4 Atlas book. I used to read it and fantasise about Neil Armstrong’s feat of being the first man to have landed on the moon even though I didn’t really understand what that meant, but nevertheless it caught my attention. However, non of the books that we bought under the government’s reading list had much to do with leisure reading, and in a way, that experience might have played a part on my views on reading as a child, that is, reading had to do with school work and not something that was done for leisure.
When I started secondary school nothing much happened with regards to schooling and reading for me except that we were introduced to some books to read as part of our English language reading list in junior secondary school. We read some of those books but we had little or no discussion around what they were about, except for the normal exam drills of ‘fill in the blank space’ or ‘choose from the following options’. Likewise, I can’t remember us having any space or room dedicated to books or reading in the first junior secondary school that I attended. But when I changed school to a bigger one with more and better facilities, we had a library with a librarian but she was one of the most hostile adults that I came across during my compulsory education years. Although, as young people some of us went into the library not to read but to ‘gist’ and rather for her to make erring students read or send them out of the library, her normal reaction used to be – all of you, out of the library now! But by that time some of us have developed the habit of borrowing (sharing) books from (with) each other.
By the time I got into senior secondary school I had taken interest in literature and decided to take it as one of my non-compulsory electives for my O-level examinations. This gave me the opportunity to seat in lessons in which our literature teacher, Mr Lawrence, would come to class, read part of of the reading texts to us and discuss different aspects of the texts; talking about the characters, plots and settings in those texts. Those lessons gave me the opportunity to read books like: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah, Lord of the flies by William Golding and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, in all my compulsory education life, reading for leisure was never made a part of in-classroom curriculum delivery.
While my experience of state’s provided compulsory education in Nigeria is in the past, the present National Policy on Education provides for leisure reading. For instance, Sections 8 d., 127 I) b. and 128 of the document specifically cover leisure reading related issues. According to Section 8d “All tiers of government shall promote the establishment and support of Reading Clubs in schools, Community Libraries and other such resources that enhance effective learning.” Hence, Section 128 states that “There shall be a National Book Policy, which shall devise strategies for book development in the country to enable government promote the development, production and distribution of books for all levels of education and encourage indigenous authorship.” Furthermore, Section 127 ib.) makes statutory provision for the integration of reading into the national curriculum. It states that “Weekly library period shall be part of the school curriculum to aid learning activities.”. As a result of these provisions, there are statutory opportunities for policy makers and educators to integrate leisure reading into curriculum provision and delivery in the nation’s compulsory education sector.
Having talked about my personal reading experience as a child and some of the provisions on reading related issues in the present national policy on education, it is important to look at what could be done on a more micro level to promote leisure reading. As an individual and in whatever capacity one finds one’s self, the following steps would help immensely in promoting leisure reading:
1. Reading aloud to children.
2. Having a time of the day set aside for leisure reading – for you and the children – even if it is for 5 to 15 minutes.
3. Starting a book club in your school, classroom or household. It could even be in your local library, community gathering or online.
4. Discussing books regularly with children.
5. Buying books as gifts for children.
6. Encouraging family and friends to give out books as gifts.
7. Recycling books with family and friends.
8. Organising reading competitions among children.
9. Reviewing children’s books.
10. Taking children to your local library.
11. Volunteering with a children’s reading group.
12. Supporting reading organisations.
13. Donating books to schools around you
14. Donating books to maternity homes and children’s hospitals.
*All emphases are by me.

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