“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” – Warren Buffet.
Achieving quality education for all is one of the signs of a sustainable economy yet in Nigeria, just a little above half of the adult population is literate (about 57%) whilst youth literacy rate is less than 70% (UNESCO 2016). Between states, regions and gender, statistics reveal that literacy rates vary also. An in-depth survey by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that Imo and Lagos states record the highest number of English literate adults at 80.8% and 80.5% respectively whilst Sokoto state has only 22.1% of its adult population literate in English language. Furthermore, urban literacy surpasses rural at a huge ratio of 69.4% to 38.5% whilst 65.1% of males are literate as opposed to 50.6% females (National Literacy Survey (2010). These estimates reveal that about 65million Nigerians still remain illiterate. Of the literate figure, reports have it that only a few are competent for employment – for instance, the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) reports that only about one of 100 graduates is employable.
The dearth of proactive and intuitive young people being churned out of Nigerian institutions today has been linked in part to a poor reading culture and habit developed from school. However, there is only so much that can be done to develop the reading habit in an adult if this habit had not been impressed upon such at an early age. Scholars have described reading as an art, a thorough process that entails complexity in thought, and the ability to interpret, comprehend and communicate a message meaningfully. Going by this description, developing a reading habit is a delicate process that should be nurtured from the early stages of life and should involve not only the academic institutions, but also the home, the community and the larger society, if the quality of citizens and leaders in the society is to improve.
According to a survey by World Culture Score Index on the average time people from different regions spend reading books per day, India was ranked the highest with an average of 10.7 hours/week, closely followed by Thailand and China with 9.4 and 8 hours reading time in a day. In Africa, only two countries were listed in the survey – Egypt and South Africa, with no mention of Nigeria.
As expected, there is a direct correlation between the quality of citizens and economic growth/development and a country’s economic development is usually indicated by an increase in citizens’ quality of life. Quality of life’ – measured using the Human Development Index – takes to account intrinsic personal factors not considered in economic growth, such as literacy rates, life expectancy and poverty rates. If a high literacy rate and in extension, good quality of life indicates economic development then, economic development can be triggered by having a society of largely literate citizens, which good reading habits contribute to.
In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has declared Monday, 23rd April 2018 World Book and Copyright Day with the theme “Reading, it’s my right!. In ensuring that Nigeria achieves “inclusive and quality education and promote lifelong learning” as envisaged by the UN SDG4, the basic literacy skills currently demonstrated by the average young person needs to experience tremendous improvements. For this to be successfully attained, more attention has to be paid to grooming the reading capacity in young people.
Increasing Chances for Improved Education
In order to improve education figures in Nigeria; reduce illiteracy rates, increase the number of youth and adults with relevant skills for decent jobs and entrepreneurship, and position the country for sustainable development, it is expedient that proactive measures are made to advocate and promote national readership in Nigeria. The private sector is highly instrumental to achieving this fit.
Supporting and equipping existing libraries: One of the means of implementation prescribed for SDG4 (4.a) is by providing effective learning environments; building and upgrading education facilities. However, this cannot be solely provided by the government.
Libraries are an important aspect of promoting the reading culture of people. Both school and public libraries have experienced gross neglect over the years; they are inadequately funded and lack relevant reading resources to positively impact the public.
Organisations and individuals that work towards re-establishing libraries, providing books and reading materials to these libraries will be taking a significant step in not only reviving the reading culture in Nigerians but also increasing the literacy levels in young people and positioning the country for the achievement of SDG4 as well as the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole. Moreover, investment in education is capable of yielding a direct return to a private sector investor through the integration of educationally empowered and competent youths into its workforce for better delivery and business growth.
Investing in activities and competitions that encourage reading: In order to create a lifelong reading culture and the requisite literacy expertise to excel in life, both children and young people need to regularly experience the enjoyment of reading by participating in local, regional and national prize competitions to stimulate strong peer-to-peer bonding elements and boost overall confidence in young people. This in turn impact on their employability skills in the future. Both the Government, Private Organisations and Local/International NGOs have major roles in driving such competitions. Already, a couple of organisations have initiated activities that build the reading culture of young people through competitions; an example is the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition, the Cowbell Mathematics Competition, to mention a few.
Digitising book publication and libraries: In order to revive the waning interest in consuming relevant literature and improve Nigeria’s education system, the reading format and presentation may very well need to change to recapture and revitalise the dying art. In retrospect, it may very well be the case that the reading culture is dying for the average Nigerian because reading has not been presented as a trendy and relevant habit to pick up. Indirect surveys indicate that for most Nigerians, the highest contact with books or any kind of intense reading is usually for the purpose of exams. Recent reports also claim that 40% of adults in Nigeria never get to finish reading any piece of non-fiction literature after they complete their education. This signifies the need to re-think the means of presenting reading to average Nigerians.
In keeping with the growing digital trends, publishers and authors of books may do well to integrate some multi-media activities in the publication of books and even expand the scope of services to include online services in both school and public libraries. Through some of these activities like photography, digital printing/drawings, 3D, digital art, and online services, studies have proven that digital natives (millennials) have been seen to display increased cognitive abilities. This presents another area of educational investment for the private sector.
Beyond directly investing in digital education, private organisations can also improve the reading habits of adults by digitising corporate information such as corporate reports and manuals of products, to attract and ensure easy comprehension for their stakeholders. This will in turn make these communications more effective.
Dedicating spaces and resources to reading sessions and discussions: As a way of lending support to the improve-education cause and attracting economic growth for both the business and the country as a whole, organisations can consider the dedication of corporate spaces to discussions and reading sessions, as well as educational workshops that can feature participation from children and young adults.
Finally, encouraging the development of literacy meetings and other cultural events are other sure ways to equipping and encouraging heightened interest in reading among Nigerians.
Although the decision by UNESCO in 1995 to recognise World Book and Copyright Day every year was essentially to pay global tribute to books and authors, annual commemoration of the day has evolved to become a means of stimulating more investments in reading for socio-economic development. It therefore behoves all sectors, especially the private, to place more interest and commitment to achieving this aim.