We usually hear people say 'reading makes a person complete', or other variations of those lines. But, what does that mean – being a complete person. It can mean anything for anyone. It can mean a person that is well-equipped and prepared to face the future. Or in another words, it can mean reading can allow a person to be fit to better face that challenges of what lie ahead.
Nevertheless, reading is an indisp- ensable tool in learning that forms an integral part of any learning situation, and the bedrock of education.
Reading can empower people with the knowledge and skills required for tackling paramount issues that ranges from poverty to climate change. Considering how developing countries face such issues such as poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation and others phenomenon, upping the reading culture of the nation is a no-brainer.
It is also important when considering reading culture can help students cultivate enough ability to cope with the changing dynamics of a fast changing economy, technology and the competitive nature of the globalization era. Through a well-drilled and consistent pattern of reading and study, students can go beyond just understanding academic subjects and passing exams. they can and should achieve academic progression by cultivating their reading habit.
Otherwise, a country will only be getting students that are made to read only materials necessary to pass exams, which will limit their perspective as their understanding will be within that pocket-sized scope. They can’t relate what they have learned to the outside world.
According to International Labor Office (ILO) G20 training strategy, countries will need to strengthen the ability of their workers to adapt to changing market demands and to benefit from innovation and investment in new technologies and so forth. Ultimately, young people today must be agile learners, able to adapt and learn new things quickly in a new fast-changing environment.
Thus, this means that countries, including Ethiopia, should prioritize an education system that involves lifetime learning, and skills development strategy. And one way of enshrining lifetime learning is by cultivating reading culture in schools among young students.
In an interview with The Ethiopian Herald, Dagnew Gebru, Deputy Head of Addis Ababa Education Bureau said that the country's national development plan, GTP, accounts for producing the manpower from our schools that can shoulder the ever growing economy of the country and the changing dynamics that comes with that.
“The GTP is an integrated plan that designs the level at which the economy will reach at certain time, along with the teaching and learning process, the education quality and the manpower that would achieve and shoulder the planned economic growth.”
How is the reading culture in Ethiopia?
Reading culture among school children and even adults is fast being eroded and is giving way for various reasons, says Firehiwot Assefa, an Expert at Addis Ababa City Government Education Bureau. She adds that the attention and focus given to reading by the society, youth and students is low to the point that it is hard to say that we have a culture of reading.
In contrast to Firehiwot, Tayachew Ayalew, Director of Mother Language and English Language Directorate with Ministry of Education, believes that reading culture is getting attention in the country. “There is an advocacy work that is being undertaken with the Prime Minister and other high officials in the lead to make reading a culture in the country.” Also, Mother Tongue Day that is held in collaboration between Ministry of Education and Tourism gives the perfect platform to educate the society on the importance of reading, he adds.
“It is because the government believes that education and reading as key ingredient to bring about economic, social and political change that the government allocates up to 25 percent of the yearly budget to the education and training sector. And one of the attention given at the education and training chapter of the national plan is on strengthening student's reading and comprehension skills.”
For Firehiwot, reading is the fundamental element in the teaching and learning process in any given society. She opines the reason anyone come to school is to learn and that happens when that person reads or have a reading habit. “Skills like listening and speaking can be learned from parents and from the environment where they grew up as kids, but when it comes to learning, they are sent to school.”
By and large, the importance of reading cannot be overemphasized, because no learning activity or situation can take place without reading.
She went further to say that a better reading culture would result a strong academic skill, which in turn would lead to producing better generation or crop of students that are capable of performing at global level, going toe-to-toe at global level, or that are competent enough to lead the country into the age of the vastly competitive globalization world that we live in.
Many people have convincingly pointed out that reading spurs children's imagination and encourages quick learning as well as widen their views, expand their horizon and help them understand the actual realities surrounding them. Furthermore, reading boosts their curiosity and ability to handle complex ideas. This brings advantages to students with good learning habit.
There has been many research that linked student performance with reading culture. According to many researches done in African countries, it has been found out that “reading habit is the most effective way of developing reading skill among youth, and it can improve their academic performances, and become productive memeber of a society.”
Ethiopia's case is no different to other African countries, as Tayachew affirmed that there is a link between reading culture and student performance. He also stressed that learning through mother tongue should be given attention in order to cultivate reading habit of children so as to improve the instructional and learning process which will improve students academic performance.
In regards to Ethiopia, Tayachew states that “there have been a research that was done back in 2006, which found out that learning through mother tongue/ first language should be given attention in order to cultivate reading habit within children”, and thereby improve their academic performance.
Further explaining, he said that, among other factors, the research found out that learning outside of their mother tongue for children bring too much load on their mind to have to translate what their teachers said to them at tender age. The thinking here is that the additional load of translation brings makes it reading for the children an unattractive proposition.
Although not fundamental, immediate improvement has been seen with regards to the reading culture among young students and children, and a severe decrease has been recorded in the number of zero readers, after adjustments have been done as a result to the research's findings, the Director summarized.
“Language has huge role in reading culture. Moreover, it has been found out that learning with mothers tongue/ in first language has benefits in terms of learning in second languages like English, and other subjects like math and science.” Making his point further, he said that researches done whether here or at international level have all agreed that learning in first language contributes positively to reading habit.
Firehiwot for her part also noted that children not being able to learn in their mother language have impacted negatively in the reading culture, and ultimately their performances saying reading is very much dependent on language skill and works have been done at national and regional level to rectify the issue with good results.
In addition to this, the Director mentioned that as one way of helping students cultivate good reading culture in a bid to better cope with the global dynamism that exist in the technology or economy and better shoulder the future, the education and training sector have prepared and distributed supplementary reading books (to the main text books) that are prepared in their mother tongue to their local libraries. This is aimed at encouraging students and children to read by themselves and make themselves capable in line with the times.
The quality of development any country achieves depends on the type of education it has – or in other words the competency of manpower or experts it produces. And the core of this success lays on the ability to read and write. So, what should be done to cultivate and nurture reading culture in schools, libraries and in the country as a whole – approaching the issue at policy level, according to Tayachew.
“Reading is a lifelong learning process. For me, the role it must have in the vision of our country (to enter middle income status) is irreplaceable. Any student or person at any level should read in order to always change himself or herself for the better.”
The fact that the government is giving it huge attention can be taken as good and should be commended for the fact that the issue being handled at ministerial level, saying that he recommends for the approach to go further than this with political commitment.
As an expert or professional, people should be readers, and a directive should be put in place to guide them in that regard. Reading culture in our country should be lead by a vision, an objective, and a strategic goal. If we do that, we can bring many positive changes in making reading a culture within the society.
BY ROBEL YOHANNES