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UKACHUKWU: ACHIEVING A READING CULTURE

By NBF News
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RECENTLY, there has been a clamour for the promotion of the culture of reading. Seminars, workshops, you name it, have been organized at different levels towards the attainment of this laudable goal. Keeping to our way of solving problems, we may soon have a special presidential committee for the promotion of reading culture. We all know how it will fare. However, paraphrasing a well-known biblical verse: if I speak in the tongues of intellectuals and eloquent, and have no sincerity, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. I presume that this goal is for all schoolchildren: from those in highbrow international schools to those even in migrant schools. If that is so, I ask: and how are they to learn if no one is sent to them?

To develop a reading culture, the fundamentals must be there, for reading culture is in the middle of a process. It is a by-product of a system, and tends towards an end. We need schools; we need teachers who are so in deed, and willing pupils. Of willing pupils, I will say little.

Suffice it to say that willing and enthusiastic teachers will not lack willing pupils, all things being equal. But first, schools. Though many will argue that it is possible, but it is certainly not easy to learn under a mango tree. I think it is even worse learning in an un-demarcated hall, where each class is just assigned a portion. Each teacher shouting to have the attention of his or her own class. Many of such schools abound in the country, and not only in the villages, but in towns and cities as well. But should they even be so in the villages?

Then teachers. Recently, a state in this country set a test for its primary school teachers. The exam was of primary four curriculum. Few passed the test. Yet they remain teachers. We bewailed the situation, and the sleeping dogs were left to lie. No one's ox must be gored.   We all know that this is a true reflection of the state of primary schools and even secondary school teachers in many of our public schools. Are these the ones to impart the reading culture? We sat down, planned and killed the teaching profession successfully. We made sure teachers were humiliated, stripped of any joy and pride in their profession. We told them that their reward is great in heaven, and that they should not even expect any advance here below. We ingrained in the psyche of the country that teaching, especially at the primary level is a curse. It is for the never-do-wells, for the scum of the earth. It is at best a stepping stone.  These are not the people that will instill reading culture. For as I said before, the culture of reading is in the middle of a process. It is developed as a product of a system and geared towards productivity. It points to something. It opens horizons, it equips, while at the same time challenging the mind to higher ideals. The never-do-well crop of teachers cannot develop this. Nor can the passers-by teachers.

To achieve what we want to achieve is a herculean task. It is time to clean the Augean stable, if we want to eventually get the Golden Fleece. The river must flow through the stable. The school system must be purged. Teachers who are not so good must leave the system. There are no two ways about it. Teaching must stop being a dumping ground. For this to happen, the conditions of teachers must be improved so that real teachers, who are ready can be attracted to the system, and remain in the system. Their reward remains in heaven, but their earthly advance must be worthwhile. We can never repay them enough.

It is a particularly difficult task to be posted to remote villages with no social amenities not even primary health care. This is to say nothing of potable water, good road, and even on-line connectivity. In many of these remote village schools, the teachers live in town, and go to school once or twice a week. In some other cases, they live in the villages, but are more of farmers and traders than teachers. In many cases, they turn the students into their farm hands and sales persons. There is hardly any meaningful supervision from the local educational authorities. Is this how we will achieve the reading culture? By the way, how many public schools have functional libraries?

• Ms. Ukachukwu lives in Enugu, Enugu State.