Dr. Gabriel Egbe of the Department of English and Literary Studies and Dean, College of Humanities Veritas University, Abuja, is former president, Reading Association of Nigeria. In this interview with GLORIA IRABOR, he spoke on the level of critical reading and called for establishment of academic programme in reading, among other issues for educational advancement
What is the necessity of the Reading Association of Nigeria?
Reading Association of Nigeria was established in1982 at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. It was formed to promote reading in Nigeria. It is a non governmental organisation. It is a member of international literacy association that is, International Reading Association, based in the United States of Americ. Its aim is to promote literacy and reading towards critical and developmental thinking. In Nigeria when people hear about reading they think about English language. Reading is about all subjects this why we are involving teachers at all the levels of education. Reading Association of Nigeria started with members, who are educators, language teachers, librarians, authors and publishers to draw attention to the need to promote reading in Nigeria. Although most of us in the association are from the universities, our main targets are primary and secondary school teachers that can impact on children at lower levels of education and in this regard we are expanding our membership to include teachers at the lower levels of education to enhance our abilities to have direct impact on the children.
Is there any connection between Reading Association of Nigeria and the Read Campaign of Federal Ministry of Education?
We are aware of their activities but the read campaign programme of ministry of education is not sufficient at all to handle the challenges of reading in the country. The reading towards critical thinking needed by children towards developmental needs of our country are not yet structured into the read campaign. There is serious need for ministry of education and other relevant organisations to have serious thoughts on= having academic programme in reading.
As a past president of the Reading Association of Nigeria, what were the experiences and achievements?
From when we started, we have trained thousands of teachers, both in primary and secondary schools levels. We publish journals and several educational materials. We have ongoing projects in some states. We have established literacy enhancement and achievement programme in Anambra State where we are working on over two hundredschools. The state government indicated interest to support the programme and the World Bank also has its focal point in the state. We are looking at the possibilities of running the programme in states that have indicated interest. We also have project, targeting some states in the northern parts of the country. I went to Sokoto State to validate an English language book. The factor behind school enrolment is not just tobring in children to school but to also get them enrolled, retained and ensure that they are learning at the appropriate standard.
We are making reading a central agenda for the project. We also form clubs; we create more centres for our association and we collaborate with other education agencies to facilitate any project in reading.
From your experiences, how would you assess reading in the country?
Reading is not about English language but all subjects. It is not speeches but reading to understand and make critical use of what is written, critical thinking that makes any subject to have the appropriate impact.
Reading is the first aim of education, the moment we miss it, we also miss any other thing. We cannot continue complaining that students are not excelling in mathematics and sciences when we have not given reading its due place. It is worrisome that Nigeria does not have any institution that has aprogramme in reading. What is available in school is transfer of knowledge instead of reading towards critical thinking. It is so bad that some schools do not have ordinary periods of reading in their time table. In European countries, there are reading academic programmes up to PhD level; we can also have the same. The Nigeria University Commission and the National Commission for Colleges of Education should think about restructuring schools’ curriculum. Reading components should be in students’ and teachers’ curriculum. We should redirect our curriculum to meet with what to expect after the classrooms experiences. Our curriculum should meet with the standard of modern day demand.
How do you view digital reading and its effects on the modern day child?
To be able to take care of children, we need to enter into their world. Our children learn under difficult condition, curriculum overload, this is why the problem of examination malpractice is not just about the children but a reaction to the type of situation, scoring and grading that makes them anxious to pass examination through any type of method. We need to rethink ourselves on the need to improve our tools, we cannot continue to handle them with tools that are outdated because contemporary children are global children, they are connected to other children across the world. We can guide and coach them to have access to digital materials that can improve their reading. Government and education stakeholders must work towards making our classrooms as smart as possible. We cannot continue depending on archaic methods of knowledge and be expecting children advancement. We can also try to digitise. It is a gradual process but we must plan towards it.
Do you sponsor programmes that can motivate parents towards encouraging their children to learn?
Parents should be involved in the education of their children. There is no excuse for notencouraging a child to learn. Sometimes, people feel that parents, who are not educated cannot assist a child to learn. It is very possible for parents to be involve in their children education in talking about what they are learning in school, try to see their school work, the children develop satisfaction that the parents are concerned about their learning and it encourages them to work hard. Parents need to know that just discussing with their children can help them to develop interest in learning, parents need to know that they can do minor things to encourage their children to learn. We do not have the fund to sponsor programmes but organisations, which have the funds involve us and we are able to work through projects that enable us to have access to communities.
What about the barriers posed by
diversity in language between parents, children and the language of learning in the school?
Although English language is our general language, abandonment of native languages is the highest form of colonial imperialism. A child has the right to study in the language that he is able to understand and think. Part of the problem we are having is that a child learns the appropriate language in school and goes home to learn the wrong type. It is better that parents interact with their children in the languages that will not interfere with their learning in school. For instance, the use of broken English, popularly known as pidgin, is not ideal when compared to English language at school. It is better for parents to talk to their children in native languages than to confuse them at home with improper English language. In such cases, teachers try as much as possible to ensure that what children learn in school is not infiltrated at home.