At 7am, Aisha Namulindwa, a Primary Six pupil at Nakasero Primary School, is expected to be in class for the early remedial classes, which she has religiously learned to do.
After the two periods that take up one and a half hours, she gets a break, before she can go back to class for other lessons that run up to break time. After the 30minute break, she is back in class for the Science subject which goes on up to lunch time. After an hour of play and eating, she is back to class for one more lesson, revision and making corrections before she leaves for home at 5pm with homework.
“Sometimes, I try and do homework from school before I go back home,” she notes. This is the same cycle Namulindwa has been going through for as long as she can remember, and will continue to experience or even more, until she finishes her primary education, and probably, through secondary.
When asked the last time she read a book, without the teacher dictating that she should, Namulindwa thoughtfully touches her chin before innocently saying, “We read stories in the books the teacher of English brings to class. Apart from those books, we do not have a lesson for reading.”
Read for leisure
Like Namulindwa, a number of pupils and students do not read beyond classroom materials. Though some parents are intentional on providing an environment that encourages the spirit of reading to their children, others are caught up in the schooling system, and to them, reading equals revising your school books.
Patrick Mugumya, a resident of Ndejje, Lubugumu, is one such parent. “I told my children that they need to read. I did not go to school but I can afford to take them to school,” he says. During school terms, he says that they do not watch TV and only help out their mother with some chores and read their books. “That is the only way they will pass, and I always tell them that,” he explains.
However, there is reading that goes beyond revision and it is that that will foster a good reading culture where pupils and students appreciate and love to read.
Elvis Kamara, a Senior Five student at Agha Khan Secondary School, says when he fell in love with reading, it subsequently endeared him to Literature in English at A-Level.
“We had this entrepreneurship education teacher who really loved reading. Though his subject was business-related, he always included a reading element that it almost felt like a Literature class,” Kamara shares.
At first, he would teach the students a new word every time he came to class, as well as explaining the meaning and context in which it could be used. Overtime, the students too, would be given an opportunity to present the new words they had learnt in the course of the week. This habit evolved into books, novels and news stories the teacher had read.
“He would give us book reviews of a books he had read, or a catchy stories he had read in the papers. Often, he would talk about the beauty of reading, not for examinations alone. He would then ask if there was anyone in class who had a book review they wanted to share with the rest. At first there would be no one, but eventually, many of us got into the habit of reading, sometimes to just show off, and for me, I found myself reading more and more, and I have never looked back,” Kamara excitedly says.
Last Friday, Uganda commemorated ‘Drop Everything and Read’ popularly known as the National DEAR Day under the theme: ‘Uganda Reads To Lead’. This is an international day that encourages everyone to drop everything they are doing and read for at least 30 minutes.
In Uganda, the idea was conceived in 2014 by the Peace Corps Uganda in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES), in an effort to promote a reading culture and love of learning on a national scale. Such days are crucial in reminding the country of the importance of reading and the need to foster a reading culture.
To Julia K. Singa, a human resource consultant at Success Africa, author and mother, a reading culture ought to be nurtured at an early stage in a child. Having grown up in a home where she was exposed to books, it made her inquisitive, always looking through the self for the new book.
And after becoming a parent four years ago, she thought about the greatest gift she could give her child. “I was part of a project designing a primary school website, compiling stories for children on that website. At the time I was thinking of what I would give my son that would last forever and benefit him and others around him. I thought teaching him to read would be the perfect gift,” she notes. But to do that, she also had to do a lot more reading. “I found out that if your child meets a book within the first year of their life, they have higher chances of loving to read because books will not come off as strangers to them,” Singa shares.
Capitalise on interests
She was also keen on finding out which kinds of books to buy. “Sometimes, your child has already shown interest in something. Capitalise on that. For example, my son loves animals and I capitalised on that. All his books, up until now are around animals – farm animals, wild animals and all sorts of animals and he loves them. Now, he knows their names, when he opens his books, he laughs, if their name is a bit hard, he will say it and laugh at himself, but all the while, he is learning something. So, observe where your child is going and walk with them on that journey,” she advises.
Charles Batambuze, the executive secretary of the National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU) and executive director Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), reechoes the fact that reading at school is of books on the curriculum and so does the procurement policy, which is in favour of curriculum books.
“However, research shows reading textbooks does not create a culture of reading. Children and students require exposure to interesting story books, novels and other creative works that make reading fun and entertaining. And there should be no rules that prohibit children from reading these,” he says.
He further notes that schools and parents need to create and provide an environment where reading can thrive.
“For example, make available and accessible a variety of interesting story books for children at home and the school library. Secondly, people especially parents, need to be intentional about promoting reading by reading out aloud for younger children, giving books as gifts and listening to children read to them. If we can help our children with homework, we can listen and discuss their reading.
Children should not be punished or penalised for touching, playing with and reading story books. Schools can be deliberate about promoting reading by rewarding good readers, using the library hour on the school timetable for reading and not for catching up on missed lessons or revisions,” he advises.
However, he also highlights the need for adults to also adopt a reading culture.
“For this to happen, it is important for you to know the value that reading adds to your life. It empowers you to be more creative and productive and sets you ahead of your peers in a chosen vocation. Set reading targets for a month for example one book every month. Share what you are reading and learning with peers. Join a public library or reading club near you to further enrich your reading experience,” he says.
Need for local content
In addition, to fostering a reading culture we need to; write and publish local stories which speak to our culture and ideals.
The stories should be published in both our local languages and English. “We have been promoting materials in English which partly is the reason why reading is not yet a mass activity compared to its cousin’s music and drama (‘kina Uganda’) in the creative sector,” Batambuze says.
However, Priscilla Musoke, a parent, says the high prices of books is one of the hindrances to reading.
On this, Batambuze says that last year, NABOTU lobbied government not to enforce VAT on books, a matter that was eventually settled by the Tax Appeals Tribunal.
“The tax policy can help us maintain stable and affordable book prices. Hope there won’t be a change of policy in the short term,” he says noting that we also need to eliminate book piracy.
“All book buyers therefore need to support efforts to protect the book market such as by buying only genuine books that have a URRO hologram sticker and reporting book piracy cases. We currently have a copyright police unit at URSB for purposes of enforcing the law,” he says.
But for as long as reading in schools is still boxed as only necessary for passing examinations then we still have a long way in getting learners to appreciate books and reading.
Statistics on public libraries
There are 46 public libraries in the country; six in the central region, 16 in the northern, nine in the eastern, 13 in the western part of Uganda and two in the north eastern districts of Moroto and Nakapiripirit. Of the 46, 17 have electricity, only 11 of them have professional librarians managing them and 14 of them have computers.
Public libraries in Kabarole and Hoima public libraries receive the highest number of users monthly. Kabarole receives more than 4,100 users while Hoima receives more than 2, 500 users, Nakapiripit public library receives the lowest number of users monthly.
Source: National Library of Uganda, Status of Public Libraries in Uganda, 2017.
According to a research on strategies for the development of a reading culture in Uganda primary schools, the following avenues are recommended for fostering a reading culture in pupils.
Exposure to books. The best way of promoting reading is the use of informal methods of reading rather than formal ones. This can be done through storytelling and reading by the teacher and by consulting books to find out things so that children associate books with pleasure and usefulness.
Time for practice. In order to promote the reading habit in schools, reading should be taught as a subject in its own right, regularly and systematically, and therefore a lot of time must be specially allocated to it on the timetable.
Positive emotional associations. Research has shown that children who read with their parents have a higher intelligence, reading ability and better communication skills. Reading should be fun and entertaining. Parents should never associate reading with punishment.
Avail relevant literature. The best judges of what material is stimulating and relevant for children, are the children themselves. When children get the opportunity to select their own books based on their own needs it could make them become more interested and engaged in reading.