Supporting a reading culture in Ghana

BY: Anis Haffar

For thousands of years, parents and teachers learned the art of raising children through grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbours in traditional societies. These days, with people living far from traditional families in isolated communities, changes have become necessary; but the value of sharing knowledge through other people’s experiences still persists.

In that same vein, learning for a particular vocation required being physically present with masters almost daily for years. These days, reading do-it-yourself books and connecting with other people from the internet helps to put people, expertise and societies together without boundaries. At the root of all that is the ability to learn to read, and read to learn.

The GNAPS initiative for 2018

The theme, “Promoting a reading culture: A key to the information age” by the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) at the British Council (February 22, 2018) was a most fitting reminder for 2018.

It was refreshing to hear the President of GNAPS, Mr Eric Appiah, say that “it is increasingly becoming necessary to visit one of the most important outcomes of education, which is reading with critical thinking which our language policy seeks to address”. He asserted, “We cannot afford to keep our children in ignorance whiles we live in a world where knowledge abounds.”

The General Secretary, Justice King Essiel, corroborated that in these days of technological advancements, we need to apply the best practices for the efficient management of educational systems. In developing learners to discover and acquire skills and communicate, it is necessary to make responsible use of digital technology.

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“The guests of your mind”

Going through my video archives, I chanced upon an interview with TV Africa years back. The host asked why it was important to read. My response was that when you read the best books, you will have as “the guests of your mind” the greatest people who ever lived since the beginning of the written language.

Through reading, wherever one finds themselves, there is an abundance of wisdom and knowledge swirling around, and ready to be disclosed and shared freely. With that abundance, you decide on the kind of thought appropriate for any occasion and / or purpose. The great thinkers and master doers are at one’s disposal sharing freely at our bidding. There’s nothing in the world like it.

Reading provides a feast at which one can sit at will, devour freely and grow in exponential proportions. So much has been prepared for the nourishment of the mind and soul that to not partake is to waste the muscles of one’s mind through the lack of use.

Learning to concentrate

Every person needs to identify a certain passion or area of interest, and then concentrate on that, and find all the materials that can be supportive in one’s particular vocation. For example, when I teach young people, one of the key things for them to acquire is something meditative; and it’s called concentration.

For starters, they have to learn to concentrate for at least 10 minutes. I say, we’re going to read one, two, three paragraphs, and we’re going to take 10 minutes to do that. Having done that, we then discuss what we’ve read. Then I say, We’re going to read the next two paragraphs and we’re going to take fifteen minutes to do that.

Come the next week, we read a particular story, and we take 30 minutes to do it. Step by step, we follow what may be called “scaffolding”: building on from an earlier practice.

Realising that now – with the ability to concentrate for 30 minutes - you can now extend it to 45 minutes, and an hour. It takes practice to concentrate. But the important thing is that we have to start teaching them young so they can see the value of concentration and apply to the discipline to other subject. People - including children and the youth - will read and continue reading when they see the value in it.

The language of the disciplines

What subject in the world can one be adept at if you don’t know the language of that particular discipline? And it all boils down to reading. Every subject under the sun has its own vocabulary. If you want to get into law, it’s got its own vocabulary. If you want to get into medicine, it’s got its own vocabulary. Engineering has its own vocabulary.

Even to be a good parent demands a particular discipline which can be learned. A lot of people think they are parents just because they have children. There are ways in which one can be a superior parent. And all of that can border on reading, as we try to emulate particular people who have raised successful children, and find out how they did it. There are books now that outline the principles that help to make successful parenting.

Without reading and understanding what we read, we become illiterates in many avoidable ways. And to be illiterate means to not reflect on what we do based on best practices. No man is an island, so reading is key as it assembles the best minds to emulate in any arena. We can’t perform competently in any great society without reading, and frankly the cause of our underdevelopment is due to mass illiteracy.

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