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Why books in Ugandan schools are never worn out

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd September 2009 03:00 AM

IT is a hot Monday afternoon in a rural primary school. For the last 10 minutes a young boy has been trying to read out loud from a story book to a fully packed class of 60 pupils. As the pupils crowd around the desks trying to listen in, the frustrations

IT is a hot Monday afternoon in a rural primary school. For the last 10 minutes a young boy has been trying to read out loud from a story book to a fully packed class of 60 pupils. As the pupils crowd around the desks trying to listen in, the frustrations

By Arthur Baguma

IT is a hot Monday afternoon in a rural primary school. For the last 10 minutes a young boy has been trying to read out loud from a story book to a fully packed class of 60 pupils. As the pupils crowd around the desks trying to listen in, the frustrations on their faces are evident.

At the age of 10, Peter Mwijuke is expected to be able to read short stories. But he can hardly read coherently and in an audible manner.

Mwijuke is part of what has become a growing trend of a poor reading culture in Uganda. The curriculum puts emphasis on reading as a core component of learning in primary schools but the reading culture in schools is deteriorating.

As a principle, books for reading which are distributed in schools are supposed to be in the hands of pupils. However, many of the pupils complete school without ever touching the books.

“You go to a school and you find books which were issued three years ago tucked away neatly in boxes. Some head teachers prefer the neatness of the books to the pupils accessing them.

The principle is that the books must be accessible by the children,” says Agrey Kibenge the Education ministry spokes person.

Education experts warn that this habit is one of the main issues entrenching a poor reading culture among pupils.

Charles Batambuze the Executive Secretary, National Book Trust of Uganda says the culture of reading has fizzled out especially in the upper primary school level.

Batambuze recalls that when he left primary school in 1987, there was a deliberate policy on reading lessons in primary schools.

He notes that today, these lessons have been substituted with home work and revision lessons.

“Reading lessons are taken serious from P1 to P3. But from P4 to P7, teachers use the reading lessons for revision and trying to finish what was not covered in the syllabus,” he observes.

Uganda’s education system has been criticised for perpetuating a culture of reading for exams. Sarah Kaddu the Secretary General of Uganda Library Association (ULA) blames the education system for the poor reading culture.

Kaddu argues that the poor education system characterised by tight syllabuses and regular examinations with emphasis on passing exams leaves no room for extra time for pupils to read.

“A student sits for exams and after passing highly they will never turn a page in a book to read,” she said.

However, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) denies that the curriculum is responsible for the poor reading culture.

Connie Kateba, the NCDC director says on the contrary, the curriculum was revised to put more emphasis on literacy.

According to Kateba, each day of the week, one hour is dedicated to literacy lessons in lower primary. She adds that in upper primary, literacy teaching is emphasised, especially for language subjects like English and local languages.

“A poor reading culture is something that has gradually developed over time. In most schools you find that instructional materials are limited to subject notes which are mostly dictated to students.

I think this is what has eroded the culture of reading,” Kateba noted. Kaddu also cites poverty and tight rules and regulations in the existing libraries as another problem perpetuating a poor reading culture.

When a book wears out, one can tell it has served its purpose. However, library owners complain or fine users for making a book dirty.

Such attitudes keep people away from borrowing books and thus kill the reading culture. She also notes that the books are expensive and the libraries are poorly stocked.

Schools speak out
Francis Ssenabulya the head teacher St Peters Primary school Nsambya says reading lessons should be part of the timetable in all schools.

He advises that awards should be given to the best pupils who excel at reading as away of encouraging the practice among pupils. He says this approach has worked in his school.

“We ask them to read as many books as possible. We then test them to give a brief about the book they have read, its title and the author.

The best pupils get presents. This has increased the urge for reading among the pupils,” Ssenabulya says. Martin Isagara, the headteacher City Parents School notes that the biggest challenge is supervision outside school. He says pupils in the upper primary section are allowed to borrow books and take them home.

They are expected to return the books after one week with a summary of what they understood from the book. “Some pupils take books and don’t read them. Supervision is a challenge outside the school. The pupils are also encouraged to read newspapers on a daily basis,” Isagara says.

Fred Geke a renowned writer and author of Best Foot Forward and Dare to Dream Again notes: “The culture of reading is something you develop over time especially when you are young.”

He advises that reading books should be the world where children spends most of their life in early primary education. “When I was a little boy going to school in the 1970s, there was a lot of time to read because we would leave school at 12:00pm for the lower primary section and the upper would finish at 3pm. We had enough time to read.”

Shel Arensen, a veteran writer of Children’s books in Africa advises that books should be written in context of the African society to encourage early interest in reading.

“Most of children’s literature imported from Europe is written for a different readership and not for Africans,” Arensen, says.

During a book signing event with seven other renowned authors in Kampala recently, Arensen said in order for one to write a book that will appeal and be relevant to the children, one should put himself or herself in the child’s mind.

“Try to get into the child’s mindset and write in their perspective,” Arensen said. Be sure to put a child or children at the centre of the story. The subject should be about the child or at least from the child’s perspective.

The child should be instrumental in working out the solution or solving the conflict. Always end happily (no tears).

For instance, a sad story involving tragedy in a home could end like, “...Now the family is back, the lost boy is reunited with his folks, realises he belongs best at his very own home and gets cookies as a treat for coming home safe,” she says.

Why books in Ugandan schools are never worn out

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