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20.11.2008 Feature Article

Is A Reading Nation A Winning Nation?

Books are the most essential tool for transfer of learning. Though books inspire and entertain, the development of the reader's personality is the most primary purpose of education which contributes profoundly to the development of any nation.

Though radio, TV, video, the Internet, and audio-visual aids play their supporting role in communication and education, they are only supplement to, but not substitutes for books, because the book is central and transmits information of higher order of complication with more penetration than any audio-visual aid.

The book is, therefore, unique in enhancing education, the bedrock of any nation's development; so it is important to stimulate and motivate the public, especially our young people, to develop an interest in reading for Ghana to become a winning nation.

Book industry

The book industry occupies a pivotal position in the implementation of the new educational reform programme, which is at its embryonic stage as it took off last year.

The impact of books on the success of this programme is too obvious to be over-stressed.

This is why the book industry must be given the due attention it deserves to thrive and develop rapidly for books to be available to all schools.

The laudable new educational reform programme needs not fail. It must succeed more than all other educational reforms of the past.

Whatever good strategy is adopted for implementing the new educational reform programme, adequate provision of infrastructural facilities and services for schools, upgrading of senior high schools, the improvement in the quality of teaching and learning, efficient management reforms in schools and improvement of teacher morale and motivation without adequate access to books will not meet the goal of the programme.

The Seventh Ghana International Book Fair held at the National Theatre in Accra recently came at a good time to showcase books that would be needed to meet the goal of the new reforms envisaged.

The theme of the fair “Enhancing Education through Publishing” is just right in line with what the Government is doing to raise the low educational standards in the nation.

The fair, which had 43 Ghanaian and 21 foreign exhibitors, was successful, being mostly patronised by students and schoolchildren. It is hoped that all people who purchased books will read them.

Besides, today, the Non-Formal Education Division (NFED) functional literacy programme introduced two decades ago is a partner in the crusade for the prevention of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics in Ghana. These functional literates need books to read proficiently.

One cannot talk about the enhancing of education without the mention of the unique role of book publishing in developing the reading culture of our nation. Moreover, there is no nation under the sun that can develop its reading capability without a good library system.

Again, a good library facility stimulates the book industry. Libraries are therefore the backbone of the publishing industry.

Above all, we live in an age of information explosion and since our heads cannot store all the information we require, libraries act as storehouses from which references could be made in addition to providing us with recreation.

Paradoxically, the Ghana Library Board lacks adequate funds to purchase new books to add to and replace the old collections which are no longer relevant to our social, cultural, technological and scientific needs today.

It is strongly suggested that the Ghana Library Board and other libraries will begin to buy books in large quantities to stock their empty shelves by soliciting funds from NGOs, the World Bank, UNESCO, IBBY, UNICEF and other international organisations.

Also the government can make it a policy to purchase a quantity of all books published for stocking the public libraries.

Reading is the gateway to education, hence our children, as well as adults, should be encouraged and motivated to read books.

At the moment, TV, video and the Internet have made majority of people lose interest in reading books for pleasure and even for passing exams. The time our children and students will use to read their books, learn and do the assignments given to them in school is used in Internet cafes, watching TV, CDs and playing video games.

Is it not true that children learn by example? Today, our children see mummy and daddy glued to the television screen watching movies and sometimes laughing hilariously at interesting scenes.

Then they tell their children to sit by their books to read, learn and do their assignments. Can the children concentrate on what they are learning or reading for pleasure, while they hear their parents rejoicing loudly at what they are watching? Later when parents are out of the house, then the children would watch movies and all sorts of films.

We can recall vividly how students competed among themselves with the number of novels they had read.

Those were the times books like the Penguin series, James Bond series, Mills and Boons series, African Writers series and authors like Bertha M. Clay, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and titles like Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, just to mention a few, were in vogue.

Since children keenly observe and greatly mimic, and as every tree bears the fruits of its kind, when children observe their mum and dad, they will simply learn and do what they do.

A good library system

Therefore, adults and parents should go back to the old time of reading books. Then it will not be very difficult for us to make our children study and read story books to improve their English language, which will ultimately enhance their education.

Moreover, our libraries too will no longer be empty, for students and children will patronise them very well all the year round. They will not only go there to read their notes, usually at the 11th hour when examination draws near, but also read other materials.

Thus, the incidence of students involving themselves in examination malpractices, which are rife today even to the tertiary level, will be minimised.

It is not enough for us to continue to talk about the falling standards of education in our nation. Now it is time for us, as people of this nation, to gird our loins — parents, adults, teachers and the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports — to address this problem of poor reading habit of the populace, especially among our schoolchildren and students, if not, this laudable new educational reform will become a mirage before our very eyes. But this ought not to be so!

Maybe, it could be suggested that we should go back to the old times when English grammar, construction of sentences and the likes were emphasised and thoroughly taught in our schools. It was unheard of in those times that a class five or six pupil could not write his or her own name.

Today, is it not true that some class five and six pupils cannot write their own names correctly?

Furthermore, it should be made a policy for reading clubs to be established in every school. Periodically, reading competitions should be organised in schools not less than once in a term, where publishers are invited to donate books as prizes for the winners.

We will then begin to see our children reading books for pleasure and that will eventually improve their English language.

Another way that parents and adults can motivate their children to read is to present books to them as gifts on special occasions and on their birthdays.

It is quite true that highly illustrated books in different colours reduce the publisher's profit margin (sometimes considerably).

However, the reading habit of the nation has come to a low level such that it is necessary to produce highly illustrated books with beautiful colour designs which will attract children and stimulate their interest to read.

Today, we are in a society which is rife with teenage pregnancy, drug addiction and other vices perpetuated by the youth (mostly students and school dropouts).

Therefore, we need books that will espouse a well-defined social vision that will teach our children good moral lessons.

Writers and authors

This is where the duty of good authors comes into play because of the crucial role they play, especially in human development and social growth.

As the demand for books increase, our writers will be challenged to write books that will meet our social, educational, scientific and cultural needs. Moreover, more creative writing among authors will be stimulated.

Besides, the writers are expected to champion the positive economic, societal and political changes that are needed in order to meet the Millennium Development goals. Again, they should not hesitate to point out lack of values in these areas.

Since reading broadens one's perspective of life, our development process, as a nation, will be enhanced holistically when our people emphasise it. Our nation will then be a WINNING nation!

The fact of the matter is that a book is not only a unique product but also a very subjective thing. Each book is a separate business in itself.

Its impact on different people or on the same person at different periods under different conditions is different. Therefore, it is difficult to forecast the demand for a book as you would do for some other commodities.

The daring undertaking to bring out a good book is a risky business. After production, it takes about six months or more of intensive promotion and publicity for the book to be known.

Consequently, very few publishers make any profit on the first printing of any book, for returns are slow and low and spread over a long period. Instant best-sellers are few.

Furthermore, it takes two to three years for the publisher to sell the edition, provided he is lucky. This is why the publishing industry has greater need for long-term loans than many other industries.

Today, prices of books published in the country are high for ordinary Ghanaians to buy, owing to the high cost of raw materials, especially paper. Thus, book-buying for recreational reading has become a luxury. This should not be so, for it does not augur well for the development of our indigenous book industry.

Publishers and printers

It is ironical that publishers who are yearning for a vibrant Ghanaian book industry have been printing their books in foreign countries, especially when they receive orders of large quantity of books from Ministry of Education. Who is to blame for such an unfortunate situation?

For instance, there was a book launch at the fair where books published for senior high school were showcased. The publication of these books, which initially started in Ghana, finally ended in a foreign country.

Publishers and printers have been pleading with the government to waive duties on imported paper for many years but to no avail.

However, the Ministry of Education likes to buy books at low prices comparable to the cheaper books of foreign multinational companies but it is impossible for the local publisher to sell at such low prices.

Therefore, Ghanaian publishers resort to this unpopular arm-twisting business of printing books in overseas countries to the detriment of our indigenous book industry in order to break even, stay in business, pay their workers and feed their families.

This is sad and pathetic indeed! Can Ghana really be a reading nation and win in all spheres of its life?

It's high time we took the bull by the horn and it is humbly suggested to the government to give heed to the call by the players of the book industry to waive duties on imported paper once and for all.

Then the Biblical story where Adam blamed Eve, the woman God gave him, for his disobedience, and the woman too blamed the serpent which beguiled her, will not be repeated in our day.

This is the right time for the players of the book industry, the Ghana Book Development Council (GBDC), the publishers, booksellers, writers, printers and library associations, including the Ministry of Education and others, to call a roundtable conference and pool their resources to provide the adequate books needed for this New Education Reform programme and for people to read for pleasure.

Ghana is said to be the gateway to the enormous market of the estimated 250 million people of West Africa. Of late, it has also become a hub of international conferences.

Therefore, it is necessary for us all to improve our reading habit, since that would enhance education, the basis of all developments in any nation. Above all, this country will become a winning nation.

Then we will be able to champion the rapid development of Africa.

Article by Seth Tsekpo

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2008

This author has authored 236 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DailyGraphic

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