While majority of the basic education experts in Uganda are greatly concerned by the poor literacy skills of many of the children in primary schools, a few have considered that having few or no reading role models in the lives of these children greatly contributes to the problem at hand.
According to the 2018 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) resultsthat were released at the beginning of this year, only 35.8% of children were able to complete their primary seven, in comparison to the total number that enrolled for primary one in 2012. The low completion rate is partly attributed to the inability of children to read, let alone comprehend what they have read. As we speak only 13% of children in primary three are able to read a primary two story while 26% of those in primary seven cannot read the same story, according to the UWEZO 2018 report.
There is an old narrative that if you want to hide anything from an African, you just have to hide it in a book. Unfortunately, this is still generally true for most of the people, in this case, the children in Africa. If I may ask, What if our children are unable to read because they don’t actually see anyone else around them reading? How then will they perceive reading as a relevant and important skill, not just for academic purposes, but for thriving in life in the future, when they neither see any adults, especially their parents/guardians engaged in any form of reading?
Even when we know that our children learn better when we exemplify what we want them to do rather than just verbally instructing them, many of us parents are not actually reading for and with them – despite the fact that some of us are able to read. Back in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines encouraging parents to read to their children beginning at birth, saying it enhances parent-child bonding and prepares babies’ brains for language and literacy skills. I believe every sober parent in Uganda is interested in such benefits!
For a child to become a frequent reader (that is, one who reads nearly every day), he/she needs at least one reading role model to influence them in the right direction, according to the 2019 Kids & Family Reading Report. In turn, frequent readers gain better learning outcomes and are consequently set on a path to harness their full potential beyond school.
One of the practical activities that reading role models engage in with their children is reading out loud. This is a highly interactive experience that calls for a partnership between the child and the parent. This involves activities like choosing which book to read, asking questions, turning pages, punctuating the experience with sound effects and many others, depending on the creativity of the parties involved.
In conclusion, I appeal to all parents, grandparents, older siblings, and guardians to consider being reading role models for the children in your lives. The benefits of this role will definitely outlive us and continue into the lives of our children, who will hopefully pass it to their own children in due time. I completely agree with Michael Haggen, the Chief Academic Officer for Scholastic Education: “When a child knows that the people surrounding them value reading, we will have a greater culture of literacy in our homes and in our schools.”