Maybe I should start with an apology for a topic the readership may want to mildly describe as being paradoxical or nonsensical. I do not mean to communicate nonsense, but I consider the topic the best way to capture my intention which is to express my worry about how reading has become an unproductive exercise. Reading, as a receptive communication skill, involves the internalisation of thoughts which are meant to be engaged. Reading, expectedly, brings out the depth in people and improves their critical thinking. Unfortunately, this depth and critical thinking which are the gains of reading tend to be missing in many a reader today. This has prompted the topic of this treatise which aims at discussing the actual essence of reading, the challenges affecting productive reading and the remedies to the challenge of unproductive reading, especially among young Nigerians.
For starters, aside from the basic functions of reading, which are to search for information, to skim quickly, to learn from a text and to integrate information, it must be mentioned that reading has not served its primary purpose if it does not stimulate the intellect. In essence, exposure to reading materials should help anyone engage in critical thinking and constructive criticism. By the same token, a reader must be able to draw inferences and make logical conclusions on subject matters. Reading, therefore, must be conceived of as an engaging mental exercise that should serve more important functions beyond receiving information. As established by philosophers, for every thesis, there must be an antithesis before we reach a synthesis. A reader, therefore, must not accept information hook, line and sinker. In other words, readers must challenge propositions before settling for conclusions. Whoever does not bring this critical side to reading belongs to the class of people I choose to describe as readers who are not reading.
As part of its essence, reading should enable the citizens to garner the intellectual strength and exposure to challenge the status quo in their society. In the words of Professor Emeritus Femi Osofisan, “When we argue, as passionately and tirelessly as we do, for the promotion of the reading culture in our country, it is not only to pander to our own personal indulgence and delectation, but even more crucially, because we are concerned about the enthronement of democracy among our people.” Ignorance, as all tyrants know, is the tonic of servitude. Osofisan went further to say that an illiterate person is easy to enslave because he is not aware of his own hidden strengths or of other possibilities in existence elsewhere around him. If the illiterate person is said to be easy to enslave, how many literate persons today are also not in one form of enslavement or the other? Again, this is why I am asking in this piece: are readers still reading?
Productive reading which enables critical thinking and appraisal of situations is evidently challenged in Nigeria. One major challenge is the advent of social media which has reduced reading to a mere unengaging scan of real and unreal events. Before the advent of social media, people knew who wrote what, and writing was mainly the craft of knowledgeable people who had information to share and also had the command of whatever language of communication they were deploying. With social media, everyone has become a writer, resulting in the proliferation of information which, many times, is fake, false and fabricated. What might be called casual reading, before the advent of social media, was the reading of novels which helped in developing the vocabularies of many users of English. Sadly, reading on social media is what many young persons now consider reading, and this, most times, is not capable of boosting their intellect, as most persons who write on these platforms cannot be called writers. Another challenge with productive reading in Nigeria is the lack of reading culture in schools. As such, and worryingly so, many students consider reading a mere requisite of a successful academic journey and not a life-boosting engagement.
To return to the age when reading served its purpose, everyone must be collectively responsible. Teachers must make reading an engaging and stimulating activity that does not only serve the purpose of examinations. On top of that, schools should teach reading as an integral communicative-cum-intellectual skill and emphasise the importance of reading quality content either in books or on search engines.
Also, it should be noted that social media posts and comments are sometimes not stimulating enough. So, individuals must cultivate the habit of reading real books which could even be non-academic books such as novels, newspapers, periodicals, et cetera. Essentially, too, readers should endeavour to question and verify the content they find on social media, especially before sharing such.
In conclusion, an illiterate person is not different from an ill-literate one. Literacy that does not lead to personal, collective and national development is ill-literacy, as I explained in one of my previous articles. Given the foregoing, we must collectively promote functional reading which helps readers become intellectually stimulated and personally sagacious.