‘Kids’ Lit Quiz will produce a generation of readers-thinkers-leaders’

Maluchi Chukwuemeka, national coordinator of Kids' Lit Quiz in Nigeria.
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Kids’ Lit Quiz is an international literature quiz competition that aspires to challenge, engage, reward and extend students’ recreational reading. Maluchi Chukwuemeka, national coordinator of Kids’ Lit Quiz in Nigeria, speaks with CHUKS OLUIGBO, assistant editor, on the benefits of the competition for participating students, schools, and the country at large, as well as the procedures for participation. Excerpts:

 

How would you explain Kids’ Lit Quiz to someone who has never heard about it?

I will use its moniker to describe Kids’ Lit Quiz, which is simply ‘The Sport of Reading’. Just picture children who love sprinting, jumping, lawn tennis, taekwondo or other sports preparing for it and later participating in it to win a prize, then picture a team of four children who love reading books preparing by reading, then participating by representing their school to win a national prize, and if possible, an international one.

What are the aims of Kids’ Lit Quiz and what impact do you think it’s going to have in Nigeria?

Kids’ Lit Quiz aspires to challenge, engage, reward and extend students’ recreational reading. It acknowledges that all types of literature are valued and positively affirmed. Its intention is to promote wide reading across a range of genres and themes. The Kids’ Lit Quiz comes into Nigeria at a time when children’s reading is under threat from other social influences. It actually comes highly recommended by other developed nations with research to back it up. So, Nigeria is so fortunate to be the first all-black nation to participate in such an international literature quiz competition and will make others want to follow suit. This will boost the country’s international image amongst other developed nations as well as give the schools who participate and come out tops bragging rights. Besides, there is the added benefit of meeting with students from other countries as well as exploring other cultures through books, having a broad worldview and the confidence of being international players and not local champions. For the children who participate but do not win, a love of reading is now inculcated in them which cannot be taken away as no knowledge from books is wasted and it could come in handy in the future. The improved reading culture will help them to prepare for their internal school exams without being cajoled to read. The country will now be known to breed a generation of readers-thinkers-leaders who can hold their own and also command respect in the international turf. So, it is a win-win situation.

Given the poor reading culture in the country, do you think Nigerian kids can compete favourably with their peers from other participating countries?

When I assumed the role of the national coordinator of the quiz in Nigeria, I knew what the quiz would do for the country, but was sceptical if we had children who could compete favourably with other national champions. This scepticism was heightened after the 2018 world final held in July in New Zealand where Australia won and I saw how the children from other countries performed. But my husband allayed my fears and told me that some parents in Nigeria actually take time to raise readers. We then decided to go on a search for parents who were intentionally raising readers despite all odds in the country as well as encourage Nigerian parents to raise readers. Thus, the journey of awareness, encouragement and discovery started in July with a series on Instagram and Facebook tagged ‘lioness mum/lion dad’, where a Nigerian parent who resides in Nigeria and is raising reader(s) is featured every Friday. Guess what? I have been blown away by the parents whom we have featured and their certified bookworms. So, I am more than confident at this point that we have children who can compete with national champions from other countries as the series has also encouraged other parents to step up with their children’s reading. Besides, the schools that we are communicating with also have some great readers. I guess that I would say that not every child in Nigeria wants to dance shaku shaku or participate in a reality television show. We have a good number that have greater aspirations. We had to look deep to find them. Just as gold is not found on the surface, you dig deep to find such children. If I must add, a great deal of the work falls on the parents.

Have you held any programmes in the country and what has the response been like?

No programme has been held in that sense. What we are currently doing is sending out information pack which contains an inaugural letter, WWWWH (who, why, when, where, and how) document, registration letter, 50 pretest questions to test the children, guidelines for participating in the quiz as well as reading ideas. We also made a short promo video which accompanies the e-pack and helps the schools understand how the quiz is run and the benefits to the Nigerian child. We have sent out e-packs to about 200 secondary schools in Lagos and its environs because of the age requirement for the quiz, which is 10-13 years, with a follow-up call to ensure that the e-packs were received. The schools who do not send a mail acknowledging receipt or who do not have a working mobile line are then visited with a printed pack. The school’s response is two-sided as a good number are enthused and excited to participate in it, while others are scared that it might expose them as not being up to international standards in terms of the books which they expose the children to if they don’t do well, but no one and definitely no country is a know-it-all. We are all work-in-progress. No one is out to expose anyone but to help everyone to improve. We have received lots of positive feedback from over 20 schools who wish to participate and whom we also call regularly to follow up and encourage as the children prepare for the competition with their coaches. It actually starts small in most countries where the quiz is introduced, before everyone gets to know about it and wants to be a part of it.

What are the criteria and what is the process for schools that wish to participate in Kids’ Lit Quiz? Does it come at any cost?  

The children must be aged 10-13 years and must be under 14 years of age on July 1st in the year of the world final. This is why in Nigeria we target secondary schools. A team consists of four students who could be mixed (girls and boys) or all girls or all boys who must all be from the same school. It is expected that their school uniform or school ceremonial outfit is won during the heats and national final. If no school uniform, then smart dress. A school can enter a minimum of one team and a maximum of four teams (16 children from all the four teams). There is a participating fee of $100 (N36,000) for a team of four children, which is uniform in all Kids’ Lit Quiz participating countries.

Being that Kids’ Lit Quiz is international, is there some general syllabus for all participating schools across the world?

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is all about reading for pleasure. We want students to read unfettered by a list. It is our belief that a list acts as a test in disguise and this has worked in other countries. On the quiz arriving in Nigeria, we discovered that most schools don’t have a regular and updated reading list which goes with the children’s ages and this posed a great challenge. So, to continue in its vision of rewarding readers and so as not leave anyone out, the international quizmaster, on my request, compiled a list of books used in past world finals to serve as a guide to reading. The list is inexhaustible and the children are expected to just keep on reading all the books that they can lay their hands. Inasmuch as the quiz is international, the international quizmaster also asks questions which are specific to the country that is hosting him. For instance, part of the 50 pre-test questions sent out to schools has some questions from Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi and other African authors’ books and African folktales. This helps us identify with our own, even as we identify with the international community. The children from other countries are also expected to read our books as we read theirs, thereby fostering an exchange of culture, beliefs, history and tradition. So, yes, there is a list which serves as a guide. There are also questions on the website (www.kidslitquiz.com) which are updated regularly and which the students can use to test themselves.

Who funds Kids’ Lit Quiz in Nigeria?

The success of Kids’ Lit Quiz all over the world is entirely dependent on financial and product support of corporations and private sponsors who in turn will receive international recognition on the website and at the national event. In addition, the individual/organisation will be seen as one who helped to introduce a new generation of Nigerian children to a revived reading culture. For more details on sponsorship, they can visit the website or contact me for the sponsorship proposal package.

What should the public look out for from now on?

As I said earlier, Kids’ Lit Quiz Nigeria is creating awareness on social media through posting encouraging posts on reading as well as through the ‘lioness mum/lion dad’ series which will end in September. The next three months from October to December will showcase schools/libraries/bookshops in Nigeria that are trying to improve the reading culture through their activities. We are in talks with a coach who won the world final with her team and the schools who register by the 31st of October 2018 should expect the tips received from this coach to be passed to them. This will help them with their preparation. We also have a media partner on television whom we will visit sometime in January to talk about the quiz. They have promised to air the quiz in Nigeria. Then, the moment which we have all been waiting for will kick off on Saturday, February 9th, 2019 with the Lagos mainland and Lagos island heats. The Nigerian national final will take place on Sunday, February 10th, 2019. Wayne Mills, the quizmaster, has confirmed his arrival. He writes all the questions and asks them for quality control purpose. We plan on getting a Nigerian author to give out the prizes to the top schools and give a speech at the grand finale. No overly big names for now, but if the sponsors want them, who are we to say ‘no’?

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