There is a general worldwide perception that boys do not read as much as girls do and in Africa, this is probably even more so.
I have pondered over why this might be so in Africa and though there are a number of contributing factors such as a lack of relevant reading resources and more alluring means of time usage such as PlayStation and Internet, I think the primary cause is a cultural one.
The practice of telling and sharing stories has however –since time immemorial –been a significant part of African culture. Children would gather around elderly folk over a warm fire during the evenings and get translated into wonderful worlds of myths, legends and folktales as Gogo or Khulu narrated. It wasn’t a one man’s show, where one person would speak as everyone listened and watched. It was interactive. As Gogo, narrated, her audience would regularly respond, fueling her on wards. These stories were riddled with song throughout the narration and they were sung in call and response where Gogo would call out in song and the children would respond collectively. The stories always had a lesson or moral value that children would take home.
This rich cultural heritage passed down through generations but sadly dying in the 21st century shows that stories and storytelling are not a foreign concept to the African populace. The difference lies in the method by which these stories are delivered in today’s society and that is where the problem lies; Africa needs to develop a culture of reading.
A boy child’s lack of interest in reading begins right from home. When reading for enjoyment is not common practice in the home, when there are hardly any books in the house to start off with, when he does not see mum or dad reading regularly, when the only time a he picks a book is for academic purposes, how is a boy child going to develop a habit of reading? When mum does not make a deliberate effort to limit the amount of screen time spent on video games, e-games and TV, how is the boy-child going to develop the discipline and stamina to read regularly? The absence of the practice of reading as a way of life in Africa is the first and foremost reason for the boy child’s lack of interest in reading.
Another reason contributing to the African boy child’s lack of interest in reading is the quality of reading material presently available for the African child.
Children’s literature in Africa is to a large extent Western, American or African-American and very often irrelevant to the life of the African child.
This prevailing situation has a significant bearing on the boy child’s appetite for reading because it determines how a child connects with a story. For any child to connect with a story he needs to be reading about events that he regularly encounters in his own life and to be seeing environments that are similar to those he is growing up in. He needs to be seeing boys like himself doing the things he enjoys doing in pictures and he needs to hear the stories told in a language that is a part of who he is, his mother tongue. These things connect with the boy child, they spark his interest. They tell him that he matters enough to be included in a book –that stories and reading are for him too. If you can get a boy-child to connect with books that may be half the job done in sparking a lifelong love for books in him.
African writers and illustrators therefore have a huge responsibility in writing 21st-century-relevant stories that will help nurture a reading culture in the boy child. As the saying goes,
Until lions learn to write, it is the hunters who will tell their story,
It is so important for Africa to grow to a place of writing her own stories well in order for the African Child to be wooed into the culture of reading.