Every year September 8th is International Literacy Day which was established by UNESCO on 26 October 1966 at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Assembly. It was established to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Statistics show that over 85% of Botswana’s population is literate. By that it is meant that over 85% of Botswana’s population can read and write. It doesn’t mean that 85% of Botswana’s population reads and writes consistently; but it simply means that many have the ability to read. Aren’t we splitting hairs with finicky semantics between being literate and possessing a culture of reading? Perhaps we are; perhaps we actually should. The ability to read should not be misconstrued as a culture of reading. Botswana actually has a terribly poor culture of reading. People rarely read. Holt (1998) has remarked that a situation in which a large number of people rarely read, either because they lack the skill or simply because they do not care enough to take time to concentrate will pose serious problems in the future. This is precisely because reading is essential to full participation in modern society.
For one to participate meaningfully in democracy, reading is essential. For one to participate in business and to communicate clearly they need to read without fear. Voracious reading emancipates and strengthens an individual. Reading adds quality to life, provides access to culture and cultural heritage, empowers and emancipates citizen as well as bringing people together. In the words of Sisulu (2004), reading is one of the fundamental building blocks of learning; to be fair, it is a fundamental necessity to participating in the rigorous life of the 21st Century. The Botswana’s national vision has as one of its pillars that by 2036, Batswana should be an educated nation whose education is outcome based. Being informed, while it may be facilitated by media such as television and radio, it cannot be sustained through them, since television and radio usually carry reports and not original material which is usually found in books.
The importance of reading is fairly well-known. Sisulu is right that education is the bedrock of learning. Successful academic life cannot be without considerable amounts of reading. Almost all academic pursuits are based on wide reading. Right from pre-primary level until university and post university study, learning depends on reading. To read improves the quality of a people; it opens doors of cultural exchange and national heritage. It is through reading that we recognize that we are one people; that amongst the Kalanga, there are those of Sotho roots and those of Ndebele linkages; that amongst the Bangwaketse of Kanye are the Bakgatla, Bangwato, Bahurutshe, Batshweneng, Bangologa and many others. Reading opens your mind delivers you from narrow tribal interests and exposes you to the complexity of modern society. It shows you that there is no pure tribe; that we are forever inextricably bound together as a people; that our cultures may be unique, but that they all derive from one source. Reading can therefore be a vehicle that links persons from continent to continent, from one culture to another, from different religions and faiths as well as from different interests.
Reading opens a new world to the reader; sometimes it is an imaginary world, while sometimes it is a world physically removed from one’s vicinity. When one reads, they enter into a world of which the non-reader is deprived. Therefore in the sense of the romantic poets of old, reading is a liberating tool that takes one into new worlds.
Reading accords a reader, time to explore the world of books in quietude. Reading is rarely done in disco halls and the noisy and smoke filled club houses. It usually happens in silent rooms according the reader valuable time of reflection and introspection. The material being read may be mentally disturbing to the reader, perhaps as it should, but it disturbs a calm and searching mind that is receptive to the literary world. That is why religious people find a time of consulting the whole book most rewarding since it is done so in a silent and focused moment. Meditating on God’s word is therefore a kind of temporary flight from the modern turbulent time that requires instant gratification. The Psalms scream out with force and interrogative sentences: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
The culture of reading safe-guards a reader from useless rumour mongering and enables a reader to read and/or consult the original sources. Reading therefore exposes the truth – whatever it may be seen to be at a particular time. It is somewhat disheartening to see parliamentarians who haven’t read attempting to make a contribution in the house and looking like dishonourable fools. The honourable MP must be encouraged to read so that when he approaches national matters he does so with facts and not hearsays which take parliamentary debates nowhere.
Reading is important since it aids a reader to better their self expression. Good readers usually make excellent writers. This is important for students, academics, PRO personnel, religious leaders, business leaders and many others. If one wishes to express themselves clearly and forcedly, they must cultivate the habit of reading. This is in part because reading exposes one to new words, new phraseology and idiomatic expressions. It therefore betters individual linguistic dexterity.
Reading is a discipline exercise. It trains one to stay focused on one matter and to see it to completion. This trains the brain to stay focused on one issue instead of touching on a number of matters at the same time. Reading exercises the brain just like physical exercise strengthens the brain. Ken Pugh of Haskins Laboratories argues strongly that listening to the radio and watching television do not exercise the brain as much as reading. It has been found out that actually old people who continue to read into old age, continue to be mentally alert. We must therefore continue to encourage extensive reading amongst our people. Parents who read usually have children who read. Parents who bury their faces in their phones and televisions must not criticise their children for being reluctant readers. Happy International Literacy Day!