Sunday, March 7, 2021

“Decline in reading culture is alarming”

I’m profoundly excited with the launch of the book “Madam Speaker Sir”. A very thrilling book indeed! From humble beginnings in Mmathethe, Kanye and Moletsane Township in Soweto to the powerful position of Speaker of the National Assembly. The book is full of humour but also touches on serious issues that prompt debate. I must say it’s also full of ‘revelations’ ÔÇô some of us who are not close to political establishments always thought the issue s of Barata-Phathi and A teams in the BDP were just myth. Interestingly my dear friend and self- appointed spin doctor, Mr Eddie Mdluli swore that there’re no such things in the BDP, cementing our belief that the so-called feuding teams within the BDP were non-existent.

The book reveals otherwise, indeed there were opposing ‘forces’ in Domkrag at some point. I’m not here to review the book though but to talk about the deeply worrying demise of the culture of reading in Botswana. I believe we can all agree that there’s an alarming decline in the culture of reading amongst Batswana (and other nations). This decline is likely to become a socio-cultural malaise/disaster if not reversed. I must hasten to indicate that the lack of reading amongst Batswana poses a serious danger to the present and future generations. The unnerving failure by our learners in exams could be partially (if not principally) attributed to the decline in the culture of reading.

Botswana is in danger of becoming an illiterate nation. No nation can succeed if the populace is illiterate. ‘To read is to know and to know is to be enlightened’ ÔÇô it is no wonder some governments (or more appropriately, regimes) deliberately attempt to keep citizens illiterate so that during election periods they can fool people into voting them into ‘perpetual’ power by handing out food parcels. Some years ago, people took pride in the number of books they’ve read.

Homes had books (novels and other literature) in every room. Nowadays, you find ‘multi-room’ mansions in which there are gyms, cinemas, game rooms and even bars but very rarely would you find a reading room. People today derive joy from devices that are always ‘plugged’ in their ears. Listening to music 24 hours a day is an embraced culture. ‘Tweeting’, ‘whatsupping’ and facebook are considered cool ÔÇô telling the world what should be kept private is the order of the day! The few books that are found in our homes are those that purport to offer advice on how to get rich quick. Parents ‘proudly’ buy their children all kinds of electronic gadgets instead of books – kids have TV sets and video gadgets in every bedroom.

The sad reality is that parents are ‘proudly’ raising illiterate kids. Several countries have made attempts to revive the culture of reading. Zambia and Nigeria have tried without much success. The failure of these attempts is largely because these initiatives were government driven instead of being parents-driven. The culture of reading starts at home and thus parents should take the lead role with government only providing support such as building of libraries. Quite often of course, governments will readily give lack of financial resources as reason for being unable to build libraries.

However, I wish to quote a statement by Walter Cronkite regarding the critical need for libraries “ Whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation”. With the dwindling culture of reading, there can be no hope for a civilized society; there can be no hope for a society that has values based on knowledge and enlightenment; there can be no hope for a nation that can rationally discuss issues. Plato says “No matter how busy you think you are, you must always find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

Enhancing a reading culture is vital to the overall development of a nation. No country can have meaningful development if its citizen are not enlightened. Reading has benefits and I’ll highlight a few these. These benefits are not drawn from some dubious personal opinions found in the internet. The benefits are scientific findings from prestigious and high impact factor journals such as Journal Science, Journal Neurology and Proceedings National Academy of Sciences. Some of the benefits are:

1) Mental Stimulation ÔÇô the progression of conditions such as dementia is slower in those who read than those who rarely read. Mentally stimulation is good for the brain.
2) Stress reduction ÔÇô reading may assist in relaxation.
3) Knowledge ÔÇô ‘knowledgeable’ people are in a better position to tackle life’s challenges. You can lose everything in life but your knowledge can never be taken away.
4) Enhanced analytical thinking skills ÔÇô the poor debates in some parliaments, poor analytical thinking skills by some scholars and journalists are a manifestation of limited reading. Those who take time to read are usually ‘superior’ in analytical thinking skills. 5) Enhanced writing skills ÔÇô the poorly written newspaper articles, poorly written dissertations/theses and research articles point to the increasing demise of the culture of reading. People who intensely read are more likely to have better writing skills.
6) Better sleeping patterns
7) People who read are more likely to vote and most importantly are more ‘cultural’. The risk of not reading is that a tyrant can be kept in power forever.
8) On a lighter note, reading can make you look ‘sexier’. Intelligence is usually attractive to women.
9) People who read are likely to be ahead in their careers than those who don’t.
Madam Speaker should be greatly applauded for finding time in her very busy schedule to write such a thrilling, enlightening and ‘revealing’ book. This is not just a book launch but a celebration of a woman who has achieved a lot in her life in the midst of great challenges, a woman who indeed is a shining example and role model to other women.

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