For Uganda to develop a strong reading culture, government must include storybooks on the national curriculum, re-instate the reading scheme in primary schools, improve the low literacy rates, popularise fun literature books, and promote book bazaars and book tents.
Mr Christopher Kagolo Muganga, a creative and fine art specialist at the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), says: “We develop and design reading materials for learners at all levels to supplement the textbook and syllabus. That is for pre-primary, primary, secondary and some tertiary institutions.”
Mr Elly Musana Wairagala, a curriculum specialist in English, Pre-Primary and Primary Department at NCDC, adds: “We support authors, publishers and NGOs to develop quality materials that support reading and learning in general. We are so many people in this education sector, we don’t own it alone. This is one of the objectives of the national curriculum.”
Mr Deus Monday, the principal education officer in-charge of instructional materials at the Ministry of Education, says the literature is determined by the curriculum of the particular level and the accompanying reading or materials provisions from government.
Mr Monday says stocking of reading books is also done in some cases by parents, private stakeholders and schools, which have the capacity to buy their own.
The ministry is currently providing reading materials in 27 local languages and English to all government-aided primary schools.
In his paper titled; ‘Language and Children’s Literature: A Case Study of Uganda,’ Mr Monday says reading materials in primary schools are based on thematic curriculum, which stresses usage of Local Language (LL) as the medium of instruction in the lower primary (P1-P3), or English in case of a multilingual or urban situation.
“In situations where LL is used as the medium of instruction, English is taught as a subject and vice versa. Children in those classes also enjoy a literacy hour (meant to enhance their reading and writing skills) on a daily basis,” Mr Monday adds in the paper he presented at the Fourth International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Africa Regional Conference in August 2017 in Kampala.
“The storybooks in both English and LL provided are written according to the themes which the learners are familiar with, for example, our school and neighbourhood, our home and community, our environment, among others,” Monday writes.
He says from Primary Four to Seven, the medium of instruction is English, while LL is taught as a subject.
“Children of the Upper Primary are able to access other reading materials in English and LL, Kiswahili, SST, Integrated Science, Mathematics and Creative Arts and Physical Education. However, the latter are academic books, not fun literature books,” Mr Monday observes.
He, however, proposes that government provides a budget for story and fun books at that level.
Mr Monday also says the Ugandan education system is examination-oriented due to high competition and rush for good schools at the end of every level; hence focus is only on examinable subjects.
“Reading a storybook for fun may be interesting but a storybook is not examinable; hence most school administrators, teachers and parents tend to regard reading storybooks as a waste of valuable time,” he says.
Mr Wairagala says they have encouraged schools to store children’s reading materials, besides the prescribed learners.
“Today, we have a much better conducive environment where reading for leisure is a priority. For example, newspapers have pull-outs specifically designed for children,” the NCDC official notes.
Mr Monday says many children are not able to read and write by the end of P7, adding that the completion rate at that level is about 6 per cent.
“Additionally, some children hitherto are not going to school despite the effort by government to make primary and secondary education free through the commonly known universal education programmes,” he says.
The education official also notes that there has been a crisis for simple storybooks in English and LL following the suspension of the scheme to provide supplementary reading materials to primary schools in 2009.
“In some schools/institutions, reading materials are not available at all, while in others, the literature is obsolete and uninteresting to learners,” Mr Monday says.
“Children are hardly involved in producing their own literature. In many instances, children read what they have not written. Stories are always about other people and other places, and ‘not’ children themselves and their places,” he adds.
Mr Simpson Muhwezi, a children’s book author, singles out the lack of a sustainable reading culture, the high cost of books and limited publishing opportunities as some of the major problems hindering the growth and prosperity of writers of children’s books.
Mr Muhwezi says the children’s book sector is still unstructured, with no linkages, hence a possibility for no returns.
“[You] invest a lot in your work but, three or more years later, you still have piles of unsold books,” he says.
In a paper that he presented at the Fourth IBBY Africa Regional Conference in Kampala in 2017, Mr Muhwezi says: “Being a children’s book author in Uganda is tricky. You have to not only deal with an unpredictable market, but also work in an environment where authors lack unity. Authors of children’s books are scattered, without a common ground.”
In the paper titled, ‘Problems Facing Children’s Book Authors in Uganda: What should be done?, he states that due to high production costs, book prices tend to be high.
“In Kampala, for instance, the average price of children’s storybooks written by local authors is about Shs6,500. High book prices discourage potential low income buyers,” he says.
Mr Muhwezi, who is also a storyteller, lists lack of libraries, widespread poverty, illiteracy, competition, piracy, limited publishing companies and opportunities, high cost of publishing, poor quality of books and marketing, ignorance and lack of government support as the other problems facing the publishing industry.
He notes that children’s books are essential in primary education, adding: “Besides being a medium of instruction, children’s books help to stimulate the child’s brain, which facilitates their learning process. The habit of reading books enables children develop their ability to think critically and understand quickly. Children who read regularly are often able to express themselves well. They attain sharp comprehension skills, which is prerequisite for academic and general excellence.”
“An active children’s book sector would not only help Ugandan children attain quality literacy, it would also create more opportunities for Ugandans who write children’s books. A vibrant children’s sector is a more sustainable means of nurturing a reading culture in Uganda,” Mr Muhwezi adds.
Mr Muganga says the poor reading culture is partly attributed to a very low population that reads for leisure.
“We are in a rudimentary economy where we have to first find food and a house before buying books. For example, domestic tourism has failed because we are still struggling with the basic needs in life. So, that social hierarchy can’t be attained unless we have gone through all levels of social-economic development. So, education may not be a priority in such circumstances not until you get additional resources to meet the other needs,” he says.
Mr Wairagala attributes it to a poor attitude towards the reading culture “because every community nearly has a school where materials could be borrowed for reading and the school serves the community, therefore, reading could occur hence learning.”
Mr Muganga, also the NCDC head of department (secondary), cites the relevance of literature.
“Do people read literature and its relevancy to daily life and struggles? For example, if there is famine in Karamoja, we may think we are safe here in Kampala. Therefore, first readers should be given materials related to their daily lives and cultures in order to relate them to the stories,” he says.
Ms Violet Alinda, the advocacy manager at Twaweza Uganda, notes that Uganda is not achieving a strong lifelong reading culture due to several factors, including poor development of foundation skills due to absence of Early Childhood Development and late acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills.
“There is lack of resources, including insufficient books for children to read. This is never part of the games children play in many schools. Children are also being taught by teachers who never read; there are no role models and there is no motivation to read,” Ms Alinda says.
As to whether NCDC encourages school libraries in the execution of its mandate, Mr Muganga says: “Infrastructure is not a role for NCDC but for the Ministry of Education. For us, we don’t need a room labelled ‘library’ to learn how to read. We have a library hour on the timetable for a teacher to develop learners’ reading skills. For a teacher who is skillful and loves the job, he or she cannot fail to get reading materials because there are several in our communities.”
Tomorrow, the last installment looks at the factors why Uganda may not attain Sustainable Development Goal Number Four on quality education and lifelong learning for all.
In his recommendations, Mr Deus Monday, a senior official in Education, says the ministry should re-instate the reading scheme in primary schools and emphasise the need for children to read storybooks alongside examinable subjects. “More book bazaars and book tents should be conducted not only to sensitise the children, but the public to reading storybooks. Reading is a culture which children need to pick from their parents and the wider public,” he proposes.
Materials: Mr Monday says secondary and tertiary institutions should provide age appropriate supplementary reading materials to learners. He also urges parents and other stakeholders to support government effort by providing free reading books or the necessary funding in schools and tertiary institutions. “Ugandan children should be given the opportunity to write their own stories, display them in class, read them for their friends or even publish them for wider coverage /readership,” Mr Monday proposes.
Literacy: For Uganda to register higher literacy levels, Mr Christopher Kagolo Muganga, a creative and fine art specialist at the National Curriculum Development Centre, calls for more sensitisation for education with some punitive measures. “For example, Universal Primary Education should be compulsory. We are forgetting that those not attending school today will be a problem in future. Therefore, it becomes expensive in the long run to cater for an illiterate society. There is no urge for Ugandans to do self-liberation of solving their own problems. The capacity to solve their problems is very low,” he says.