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Promoting Reading In Schools In Sierra Leone
Helping children and adults to develop skills they need to fully participate in an information society is central in a librarian’s mission of providing the highest quality library and information service in society. Books help children read. They are more helpful than reading schemes because they promise and provide pleasure in reading. Both teachers and school librarians should be influential in the child’s reading process but they need good knowledge of children’s literature so that they can choose and help these young readers at all levels (Samara, 2002). The Library Association (1991) singled out four areas as being enhanced by reading and use of a variety of sources of information namely: intellectual and emotional development; language development; social development; and educational development. In view of this there is every reason for teachers and librarians to promote reading in school. What then is reading?
Current attempts to define reading tend to regard it as a thinking process with attention focused on comprehension. That is to say reading is a mechanical and thoughtful process requiring the reader to understand what the author is endeavoring to communicate and to contribute his own experience and thoughts to the problem of understanding. As far back as 1913 Huey began formulating such ideas as can be noted from his frequently quoted words:
until the insidious thought of reading as word pronouncing
is well worked out of our heads, it is well to place the emphasis
strongly where it really belongs, on reading as thought-
getting independently of expression.
In 1937 Gray posited that
…the reader not only recognizes the essential facts or ideas
presented, but also reflects on their significance, evaluates them critically, discovers relationships between them, and classifies his understanding of the ideas apprehended.
Such ideas about the nature of reading continued to expand so that in 1949 Gray wrote that the reader
…does more than understand and contemplate; his emotions
are stirred; his attitudes and purposes are modified; indeed his innermost being involved.
Reading is perceived as a progressive social phenomenon in that it is a means of forming people’s social consciousness; it is used as an instrument in implementing the task of continuing education and raising pupils cultural standards. In brief it is a means of increasing professional knowledge and skills and drawing people into a more creative life. In Sierra Leone, however, the task of ensuring that children learn to read, and of finding ways of helping them to do so is one of general concern to all teachers in both primary and secondary schools. One of the reasons why teachers are eager to help pupils to learn to read is that in modern society literacy is essential. In helping children to read they will not only be able to read but that their reading will develop into life-long habit. Thus a great deal of attention in schools is paid to:
– the promotion of children’s interest in books
– the supply, deployment and classification of books
– guidance in selection of appropriate books
– training in study skills and provision of time in which to read.
READING IN THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Reading in schools in Sierra Leone is embedded in the curriculum and is a continuum starting from pre-primary through primary to secondary schools, as an important studying skill. At both the pre-primary and primary school levels specific reading periods are slotted on the timetable ranging from fifteen to thirty minutes. Reading and Comprehension is a stand alone subject and children are taught not only to learn to read but also to read to learn for self-enhancement, experience sharing and recreation. Thus varied forms of literature are used notably poetry, fiction, drama magazines, newsletters and newspapers as well as non fiction, with the latter cutting across the subjects taught in school.
At pre-primary level teachers help pupils read by giving each pupil a copy of primer readers and encourage them to glance through pictures and ask questions about them as a way of stimulating their curiosity. Slips of papers bearing each pupil’s name are clipped to the primer for them to assume responsibility for keeping them clean. The teacher also demonstrates to pupils how to open these books carefully and flipping pages from front to back at a time to avoid damage. A few short sentences consisting of three to four letter words are read with pupils following in their books. After a while pupils are called upon to re-read each sentence orally. The main purpose of such a lesson is to introduce pupils to books and to teach them something useful regarding their care. Each lesson is different in design from all subsequent ones in order for the reading lesson to be of value to pupils. Typical lesson plans for teaching reading in schools include the following:
– Preparation for reading i.e. teacher shows pictures and stimulates pupils to tell related experiences, play games and tell stories;
– Guiding reading from the reader; and
– Skills-building procedures.
At the primary school level pupils read for a much longer time entire passages and if possible a whole story. They are also taught either to read as a class or divided into groups, and this exercise could be teacher-guided silent or oral reading; silent study with workbooks; dictionary or practice reader, or dramatization and choral reading exercises. Chief exercises of oral reading include reading aloud from books especially readers, notices, stories, poems and adverts. The value of oral reading exercise in school include:
1. It gives practice in using current grammatical expressions.
2. It helps to overcome speech and aid literary appreciation.
3. It makes pupils more conscious of the need for current pronunciation in speech, and to contribute to the fundamentals of reading.
4. It helps to serve as an index of pupils eye movement.
At secondary school level no special period for the art is slotted on the timetable but reading is one of the main thrusts of English Language and Literature-in-English classes. At this level pupils are expected to read in relation to their problems and are taught to master information and improve their oral skills; they are also assisted in their critical thinking, search for information and or to answer specific questions, proof-read and get a general view of a book. Such exercises are a build up from those taught in the primary school. Thus pupils are encouraged to read not only prescribed texts for both English Language and Literature-in-English subjects but also those prescribed in the subjects offered in school. In all these activities the school library is expected to play a reading role by offering a full complement of programs to include pre-school hours, clubs, homework help and Internet to assist in developing reading and information skills. It should also promote the habit of reading for pleasure and provide a systematic training in the care and use of books (Barbara, 1994). The library should also be able to stimulate reading with the provision of relevant reading materials (Hannesdottir, 2000) and provide working area for pupils to complete their assignments according to their own ability rate. Teachers alike use the library to enhance their teaching performance and to carry out research (Connor, 1990)
SCHOOL LIBRARIES IN SIERRA LEONE
Sierra Leone has a 6-3-3-4 system of education with six years of primary, three years of junior secondary school, three years senior school and four years tertiary education. The system emphasizes basic and non-formal education with the education of the girl-child as one of the key elements. The over-riding objective of this system is to raise standards at all levels of ability; make higher education widely accessible and more respectable to the needs of the country’s economy; and achieve the best possible returns from the resources invested in the education system. To attain this objective there is a need for the establishment of libraries in schools to support the formal teaching/learning programs with a rich collection of book and non-book materials.
Not withstanding school libraries in Sierra Leone are not given much recognition as the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST)has no clear-cut policies on these institutions. Their development depends on the enthusiasm of head teachers and the quality of service rendered by the few existing school libraries depends on the type of school the library is serving. In primary schools the provisions of libraries are inadequate as compared to those in secondary schools where the level of organization is dependent on who is sponsoring the school. For example old well established mission schools like the Sierra Leone Grammar School, the Anne Walsh Memorial Secondary School for Girls and Saint Edwards Secondary School in Freetown, and a few government maintained schools like the Government Secondary School in Bo, have better collections than the majority of schools in the country, especially those that started as self-help schools. These schools have poor library collections because of the uncertainty of funding. Old Students Associations fund some schools and in turn have good collections. A few private schools, especially those run by internationals such as Lebanese International School has good collections. The majority of government supported schools offer the poorest quality of education especially those run on commercial enterprises. These hardly have libraries and pupils of these schools have to rely on the services of the Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) and other libraries like the British Council and the United States Information Services (USIS),where available. Some of the few existing school libraries are fast disappearing making way for classrooms because of increased intake.
Most schools lack qualified staff to run their libraries because of the non-availability of funds to pay professional librarians. The trend has been to employ library assistants who in most cases are school leavers with or without West African Secondary School Certificate of Education (WASSCE). Some schools put the library under the charge of a teacher.
IMPROVING READING IN SCHOOLS
To start with research is indispensable in improving the current reading situation in schools. Reading has not been researched on for long in the country. It is therefore difficult to ascertain the practical problems associated with the teaching of reading, which reading tests should be implemented in schools, and what role the school librarian should play. Only through research can teachers identify the reading needs of pupils and which methods are suitable enough to be implemented in the teaching of reading in schools and the subsequent provision of suitable materials in the school library.
Libraries should be established in schools with the aim of providing suitable and relevant reading materials for their respective institutions nation-wide. Trained and qualified librarians should be recruited to man these institutions and paid salaries commensurate with their status to avert staff turnover. Provision should also be made for their continuing education through attendance of seminars, workshops, conferences and formal courses in the field and related disciplines such as Information Technology. In this vein the schools need the support of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), Community Teachers Associations (CTAs), and donor agencies by providing grants for the acquisition of such reading materials as readers, textbooks, teaching manuals and supporting library resources.
There should be scope for the production of reading materials locally to be used in schools. For far too long there has been a dearth of local publications in reading used in schools. The vast majority of reading materials in the school library is foreign and is sometimes not suitable to the needs of society. Government and the public/national library, Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB), should address this situation by encouraging local writers to publish a developmental range of reading materials aimed at the specific sub-skills of critical reading and to provide practice materials in which these sub-skills could be integrated and consolidated. Equally so the SLLB should re-visit its role to schools. Since it has a Children’s Department and sometimes gives assistance to a few schools, more appealing reading materials geared towards meeting the needs of pupils should be provided. There should be regular book fairs, exhibitions and displays to inform schools and the public in general about what is on offer in the library.
In parallel Teacher Training Institutions should give greater priority to the teaching of reading in initial professional courses. These institutions are still concerned with beginning reading; they should go beyond this point especially for the elementary and junior secondary school levels. They should train reading specialists that would be closely working with school librarians to promote reading in school.
Teacher training is judged by the success with which it satisfies the demands of the school for better professional training and also by the degree to which it satisfies students that the courses are relevant. With increasing sensitivity of the needs of schools, all Teacher Training Institutions should include the teaching of reading as a compulsory element in the training of teachers. Similarly in all secondary schools time for reading should be provided on the timetable. Pupils need time to learn; in order to guarantee that important things are taught and learnt well, time has to be allocated in proportion to the relative importance of subjects. For a country with less than 40% literacy society expects that children become literate and numerate in whatever they are engaged. As literacy is basic to the learning of almost every subject in school, reading should have priority over all subjects.
A dynamic teaching approach is necessary. Teachers should have confidence in the teaching methods used to develop children’s reading ability. They should show that they mean business and that they can deliver the goods. Children who have failed many times are hesitant at each new beginning and suspicious of, and uncooperative towards, those who teach half-heartedly. Teaching must be individualized as rarely will a child’s reading needs and problems at any one time are precisely the same as those of another. Therefore, teaching poor or non-readers in groups will seldom be effective. For efficiency of purpose reading should start with the child’s own language more so when the teaching of local languages is now introduced in schools. Children, especially beginning readers, will have confidence in books containing the printed speech and ideas in their local languages. In this light what then should be the role of the librarian in promoting reading in school?
THE ROLE OF THE SCHOOL LIBRARIAN
The education of the child is vital for the existence of society as it is the child that would grow into adulthood for society’s very survival and continuity. Thus it should be the concern of everybody to contribute immensely to the development of the child. In Sierra Leone however, many children grow in homes with little or no experience in reading because of widespread illiteracy, poverty and the unwillingness of some parents to acquire reading materials for their children. Public library services all over the country are poorly stocked with children’s reading materials. Invariably the problem is left with the school teachers and librarians to play a major role in developing the reading ability of children. As Hannesdottir (2000) opined ‘school librarians can be a major factor in promoting the use of the library and its many purposes is not only related to the academic aspects of studies but also for experience for skills development and for enjoyment’ (p.10). As information professionals librarians have the opportunity and responsibility to educate teachers, school authorities and the public about the essence of reading in school and the need to expand the role of the library. Since information literacy is the key to life-long learning, creating a foundation should be at the heart of the school librarian.
One of the key components for a good reading program is the library collection itself. The school librarian intending to promote reading should keep up with the literature and know what is on offer and what type of reading materials that pupils need (Samara, 2002). Efforts should be made to analyze the collection when processed so that pupils can have access to it by either theme or subject. In addition to books, the balanced collection provided should include recordings, tapes and slides to reinforce the reading program as well as pictorial encyclopedias and atlases. There should also be a sound establishment and maintenance of folktales, storybooks, newspapers, science and historical fiction to create a natural appeal to children (Lewis, 2000). These will help keep children’s imagination alive as the reading development of the child is not only for enjoyment but also for knowledge and information.
In the light of the afore-mentioned provisions the school librarian should keep abreast with the library and know what is available and what kinds of books that can fulfill particular pupils’ needs. He should be able to properly arrange his catalogue so that pupils can access the collection with ease (Barbara, 1994). He should keep in touch with the pupils to know what they are interested to read. The school librarian should find out from teachers the reading syllabus, and from both teachers and parents about the most popular materials on the market and then acquire them with specific references based on local circumstances. He should also get in touch with public library services in his vicinity to know what they can offer to promote the reading ability of children in school and see how best this could be availed. Once availed the school librarian should be involved in publicity activities such as displays and preparation of brochures, newsletters, booklists and if possible, offer seminars and book talks to children. In this regard he should work closely with teachers especially those that teach national languages such as Mende, Temne, Limba and Krio and those that teach international languages like English and French. Even senior pupils could be involved in the exercise. These programs should be creative and well planned and directed to a class, individual groups and individual pupils on a special basis. As Gayner (1997) asserted, in all these moves the school librarian should love children and enjoy their company to show a desire in satisfying pupil’s reading needs.
Equally so the school librarian should organize special and regular reading programs in the school community such as Book Weeks and Library Days and promote Book Clubs. He should give book talks at school Literary and Debating Society(L & D S) meetings and provide reading awards as a way of encouraging pupils to love and read books. Pupils should be encouraged to write book reviews as a way of expressing their personal opinion and develop critical thinking. This endeavor should be creative and well organized. To gain the support of teachers, school authorities and the community, the school librarian should be a good leader actively involved in school and community affairs and constantly advocating support for the library’s role in school, School Management Committees and decision makers at all levels of government. He should make reading central in all forms of his library’s mission, educate pupils, teachers school authorities and parents about the changing information environment and its impact on the school campus and community at large (Connor, 1990). In order to sustain this program in school the librarian should solicit funds from donor agencies like DFID, USAID, UNICEF and UNESCO and should be involved in collaborative effort with local literacy providers and supporters in their respective communities in order to translate their support for the library.
Now that there is gradual improvement in the national power supply grid as well as hopes that come 2008 the country’s Bumbuna Hydro Electric Project would come into fruition attempts should be made by the school librarian to bring on board the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in promoting reading in school. The school librarian should take leadership role in utilizing these technologies and creating and identifying quality web sites in much the same way he organizes and recommends print materials. He should be able to teach pupils and teachers alike how to find the best sources of information using print and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Such moves will help improve their reading skills and raise pupils’ standard as readers and life-long learners (Hannesdottir, 2000). In all these ventures there should be cooperation among stakeholders if reading is to be promoted in school. Teachers, parents, booksellers, reader advisors and pupils should be involved in the planning and implementation of reading programs aided by specialist expertise like psychologists and children librarians.
Indeed the school librarian should acknowledge the part he plays in promoting reading in school and in molding the child’s ability for life-long learning. In this regard he should be an enthusiastic and skillful reader himself. He should have an enthusiasm and a knowledge to work and share ideas with teachers, school authorities, parents and interested members in the community in promoting reading in school so as to put the right reading material into the right hands and at the right time. Keeping in touch with the afore-mentioned will help him relate the problems of the school library in the local community and how best he could approach the problem of promoting reading in school. This, in effect, will provide an opportunity for the development of the child.
Barbara, Jinks (1994).”The stars come out for reading’, School library journal, 45(3), 162-170.
Connor, Jane Gardner (1990). Children’s library services handbook. New York: Oryx Press.
Gayner, Eyre (1997).”Promoting libraries and literature to young people”, In Elkin, J. and Lonsdale, Ray, Eds. Focus on the child, libraries, literacy and learning. London: Library Association Publishing; 174-193.
Gray, W.S.(1937).”The nature and types of reading”, Quoted in Southgate, Vera, Arnold, Helen and Johnson, Sandra (1983). Extending beginning reading. London: Heinemann Educational Books; p.23.
Hannesdottir, Sigrum K (2000).”Ten effective ideas to promote reading in primary schools” , The school librarian, 48(1), 10-14.
Huey, E.B.(1913) “The psychology and pedagogy of reading”, Quoted in Southgate, Vera, Arnold, Helen and Johnson, Sandra (1983). Extending reading .London : Heinemann Educational Books;p.23
The Library Association (1991). Children and young pupil: LA guidelines for public library services. London: LA Publishing.
Lewis, C. (2000). “Limits of identification: the personal, pleasurable and critical in reading response”, Journal of library research, 23,253-266.
Samara, Dennis J. (2002). Why reading literature in school still matters: imagination, interpretation, and insight. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Association.
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