Reading, the cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message or being able to read and interpret what is written, is dead in Sierra Leone. It is noticeable every where that pupils and students of today do not make use of their school, college or university library.
Gone are the days when students clamoured and elbowed each other to lay hand on a nice book or a potential interesting book in a library. In yesteryears, pupils and students made a habit every Friday to go to their library and borrow two or four books to go and read over the weekend.
This habit of reading which the pupils and students inculcated helped them to read voraciously and made easy for them to understand examination questions without resorting to waiting for leakage or spying during an examination.
The educational system during pre and post-colonial Sierra Leone compelled students to like reading their texts and note books. The teachers who taught during those period, prepared their lesson notes before entering the class in a sober mood and well-dressed. They taught the pupils the 26 alphabets; capital and small letters to help them recognize the letters of the alphabet.
From their recognition of the alphabet, they teachers taught them two-letter; AB (AB); BE (BEE); AT (A-TT); TO (TOH); SO (SOH); NO (NOH), BY (BYE), etc. From the two-letter word, they moved to the three-letter words like; BAT, CAT, MAT, AND, INK, BUT, YOU, etc. Pupils had to graduate from the three-letter word to four-letter word before they reached Class IV. By the time the child went to Class V, he was able to recognize all the alphabets and syllables which made him to read easily. Teachers also taught them rhymes which introduced them to memorizing long stanzas at their tender ages.
For instance, during our time when we entered primary school, there was one particular coloured book in which there was a particular page that every pupil was forced to spell and memorise S-H-O-K-O-L-O-K-O-B-A-N-G-O-S-H-A-Y (SOKOLOBANGOSHAY). In that same book, we read and memorized; a man and a pan. It is a pan. A man has pan. A pan. A man has a pan…a man and a pan. Yes, it is a man? It is a man. A man and a pan. The kids who read that book, had joy to recite the various chapters on their way home.
The teachers gave opportunity to each pupil to read a paragraph, passage or whole Chapter of his/her Evans Primary English for Sierra Leone and gave the pupils exercises to do in Class and a Home Work. For me, I can still remember the Chapters; ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER and PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE. For most of us, after reading in Class, we also read at home.
Teachers helped the pupils to spell the difficult words in a passage by heart, page-by-page, chapter-by-chapter. They also taught the pupils to write compositions, first about themselves and other things. In addition, the teachers taught the pupils poetry which they memorized and recited daily like the daily morning hot mental in which some teachers asked such questions; 2 times 5 plus 7 divide 3 square root 2, 10 times 3 time 5 divide by 2 plus 8, etc. The pupils answered those questions manually without using a calculator-in fact there was no calculator when doing logarithms or anti-logarithms.
This was a period when the teacher was father, parent, guardian and mentor to the pupil. They were committed to their work to pass the requisite knowledge to the pupils. The pupils reciprocated well. They did not disobey their teachers nor challenge or confront them. Pupils received blessings from their teachers unlike the pupils of today; only a minute number are disciplined and well brought-up.
The pupils were very serious with their studies. For some of us who attended schools in the rural areas, we were obliged to fetch wood and always had our notes in our pockets to read when we went on firewood-fetching expeditions. We also had our notes with us even when we went to the toilets. There was competition. No pupil wanted to be left out. If you were in a co-educational school, you will be the darling of many of the female pupils because of being very clever in class. That is, in those days, female pupils admired clever male pupils and not shabba-like shenanigan male pupils of today.
The foundation a pupil got from Class I-IV, helped him considerably to be able to read in Classes V, VI and VII. It prepared the pupil well to sit the Selective Entrance Examination (SEE), which is called today National Primary School Examination (NPSE). This methodology of teaching made the pupil confident to sit public examinations without recourse to waiting on leakage or spying. It helped the pupils to be able to read and understand examination questions. NO PARENT EVER WENT TO AN EXAMINATION CENTRE TO IDLE OR TO GO AND BRIBE TEACHERS OR EXAMINATION OFFICIALS TO HELP THEIR CHILD OR GUARDIAN TO PASS.
And from Primary School, the child graduated to Secondary School, where there were dedicated and diligent teachers who did not even know about two or three-sim teaching; teaching at Albert Academy in the morning; afternoon at Muslim Brotherhood and in the evening at Richard Allen. In secondary school also, the teachers motivated the pupils to like reading, drama and debates. Before they reached Form V, they were able to read and write well. Their teachers enjoyed marking their examination scripts since they answered the questions intelligently.
By the time they reached University, they continued with the reading habit. They made the college or university libraries their friends and read all the books that they borrowed. Pupils were voracious readers. That is why most of the senior officials of Government and other institutions write and speak English eloquently for over 30 minutes without using so many ehnehnehn, you know you know, etc.
When I was attending School at St. Paul’s Secondary, Pujehun, the school library was my good friend. I had a father who never sent clothes or a loaf or biscuit for me after work but novels, which I read all. By the time I relocated to Freetown to attend St. Edward’s Secondary School, May Park Kingtom, reading was now a hobby for me, and till today. As we were staying at 22 Wallace Johnson St. by Lamina Sankoh, the nearest library I registered with was the USA Library at Walpole St (current NASSIT headquarters) where I went regularly to borrow American Political Science and Literature books. I later registered with Sierra Leone and British Council Libraries; as USA Embassy Library was my preference and distance too was in my favour.
Side-by-side borrowing books in the library to read, I sacrificed daily my money for breakfast to buy Johanes Gutenberg Letter Press newspapers which were printed just across where I stayed at Lamina Sankoh St.
However, it is a pity that the pupils and most students of this generation can not read and write well. The foundation which they get in primary school especially, is so poor that many of them can not even recognize most three-syllable words. I have taught in The Gambia at Tertiary level. For those that I have taught in the last ten years; five in The Gambia and five in Bo Sierra Leone, I have discovered that the reading culture is not as dead in The Gambia as it is in Sierra Leone.
Most Sierra Leoneans do not read again even the newspapers, nor novels as people of old did. Even the Holy Bible which they carry to Church daily, is unused after service or mass. Hardly do you see a boy or girl reading a novel or text book like we used to do by reading our text books or novels likeJames Hadley Chase or the Mills and Boon, Pace Setters or African Writers series. Nor do you see a pupil or student reading a Parry Mason or Agatha Christie-like detective novel
The kind of reading discipline which Dr. Sama Banya, Andrew KEILIE and others had, is why they have made reading and writing their hobbies.
Some of us are still able to recite what we read 30 years ago in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Merchant of Venice, Mayor of Casterbridge, Things Fall Apart, Burning Grass, The African Child or in Geography, Agriculture, Economics, Physics, History, etc. On the contrary, ask the pupils who are sitting WASSCE now to read some of their notes, most would have forgotten what they had read. Besides these, we read magazines which made us to know current affairs about Sierra Leone, Africa and the world. I knew the all ministers of Siaka Stevens when I was in Class VI while also knowing most of the African leaders at that time through reading.
Reading is very good. It can help a pupil or student to enlarge his vocabulary. It can help a pupil to enlarge his horizons. It can help a pupil/student to think independently. It can help a pupil/student to read and understand an examination question. It can help a pupil or student to write good grammar.
The Free Quality Education of the New and Right Direction is here to stay. Parents and teachers must discipline their children and wards to be voracious readers. They should discourage their children from devoting all their time to social media or to movies.
The children will continue to engage in examination malpractices if they do not make reading imperative in their lives. How can a candidate answer an examination question if he can not read the question? Reading culture is dead in Sierra Leone. Teachers, parents and community must revive it.
The internet is not here to distract you; but gain lots of knowledge from it. It has a library on all the subjects and modules taught in schools and universities. Students must make wise use of this opportunity!
Teachers too must review their methodologies of delivery in class if they want the future leaders to be able to be good readers. Challenge critics who say: If you want to hide from a black man, hide it in a book. What they are saying is that Africans do not read. Are you one of the Africans who do not read? Teachers and parents help the children to gain sustainable knowledge if you want them to get universal education!