– Education Minister Sonii: “no successful education system that can thrive in the absence of strong reading foundation”
Liberia’s Minister of Education, Prof. D. Ansu Sonii has emphasized the importance of reading, promising to make it a culture in Liberian schools.
Prof. Sonii made the assertion yesterday, February 6, during the official launch of the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP)’s National Reading Campaign, held at the Lutheran Compound in Sinkor.
The Minister said reading is central to education and must not be taken lightly; that there is no successful education system that can thrive in the absence of strong reading foundation.
“Few years ago, there was a survey which showed that three out of five students of grade 2 tested could not read a single word. At the Ministry of Education, we have a lot to do and we are doing a lot,” Prof. Sonii said through a speech delivered Deputy Education Minister Felecia Doe-Somah.
Prof. Sonii continued: “over the years, we have made reading a major subject, increasing the number of times in a week that a school ensures that the students do reading up to three times a week.”
Yesterday’s launch brought together the country director for Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Madam Massa Crayton; KEEP board member, Dr. Romelle Horton; authorities of the Ministry of Education and students from various schools.
At the program also were representatives from We-Care, UNICEF, Save the Children, Liberia Reads, Read Liberia, The Catholic Secretariat, the Methodist School System, and USAID/Peace Corps.
Minister Sonii said education is the bedrock to any nation and, as such, authorities at the Ministry of Education have operationalized the “Getting to Best Roadmap” to ensure all of the public schools have libraries.
“This is why we support not only the reading campaign KEEP is launching, but also its work over the years to support the Ministry’s agenda in education.”
“The creation of new reading spaces, teacher trainings, community engagement, these are all strategies that we see as quite useful in ensuring we have a more literate, well-educated and well-read society,” he said.
Prof. Sonii, who officially launch the one-year National Reading Campaign, said he was delighted as the campaign focuses on ways parents can actively encourage their children to read more. According to him, “most times, parents are more focused on only the aspect of paying tuition that they forget that educating their child is not the sole responsibility of the school, but theirs as well.”
He emphasized that over the next two years, the ministry will be establishing more libraries in public schools across the country.
Prof. Sonii said the Bureau of Basic Education has set up a technical working group of which KEEP is a co-chair with a goal of generating more interest and attention to reading.
Rasheena Reid, Education Office Director at the United States Agency International Development (USAID Liberia), pledged their commitment in working with KEEP to support reading in Liberia.
“This is something we are also involved with around the country. We are delighted for this campaign and will partner with you moving forward,” Madam Reid said.
The Executive-Director of Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), Brenda B. Moore, said growing up, before the days of cellphones and all the technology people now have access to, reading novels was the “cool” thing to do.
She said as teenagers, “we would trade books with each other, and enjoy sharing our insights into the stories and would fall in love with the characters, and transport ourselves into medieval times. We would imagine and let ourselves believe.”
She said students learned new words that they would use lavishly and boisterously on each other, and such euphoric involvement with books led to frequent escapes from household chores, hiding in rooms and bathrooms to indulge in books.
Mrs. Moore said Liberia’s education system at that time was good and exemplary in the West African region, amongst other things, because students had a culture of reading that was cultivated from an early age.
“People say those are days have gone. While that may seem true in some sense, I also know that we can bring back those days. In fact, we can surpass those days because now the world has more books, more authors, and more ease of access,” she said.
“The truth also is [that], as our children have failed to read as they should, our educational system has collapsed. We simply cannot be what our society aspires to become, and participate in a knowledge-based economy that the world has become with the chilling narrative that if you want to hide something from a Liberian, place it in a book!”
Mrs. Moore emphasized the need to encourage the children/students to read, because reading has to become everybody’s business again. “KEEP is using storytelling to demystify reading,” she said, adding that it is the collective efforts that can make the difference and change the narrative around education in Liberia.
“We need to rethink literacy and understand from the moment a child is born, his or her literacy journey actually begins with parents, family and community, all playing important roles. A love of reading is a great gift to pass on to a child. This event is not geared towards highlighting what isn’t. We already know what are the things that are both lacking and needed in our educational system,” Mrs. Moore said.
According to her, rethinking literacy is actually getting libraries into every school and communities because, to quote Walter Cronkite, “whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to an ignorant nation.”
According to her, the National Reading Campaign is focused on what “we can collectively do to make our system succeed; to make it excel; and to garner collective actions. As parents, what can we do to get our children reading more? As teachers, what strategies can we apply to see our students reading more and better?”
She said while this campaign will also target students, it will focus on not only providing tips for how parents can ensure their children read more, but also ways they can make it an enjoyable experience — one that will incite that passion to read throughout their lives.
She said since its inception, KEEP has been working to promote a culture of reading. “We will also be conducting a series of community engagement activities in places like the local markets, schools, churches – Sunday schools- mosques and will be hosting “pop up reading sessions” in various locations around the country,” Mrs. Moore said.
“We have 15 reading rooms in seven counties, including Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, and Bassa. In the coming months, we will be opening reading rooms in Maryland, Nimba, Bomi and Montserrado. Our interventions target public schools because we realize they are under-resourced and in a greater need.
Mrs. Moore said “Our focus has moved beyond Monrovia, which seemed easier for access, given the costs of materials, transportation than the difficult roads in many places outside Monrovia. We know that wherever Liberian children are, we must try to reach because they, too, need to read. We have therefore reached out to rural areas.”
She said in 2019 alone, KEEP was able to conduct several reading sessions, and distribute more than 15,000 books. For the next one year, along with the work we know other partners are doing, we hope to generate more interests in parents so that we, as parents, are more deliberate in making efforts to encourage our children to read.
“This is why we have created a simple booklet of tips for parents, which we intend to disseminate widely. Besides doing a lot of media engagements and awareness, we expect a container of up to 22,000 leisure reading books for children, which we intend to distribute not only in public schools, but community schools that are in dire need.
Dr. Romelle Horton, KEEP’s board member, lauded the partners for the level of support over the years. Dr. Horton called on Liberian students to make reading a priority, while emphasizing that reading helps to prepare anyone for the future.