Making Reading A Culture in Liberia

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KEEP Officials, stakeholders, partners and students at the launch of the National Reading Campaign

– 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.

Liberia’s Minister of Education Prof. Sonii officially launches KEEP’s National Reading Campaign in Monrovia.

“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.

Dr. Romelle Horton, Board Member, KEEP

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.

KEEP Executive Director Brenda B. Moore: “the National Reading Campaign is focused on what we can collectively do to make our education system succeed; to make it excel…”

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.

KEEP displays reading books featured in its reading rooms across the country, during the launch of the National Reading Campaign on Thursday, February 6, 2020.

“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.

Author

  • Anthony Kokoi is a young Liberian sports writer who has an ever-growing passion for the development of the game of football (soccer) and other sports. For the past few years, he has been passionately engaged in reporting the developments of the game in the country. He is an associate member of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL). He is a promoter of young talents. He also writes match reports and makes an analysis of Liberian Football.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I am researching the Vai script, and I would very much like to know to what extent, and for what purposes, it is used today. There is a good deal of historical information available, but very little that is current. Your article made me wonder, for example, whether reading is taught at all using the Vai script. I appreciate any help you can give me!

  2. It not just about reading, the ministry should offer scholarships to aspiring teachers to seek training abroad aimed at honing the teaching skills in phonics, enunciation, and pronunciation. Liberians are deftly inadequate in this area. We speak very poorly and there no efforts to develop our teachers in this area.

    These poorly prepared teachers who mixed their dialectical accents and pronunciation with the English language end up passing it on to their students. Invariably, these students mimicking their teachers, also mix their dialectical tone and accents with the English Language. As a result, our Liberian society is noted for speaking very horribly.

    Our current president epitomizes the state of the country demise in preparing our students in cultivated phonics drills. When the president opens his mouth to speak, one would rather have him speak his Kru dialect rather than the English Language. So, consider this a national emergency because the ministry of education under Ellen and Weah accredited the mushrooming of Universities that are now a disgrace to the country.

    Their graduates are poorly prepared, can bearly read at an average third grade level by American and British standards, and can hardly write a fitting paper, and when they open their mouths to speak you would rather think whether they ever went to school.

    Added to nation’s woes is the awarding of masters degrees by Cuttington University and the University of Liberia. Graduates from these programs are a disgrace and direct reprobates to the country’s education nightmares. I can’t believe Ellen would sit there and allow these schools to issue graduate degrees to poorly prepared students.

    I stand to be corrected but the performers of those graduate degree holders are at the level of competent high school graduates in America and England. This is a national emergency! The ministry should withdraw these accreditations. If a professor at a graduate program can not even write a professional research paper, what is the heck he or she doing, teaching graduate students?

    TRUTH BE TOLD: THE CURRENT LIBERIA’S EDUCATION SYSTEM IS A NATIONAL DISGRACE! Also, stop calling the current project, “Kids Educational Engagement Project” It should be Kids Education Engagement Project. It not edcuational….. The Adjective educational is wrong! It should be a noun Education.

  3. Comrade Neal,
    I totally agree with you. Sometimes, if not always, the truth must be told irrespective of whether or not people feel hurt.

    We certainly need a “business as of now” approach in Liberia as opposed to “business as usual”. The reason Liberia is doing so poorly educationally is that some people like it as it is. But the truth of the matter is that we must change. Business as of now means to change from the old ways of doing things.

    The lawmakers of Liberia have automobiles and a monthly income of $15-16,000 per month. But public school students nationwide do not have their full set of textbooks. Does it make sense? The Minister of Education has his own private school, yet he runs the nation’s public schools.

    We need a different mindset.

  4. I think the issue here is that, in the mind of a typical teenager, school is no longer fun. To a typical teenager, school is a burden. School is where you buy leaflet everyday of the week. if you don’t have the money to buy the leaflet, you are thrown out of class. At the end of the day, the student decides to just forget about school because he/she cannot just afford the money to buy the leaflet everyday of the week. Another potential lost.

    “Reading makes a full man”. So said English Philosopher Francis Bacon. nothing is truer in all the universe than these words. Reading arouses our full intellect and stirs our imagination. It has to be seen by the student as a fun thing to do. Once it is perceived as a burden, the student will shy away. I have the honor to work at a school where I teach reading we just got done with the iconic novel “Murder in the Cassava Patch”. I had the privilege of taking my students to the town where the author originated from and it was fun. We interacted with the town folks and history came alive. The joy on the faces of those future leaders was indescribable

    I visited some of the counties where these libraries are located and I was very disappointed. Scarcity of reading materials and the ones that were there were mostly on a professional level. What interest has a 6th grader has in Biology?

    I had the good fortune to meet a Reading Teacher on my travel to the USA last year and I was given lots of reading books to bring home and I did. Here is what I do with those books. I let my students take home a book of their choice for a week to read and make a one page book report on Monday. No Right or Wrong here, just your thoughts and ideas. The fun is so in my class that my friend the Reading Teacher has sent more books for my students and we should be getting those books in a week or two. It is all about making learning fun to the students.

    We each have to play our part, in whatever limited way we can. We have to teach to our students the wonders of books.

    Happy Sunday.

    Peace

  5. JM,
    Apparently, the books you took home have energized your students. The students are happy to see their teacher (you) do something new. If students have their full set of textbooks, they will read.

    If you do one thing over and over, it becomes monotonous and of course, you get the same result. However, if you do the same thing differently, for sure you will get a different result, most likely, a positive result. That’s how my theory comes in. Business as usual….(or doing something the same old way, over and over) but if you change your strategy…(business as of) you will make progress!

    The car manufacturing countries do things differently. Example, my first car that I purchased in the US was an Oldsmobile. My car didn’t have a power steering, power windows or brakes. However, cars that are being manufactured these days have “power everything”. The manufacturers of automobiles have changed and they continue to change! As they change and add newer things to cars that are being manufactured, car manufacturers make more money. In Liberia, it’s the same old, same old. It seems that our leaders are mentally stagnated.

    If Liberia is to move forward, we have to change.

    Hope you saw the brief story that I wrote about you.

    Peace

  6. Uncle Hney,

    Oldsmobile? you get name mehn! Whatin my Uncle doing with Oldsmobile? I hope the vehicle you have presently has power windows and brakes.

    Yes, the books that I brought worked wonders among my students and hopefully our next batch will work more wonders.

    Like you say, “business as of” and, hopefully, progress will be made.

    Could you be so kind enough to direct my attention to the “brief story” that you wrote about me? My sister is besides herself with curiosity as to what you wrote. I can tell that Sr. is also curious but he is playing his “cool”

    We on our way to Church.

    Peace

  7. Good morning JM,
    I have just awakened. I short my phone off @1:27 a.m. because I was disturbed by someone in Liberia who has not the slightest idea of time. Where I live for now, there’s a 5-hour difference. The Liberian time is ahead of us. So for instance, it’s 8:39 a.m. At 8:39 my time, it should be 2:39 p.m.

    The brief story was written under the topic:
    Reasons for Gas Shortage. Port dredging.. Important oil Challenges, February 5, 2020. It’s a brief story that pertains to a young man who could be someone you know.

    It’s good to go to church. I will be going to church in an hour and half. But my church is approximately 15 miles away from me. Extend my sincere greetings to your parents and sister.

    Yes my first car was an Olds. The car didn’t have power-anything, but it was an automatic. That was a long time ago.

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