“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
– Stephen King ( On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000).
Learning to write and read is an essential activity in modern society, as it is a means of social and economic progress. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2016, the importance of writing and writing is enormous. People must learn to read and comprehend written text to develop, achieve goals, and participate in social activities. There is no significant difference between reading and writing skills. Instead, they are inter-related; one can learn to read and write simultaneously (Liberty, 2010). Reading entails decoding and understanding the decoded, whereas writing offers the ability to put words on paper (Scott, 2012).
Teaching your kid to read and write is not only your obligation as a parent or a guardian; it is also the right of children to quality education. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, 2006), and the Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) have put much emphasis on the rights of children to education. Begin to educate your child when he/she is still very young. Read loudly to help your kid master essential language skills before they even begin to speak; as they grow, they develop a positive attitude about reading. When they can talk, read with them and teach them how to write by providing writing materials such as pencils, crayons, markers, yarn, paper, notebook, or cardboard. Let them begin by colouring and then proceed to draw objects before jotting down the alphabetical letters. Use games such as crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams, and cryptograms to assist them with spelling.
After that, ask your kid to write his or her name. Also, implore them to sign birthday cards and help you write letters, messages, and shopping lists. During trips, recommend note-taking and encourage them to copy their favourite songs, poems, and quotations from books or plays. Further, ask your child to read their stories aloud and give positive feedback to boost their confidence.
Many studies have revealed enormous influence reading and writing have on the development of a child. They include the exposure of the child to books (Senechal &Le Fevre, 2002), elevate socio-economic status of the family of the child (Korat et al., 2006), home literacy stimuli from parents (Weigel et al., 2006). Furthermore, an increase in children’s attention span, transcription and oral language proficiencies (Kent, Wanzek, Petscher, Al Otaiba &Kim, 2014) are other advantages attributed to early reading and writing among children. Other factors are a positive attitude and motivation of children to read and write (Baker, Scher &Mackler, 1997). Equally, earlier reading offers children opportunities to experience rich language environments with many books and conversations about the text (Hellblom-Thibblin et al., 2012 / Ozturk et al., 2016).
Academic success and national growth, which are fundamental positive elements in any society, are other benefits of early reading, according to Oberhilzer (2005). First, early reading supports cognitive development. Researchers define cognitive development as the growth of knowledge, skills, problem-solving, and dispositions, which help children think about and comprehend the world around them. By stimulating a reading culture, you impart your kids with world knowledge, which allows them to understand what they see, hear, and read.
Second, it prepares kids for academic success. Children who usually read perform well in their academic work than non-reading peers. A research conducted by the University of Michigan found out that five early reading skills are essential for development. They are phonemic awareness, the ability to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds in spoken words, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency.
Third, reading books with your kids will expose them to language skill. This skill includes the development of social, communication, and literacy skills. Likewise, it leads to increased concentration and discipline and improved imagination and creativity. Furthermore, it creates a strong tie between parents and their children and cultivates a lifelong love of reading.
Despite the effort put by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to alleviate illiteracy in Africa, there are still millions of people who can neither read nor write. A report by the Center for Universal Education shows that 17 million school-aged children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school. Another 37 million learn so little while in school. Researchers have attributed the inability to read and write by millions of kids in the continent to unprofessional teachers, who cannot correctly handle reading subjects in school (Betha et al., 2008). Also, there is inadequate attention to phonics instructions in class; laziness among pupils and lack of motivation from parents and teachers are other contributing factors (Njie, 2013; Rany, 2013). Other challenges are flawed teaching methodology used in teaching reading (Lucas 2011), shortage of course books, inappropriate curriculum, and crowded and noisy classrooms (Lucas&Rany, 2013), among other factors.
Due to the low reading and writing culture in the region, the illiteracy rate has hit a high record due to regular school dropouts. According to the UNESCO data, more than one-fifth of children aged 6 to 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth aged 12 to 14. As of 2018, the illiteracy rate in Sub-Saharan Africa was 65.58 per cent based on the World Bank data.
Experts recommend creating and maintaining interest in reading and developing a motivational approach to overcome barriers. Parents should play a significant role in creating and maintaining interest in reading by providing writing and reading materials, establishing reading time, and leading by example. There is also a need to model good reading habits, read with and to your child, encourage him/her to practice reading, and minimize television time. The government should also employ qualified teachers and provide the necessary educational materials.
Kids should be motivated to develop and maintain their interest in reading. Allow your kids to pursue their interests by reading what they like most (Hidi &Anderson, 1992; Hidi et al., 2001). Please do not force them to read the books they do not like. Teachers should issue instructions that provide cognitive and emotional support for learning (Turner et al., 2002). According to Guthnes & Knowles (2001), exciting texts and support for strategic reading, including modelling and coaching and peer discussion should be made available to children.
To encourage young kids to read and write and support talented young writers, Kata Kata Cartoon magazine has established young writers forum. The platform allows children to write about any topic and share it with our readers. Talented young writers like 8-year old Liam Katabira from Uganda has grabbed the rare opportunity and established himself as a future creative genius. With two of his stories (The Dark well and The Art Man) due to be published this year, Liam Katabira is living proof of what a child can achieve once given enough support and motivation.
By Samuel Ouma