OPINION: How Tanzania can get more children to read books

Saturday July 20 2019

 

By Epiphania Kimaro

In today’s era of technology and social media, many parts of the world have suffered decreased reading cultures; and Africa, Tanzania in particular, is no exception.

The timeless Swahili maxim, mtotoumleavyondivyoakuavyo, holds true now more than ever. With technology, a myriad of things could go wrong for a child who lacks a robust foundation. On the other hand, a generation of children with strong foundations could use opportunities offered by growing technologies, and catapult to the highest of ranks. A strong reading culture, is by far one of the best foundations on which to lay a child.

Various initiatives, such as mobile and community libraries, have been implemented in some parts of Africa to encourage more children and young adults to read books. The successes of such initiatives however, have for the most part remained stagnant.

Now, in efforts to firm this particular foundation; education stakeholders, parents, guardians, policy makers and everyone in Tanzania, have a share of spark to add to the smoldering fires; and here is where we can start.

1.The International Children’s Book Day (April 2). This is an annual event that has been celebrated across the world, since 1967. It aims to inspire a love of reading and calls attention to children’s books. From 1995, different countries have had the opportunity to sponsor and host this event; among them, just one African country so far - Egypt. I believe Tanzania and her children would benefit a great deal from sponsoring and hosting such celebrations. However, until then, there are some ways we can still make the most of this day. For instance, teachers and students can celebrate the day in classrooms, which is a great way to encourage reading participation. Usually, on each year’s event, there is a specific theme which teachers can share with their classes. Some of my favorite themes are; I am the World - 2009; A book is waiting for you, find it - 2010; and Let Us Grow With the Book - 2017. This year’s message is; Books Help Us Slow Down.

Also, parents can get involved by helping their children choose and read their favorite story on April 2. Not only that, parents could also be invited to participate in classroom reading activities.

In doing this, Tanzania will not only get more children to read, but also give local writers and publishers a platform to give visibility to their content.

After all, if developed countries are still running to grow even further, what about us? Mustn’t we sprint? If at all we aspire to ever catch up?

2. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Book Club. This is an international book club for young people, and can be joined online by parents, teachers and children. In April 2019, the club in collaboration with the United Nations released its first reading list of titles aimed at children age 6-12, to teach them about the importance of the SDGs. From there on, for 17 months, a new book list will be released each month, corresponding to each of the 17 SDGs.

For the month of April, the below list of children books related to SDG 1:No Poverty, was announced, and I believe these would make a great present for any child - shall we?

• Serafina’s Promise, Author: Ann E. Burg

• The Last Stop on Market Street, Author: Matt de la Peña

• A Chair for My Mother, Author: Vera B Williams

• The Happy Prince, Author: Oscar Wilde, Illustrator: Maisie Paradise Shearring

3. International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL). This is a website where teachers and librarians can gain access to international children’s books. In place of this, Tanzania could have something similar, with more local content and African children literature. “True sustainability is only achievable with the support of the young.” - Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General. In order to create truly sustainable communities, we must start at the bottom. We must give them tools to spur imagination and creativity.