By: Ernest Armah
With almost 30% illiteracy rate among 15 year olds and above, Ghana is still grappling with ways and means to accelerate literacy in the country. Whilst the conservative approach involves among others resourcing the Ghana Library Authority to provide static and mobile library facilities at the regional, district and community levels, consideration of ebooks is fast becoming a viable alternative. But is the latter an option worth investment in our context?
In developed parts of the world, people are reading more on computers and other electronic devices (such as smartphones, pamphlets, feature phones). Underlying this progression though is a strong foundation in reading in print. A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that 62% of 16-24 year-olds prefer traditional books over their digital equivalents. Two main reasons justifying their preference were value for money and an emotional connection to physical (print) books.
The emotional connection bit is something I can relate to. I can vividly picture my younger self wide-eyed and animated at the sight of printed books. Back in Primary school, we had a library period where everyone in class had an opportunity to read any book of their choice. My favorite books, at the time, were comics. They appealed to me because of their aesthetic properties – beautiful paintings, sketches, drawings, calligraphy and creative settings all wrapped in one fascinating print. But then, some of these books were bulky and carrying them around came with some inconveniences, a challenge ebooks easily solves.
David Risher, President of Worldreader has embarked on a literacy crusade to deliver 1 billion ebooks to Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. As exciting as this may sound, socio-cultural, financial, content development issues are first requisites to driving the ebook agenda. Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessment in Ghana showed that approximately 90 percent of pupils in basic schools cannot read or understand what they read. Familiarity with print reading and basic comprehension are essential necessities for ebook reading. This is one extreme. The other is a growing trend I’ve noticed. I have heard some parents boasting of how their children, below six years, are doing amazing stuff on tablets. The unforeseen cost of this fledgling tech-savvy parenting is over-speeding of the cognitive development of their children. To put it graphically, these parents are teaching their children how to run before learning to walk. In their formative years, children should be trained to develop an emotional attachment to books; through print books first; just as they need a working knowledge of alphabets in order to understand literature.
Morever, we will need indigenized content to scale-up the production of ebooks in the country. Currently, there are 3 e-book publishers in Ghana. Though inadequate, it is a good start for testing the effectiveness of ebooks to accelerate literacy in the country. Funding and generation of contextualized content are equally important. What is of greater necessity is the promotion of reading.
Ernest Armah is the Head of Programmes Unit at VIAM Africa