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(8): Reading Culture: (Some of) Its impacts on Secondary School Students

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
Department of English and French,
Bayero University, Kano

The paper seeks to answer some triggering questions on reading: why, when, what and how, through demonstrating to the students some of the many (positive) impacts of good reading culture, exploring the probable 'reasons' why students don’t, or hate to, read, and by offering ways on how to overcome such problems. In the discussion, the writer highlights on how achieving this would contribute to the development of the student’s academic pursuit, linguistic competence and performance, and life in general. In conclusion, a call is made to the “stakeholders” and the people in general to assist the students as their success means, in wider perspective, the nation’s success. 

Being a Paper Presented at a Special Lecture Organized by the Department of English, Girls’ Science College, Garko, Kano; 03rd March, 2013


The issue of education in Islam is of paramount importance that could not be over emphasized. One of the reasons to ascertain this saying is contained in the religion’s most sacred book, the holy Qur’an. The first revelation to the Prophet Mohammad (upon whom be peace) says: “1. Read! In the Name of your Lord Who created; 2. He has created man from a clot; 3. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous; 4. Who has taught by the pen; 5. He has taught man that which he knew not (Al-Alaq, 96:1-5). And, the high status of the learned people is mentioned in many verses in the Qur’an (see Al-An’am, 6:122, Az-Zumar, 39:9; etc). Therefore, Islam stresses greatly on seeking knowledge by both sexes and to wherever length. Women in particular, as Dauda (2000) observes, are the life vein of the society, and the custodians of its distinct socio-cultural values, and as the first teachers of all sons and daughters biologically born; and culturally suitable and relevant to their distinct societal roles and their natural disposition. What is the way through which one gets the needed education?

It is not a two-way thing. One can only and only get education through learning, and one can primarily learn via reading. Without reading and the ability to read, we would not be able to understand our religion and what it teaches us. We could not be distinguished from animal; there would not have been technology, media houses, banks, hospitals, and more.


The word “reading” has multiple definitions. Reading basically means “interpretation” or “decoding”. This could either be of literal meaning or of inner meaning, that is, when we read “between the lines”. Reading is an essential aspect of academic activities and reading efficiently enhances the acquisition of knowledge and skills in every discipline—medicine, engineering, arts, sciences and all others. Reading is a source of learning and a source of enjoyment (Nation 2005, in Rosszell, 2007).

Reading has traditionally been divided into two types: Intensive and Extensive. Intensive Reading (IR) may be described as the practice of particular reading skills and the close linguistic study of text. Extensive Reading (ER), on the other hand, can be defined as reading a large quantity of text, where reading confidence and reading fluency are prioritised.

Reading is about understanding written texts. It is a complex activity that involves both perception and thought. Reading consists of two related processes: word recognition and comprehension. Word recognition refers to the process of perceiving how written symbols correspond to one’s spoken language, for instance English, Hausa, etc. Comprehension is the process of making sense of words, sentences and connected text. Readers typically make use of background knowledge, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, experience with text and other strategies to help them understand written texts (Walberg 2003, in Ruterana, 2012).

However, as Ogbonna and Obiozor (2009) observe, majority of our children growing up today, particularly, those in the rural areas have limited exposure to reading materials. And, again, due, among other reasons, to globalisation, many African parents are reluctant to use African languages and therefore, want their children to learn in languages of wider communication, mainly English, to be able to access prestigious education in the future and be competitive at the world market. But there are good reading materials in all languages. For instance, the tag: “Kano Market Literature” being used to refer to mainly novels written in Hausa and sold in Kano is considered a derogatory by many scholars, for pockets of such books are good. And, of course, many others are not worthy of any attention.

Many other studies reinforce the observation that student literacy is declining these days due to the emergence of technological gadgets such as the internet, GSM, satellite and so on. Many students prefer viewing to reading as a spare time activity. A survey conducted by Ibrahim et al. (2010) indicates that watching TV is the prime leisure activity of respondents.


Reading habit implies reading as a regular activity. However, Nigerians, despite many measures being taken by the country’s successive governments as well as many other individuals, are not known to have a good reading culture compared to the western world. Reasons adduced to this, according to Anunobi (2005 in Ogbonna & Obiozor 2009), is the inability to develop the attitude of reading at the early stages of life. Moreover, a good number of people who read hardly read for leisure except either for academic purposes or basically for research. This calls for more need to make more effort to immerse the students in the culture of reading, for they are losing a lot.           

The school system approach towards reading, which has made students conceive it as a once and for all activity associated with passing examinations, getting a certificate, winning a job and attaining promotion, could be one of the reasons. Hence, once the aforesaid targets are achieved, students cease to have interest in reading books. This result is present because teachers basically teach and request students to only read their course notes or what is examinable (Mugisha, 2010 in Ruterana, 2012); and thus, they forget that reading is a life-long skill that should transcend not only the exam, but also the classroom. In other words, reading is a cradle to the grave activity. As a consequence, Izizinga (2000) notes that students imbued with such reading perception lack motivation and interest in reading in their everyday life to the extent that they even develop a habit of considering reading tasks assigned to them in schools as a burden.

On their part, students who enjoy reading read more, and such practice hones their reading skills. Numerous studies describe the importance ER or, as it is called in other literatures, Recreational Reading plays in the development of reading abilities, vocabulary enhancement, and language acquisition (Paulson, 2006; Krashen, 1993; Krashen, 1989; Griswold, 2006). On the other part, many poor readers are placed in programs in which they read less, not more, and are “given less opportunity to read authentic texts and instead are given more drills and out of context instruction that involve little if any connected reading” (Paulson, 2006, p. 52). And, they are those students who perform poorly is their academic pursuit.


While it is true that poor readers need extensive remedial work that includes drills, etc., one very effective way to improve students reading skills is simply to have them read more and more: “Reading is the only way we become good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammatical competence, and become good spellers” (Paulson, 2006, p. 53). This capitalizes on the fact that reading is done for both or either intellectual pursuits and for pleasure, and for many other purposes. A good reading culture according to Ogbonna & Obiozor (2009) is a sine-qua non to personal and national development. The following are, however, a few of those benefits:

Communicative Competence
Meera and Ramya (2008) put it that ER is essential for language development.  Moreover, reading is further described as a source of learning and a source of enjoyment. In a second, particularly a foreign language situation, a good reading competence is a necessity for those studying English for academic and occupational purposes and many curricula therefore devote large amounts of time to reading lessons in order to achieve such competence. Yet despite years of instruction and practice in reading, many English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students have difficulty in making sense of texts they want to read, seem to read considerably more slowly than they read in their first language, and feel less confident about reading in English. Of course, there are a number of possible reasons for this, but this is partly due to the way reading is approached in the language class (Nation 2005, in Rosszell 2007). Hence the need to create a reading circles, where students could learn from and with each other. Topics to discuss could be virtually any ranging from mysteries, fiction, biographies, sports, religious books and so on.

Linguistic Impact
ER promotes the growth of vocabulary, verbal fluency and general information (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, 1988). Schackne (1994) studied whether there is a correlation between extensive reading and language acquisition and obtained significant results. Other research evidence shows that ER and achievement in English are closely related. Students, who read independently, become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Krashen, 1989). Having been aware of this fact I, for example, take up the habit of reading extensively. I would also want to advise you to try to resist all the nagging feelings that what you are doing is not mandatory, so put it down. Persevere and continue; you shall, consciously or subconsciously, gather an avalanche of knowledge—your pool of vocabulary will be enriched with more words; you will get more verbally fluent and obtain more general information.

Intellectual Impact
It is a verified truth that good reading skills are critical for success in any student’s chosen career. Likewise having more prior knowledge generally aids comprehension. There are many aspects to prior knowledge, including knowledge of the world, cultural knowledge, subject-matter knowledge and linguistic knowledge (Afflerbach, 1990). Bello-Kano (undated) maintains that reading enlarges the mind; those who have read many, many, books are likely to be broadminded, cosmopolitan, nice, and pleasant. They have enlarged their knowledge of other people, other cultures, and can be called truly human beings because their mind could appreciate, tolerate and accommodate differences between themselves and others.

Studies conducted by McCabe (1991) proved that academic achievement and creativity are related significantly. Nanda, Arti and Pal (1994) reported that highly creative students possessed better academic achievement. Language teachers can bring forth the best creative outputs from children by providing interesting activities but language teaching often fails to produce critics. It is seen that students who read extensively sometimes, fail to score good marks. I talk much but unfortunately say little.

However, there are many different purposes for reading. As Turner & Paris, (1995) maintain; a reader reads a text to understand its meaning, as well as put that understanding to use. A person reads a text to learn, to find out information, to be entertained, to reflect or as religious practice. The purpose for reading is closely connected to a person’s motivation for reading. It will also affect the way a book is read.


In addition to the suggestions offered above, I think I should say more. I often say it, for that is how I do it: read everything that comes your way. Reading is like a groundnut, meaning almost every “ounce” of it is useful. Read all genres, all literatures so as to gather tens and thousands of vocabularies, sheer experience, wisdom and more. It is, however, worth calling attention to: not everything readable is wholly good. Consult your teachers, parents, seniors, elders and whoever knows more than you do for guidance and selection.

There are, nonetheless, impediments to effective reading such as sub-vocalisation, which is also referred to as “lisping”, finger-pointing, regression and the like. They are threats to efficient reading and reading speed. They are mostly due, among other reasons, to lack of concentration. Give required attention to distinct material being read, say, for instance, 80% of your attention for IR and 60% for ER. And, lastly, do not read while lying on your back and holding the book upward. Best position for reading is sitting or reclining. Bello-Kano (undated) hints that: “You can read not only in the library, but also in your room, in the toilet or in kitchen, or everywhere you happen to be”.


It may seem odd or rather sound awkward to say, but the responsibility of inculcating reading culture in our students is not a one-man business, that is to say not a sole responsibility of a “poor” language teacher(s). Eric J. Paulson, in his article on developing a reading culture, proposed that:

If we identify an important goal of … reading programs for college readers as providing a foundation of life-long reading, a study-skills approach to college development reading falls short. Instead, we must focus on encouraging and instilling in … students the belief that reading has intrinsic value. It is through this approach that solid academic progress can be obtained as well (Paulson, 2006, pp. 51-52).

The way to achieving above apparently calls for concerted effort from and championed by individual department, staff, students, and alumni; and, above all, the government. I kind of believe that our curriculum in schools has to be redesigned to give more space and time for reading. There should be a whole period of not less than 30 minutes dedicated for reading every day. Our younger ones in all levels have to be encouraged to read self-selected material outside of their assigned coursework through creating a collection of fiction and other popular works in the public libraries, school libraries and so on; or, via formalizing and making compulsory a credit-bearing recreational reading program. I think the Department of English of this prestigious college under the leadership of Malam Abdu Fagge do this or something like that. The trend should be supported by the school authority, the Board and the government in general. The benefit may not be so visible, but there it is. And the students, now or later in life, will say and praise it, and will say their goodwill to the initiators of such.


It is more or less demonstrated in the foregoing paragraphs that developing reading culture is very important, even imperative. It, I dare to say, humanizes a student, for she will know herself and be exposed to the thinking and the world of others. And, it clears path for her to greater knowledge, success, experience and exposure in her entire life as a student, a worker, a housewife, an individual, a human-being. Therefore, our hope is when students graduate from Garko Science College; we want them to be able to read with greater understanding, greater frequency, and greater appreciation for the value of reading. In essence, we want them to have internalized the culture of reading from their Garko Science College experience to their life outside.

Thank you so much for listening. May Allah, the Exalted, bless us all. May He let peace reign in our dearest state, Kano and all the Muslim communities in Nigeria and the world, amin.

Afflerbach, P. (1990). Understanding and Using Reader Assessment. New York: Arnold.
A.U Ogbonna & R.N Obiozor (2009). “Strategies for Improving Reading Culture in Children in Anambra State” in Journal of the Nigerian Library Association Anambra State Chapter. Vol. 3, p. 24-33.
Bello-Kano, I. (undated). “Reading Culture; or Why We (Should) Read and Keep on Reading”. Unpublished Paper.
Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (eds.) 1988. Vocabulary and language teaching. London: Longman.
Caverly, D. C., Nicholson, S. A., & Richard Radcliffe, R. (2004). The effectiveness of strategic reading instruction for college developmental readers. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 35 (1), 25-49
Dauda, A. (2000). Women’s Education; its Problems and Prospects. Kano: Manifold Publishing Company Limited.
Ibrahim, M.M. et al (2010). “An Investigation into the Problems Militating Against Girl-Child Education: A Case Study of Selected Secondary Schools in Gwale Local Government, Kano State”. Unpublished Undergraduate Theses. Kano: Bayero University.
Izizinga, R. (2000). “The Teaching of Reading in Uganda”. In K. Parry (Ed.), Language and literacy in Uganda: towards a sustainable reading culture (p. 66-70). Kampala: Fountain Publishers Ltd.
McCabe, M.P. (1991) “Influence of creativity and intelligence on academic performance”. Journal of Creative Behaviour 25, 2, 116-122, January
Meera, J. and Ramya, S. (1988). Strategy for Extensive Reading. London: Longman
Meng, Fanshao (2009) “Developing Students’ Reading Ability through Extensive Reading” in journal of English Language Teaching, 2(3).
Nanda, A., Arti, N. & Pal, G. (1994) “Creativity and academic achievement”. Asian Journal of Psychology and Education 3, 15-19, June.
Rosszell, H. R. (2007). Extensive Reading And Intensive Vocabulary Study. Temple University: Japan.
Ruterana, P.C (2012). “Enhancing the Culture of Reading in Rwanda: Reflections by Students in Tertiary Institutions” in Journal of Pan African Studies. 5 (1), p.36-55.
Pang, Elizabeth s. Et al (2006). Teaching reading; Series 12. Chicago: Publication of International Academy of Education; International Bureau of Education, University of Illinois.
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Schackne, S. "Extensive Reading and Language Acquisition: Is There a Correlation?" ERIC ED 388 110 (1994).
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