Saturday, June 23, 2012

SPEAKING OF WORDS


A number of countries and individuals recently celebrated  short story day, to find out what some short story writers such as award winning writer Lauri Kubuitsile did in Botswana visit her blog here. For not entirely altruistic reasons I am worried that every third person I meet  wants to be a poet, a writer but I wonder if there are enough readers to go around. I say this because I have heard a number of complaints over the years about the prohibitive cost of books in Botswana, the lack of a second hand book market, the lack of trade publishers, the closing down of non franchise bookshops and independent publishers etc. In the first of what I hope will grow into a mini-series J of write ups on literature in Botswana I speak to the Reading Association of Botswana.

TJ: Tell us about the RAB what do you do and when where you established and by whom
RAB is a non -profit association formed to encourage and instill the culture of reading amongst  Batswana residents.  It was established in 1998 by some Batswana residents who had had experience with reading associations.

TJ: In 2011 you hosted a reading conference what was its focus
RAB: The conference was known as The 7th Pan-African Reading for All conference.Its objectives were:
·         Strengthen capacity within African collecting and analysing data to support formulation of policy interventions that address the barriers that make it difficult to achieve the vision of literacy  for all;
·         Generate frameworks for the development and implementation of new initiatives that address specific literacy problems;
·         Consider how reading and writing can be harnessed effectively for opening up social futures across Africa and the world at large;
·         Interrogate a range of approaches to literacy that promote reading in families, facilitate the setting up of rural libraries and encourage the development of reading materials.
The conference attracted policy makers, educationists, researchers, authors, readers, teachers, book-sellers, learners, curriculum developers and any other groups and individuals interested in reading.

TJ: What challenges are you facing as an organization.
RAB: Our challenges as an association are that the organizers who are mandated to expand the association are full time workers.  As such they are not able as much as they would love to, to expand the association countrywide.

TJ: According to the RAB it is best to introduce reading as early as during pregnancy although they are quick to point out that it is never too late to start reading. I posit to Glorious Bolokwe RAB Secretary, that there is a widespread belief locally that Batswana as a people don’t read and ask if there is any statistical truth to that notion. She responds by providing the following literacy statistics and by emphasizing that RAB does not share that belief
Literacy in Botswana
Dr. Ulrike Hanemann
UNESCO Institute for Education
Hamburg, Germany
March, 2005

Types of literacy programmes by number of learners and sex, 1993 and 2003
Year
1993
2003
Programme
M %
F %
Total
%
M %
F  %
Total
%
National Literacy
30.5
69.5
26,713
89.1
80.4
98.9
38,962
92.4
Mine literacy
78.7
21.3
2,863
9.6
11.9
-
1,725
4.1
Prison/ reformatory
62.5
37.5
128
0.4
2.8
0.3
489
1.2
Workplace literacy
-
-
-
-
4.2
0.2
655
1.6
Other
50.8
49.2
264
0.9
0.6
0.7
275
0.7
Total
35.4
65.6
29,968
100
34.4
65.6
42,106
100
Sources: Central Statistics Office/ Department of Non-Formal Education, 1997:41 and ibid., 2004:25

TJ: Speaking of literacy programs, to your knowledge are students encouraged to read for pleasure by their parents and teachers eg is there a bonafide requirement for students to make use of the library and submit book reviews etc?
RAB: Every school has a library.  That may suggest that reading is viewed as an important aspect of learning.

TJ: What is the importance of reading
RAB:  Reading enriches, teaches and makes one wiser.

TJ: What programmes is RAB running to encourage reading
RAB:  Bi-monthly sharing of reading experiences

TJ: Is literature an optional subject in secondary schools
RAB:  Yes it is, at upper secondary school.  However, every school has a library. Such a situation gives a learner opportunity to read.

TJ: What do the high school literature results over the years tell us, if anything, about Batswana students’ relationship to language and literature
RAB: That can be gotten from the ministry of education.  RAB does not have that information.  Actually RAB encourages and instills the culture of reading across a wide spectrum.

We know Batswana can read, but do they read? Having made a note to myself to speak to the Ministry of Education, a couple of bookstores and possibly the Rothschilds Foundation which has been building libraries in Botswana for a number of years now I remember how my brothers read comic books growing up but not much else, I read a lot of kidlit, then romance later picking up short stories and poetry somewhere along the way. A number of male varsity students I knew read newspapers, the girls (at the risk of generalizing) religiously bought certain magazines, a number of both those groups rarely or never picked up a book post school literature classes. In fact I remember a number of my literature classmates looking for film versions of the books we were meant to study because they hoped they wouldn’t have to read the books, but of course adaptations by definition are not verbatim.  


I don’t know if it’s important for anyone except publishers to distinguish between what is being read. Perhaps it is not. And perhaps those publishers who have been accused of justifying not publishing local fiction by saying Batswana don’t read are playing a fixed numbers game – in a population of 2 million people even if every fourth person bought a book you might not ever reach NY bestseller proportions. We also might have to consider that we are preaching the right verse in the wrong medium to the converted – Batswana come from an oral/aural culture, here live shows even poetry shows often play to a full house but a book launch well... When I was about 6 or 7 my parents would go back to work after lunch and leave us with the nanny, a radio, a book and a cassette tape recording of the same book. Years later, on a good day, I can still recite bits and pieces of Beauty and the beast from memory, accent and all. What are you reading today?

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