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September 19, 2018

Parents should encourage the kids to read

A file photo of US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec taking young readers through Obama's Dreams of my Father at the 2015 Story Moja Festival in Arboretum, Nairobi on September 18. Photo/Enos Teche.
A file photo of US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec taking young readers through Obama's Dreams of my Father at the 2015 Story Moja Festival in Arboretum, Nairobi on September 18. Photo/Enos Teche.

I'm petty, that’s no secret, and particularly petty about spelling (petty, not infallible, in case you plan to send me a gloating email about the typo you will find in this column). Most of the Focus Group (aka Facebook friends) know better than to wholesale skip the use of vowels when they write on my page, and some have privately confessed of always being a little terrified when they do so.

So this is something I obviously feel strongly about, but it’s not just because of the importance of Doing Things Properly. And this brings me smoothly to my annual column on this subject: good people, get your kids to read! You may or may not watch the ‘xaxa’ generation in horror (what do I know? Maybe you’re a notorious vowel skipper yourself. I don’t know your life). But if your kids don’t read – and I mean read for fun – then you’re doing them no favour.

I’ve been supporting StoryMoja and their annual Litfest for a few years now. The idea behind the festival was to encourage people to read more beyond slogging through text books in school and some motivational triteness later. The Litfest has been running for a few years (and went to Ghana last year, in case you missed it). StoryMoja run another excellent initiative, the Start a Library programme. Under this, more than 100 libraries have been set up in schools to give kids access to books: reading material just for fun.

Many of these new libraries are in Nairobi and Mombasa, but the team works hard to move beyond the main cities. They have managed to engage a couple of counties, but progress is sluggish, and they found an odd obstacle: when talking to county executives, they were told that fiction reading wasn’t really for poor kids. This was, they conveyed, very much seen as an activity for middle class kids – kids who ‘eat ice cream’. A luxury, not part of what a child should have as part of its education.

This was a little baffling for the StoryMoja team, and they now plan to do an impact study to show that children who read for fun regularly will do better in school. Of course this isn’t exactly news: there are lots of studies from around the world that will show you just this. But in the meantime their vocabulary, abstract thinking skills, empathy, and yes, their school performance, will benefit from this. If you’re a CEO and going nuts over what your young recruits produce in writing, find StoryMoja and offer to sponsor a library. This is actually an education and economy issue!

 

Andrea is an independent risk analyst

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