By Frederick Philander
He has travelled thousands of kilometres over the length and breadth of Southern Africa to get across his positive message of a reading culture to school children in seven countries.
Cleo Bonny (28) is now in the country to help learners, especially in previously disadvantaged schools, to sharpen their reading skills as a priority for learning.
“In my view reading cultivates a strong and positive self-esteem among learners who grow up in a society with a reading culture. Unfortunately, Namibia and some other Southern African countries do not have such cultures, making it very difficult for learners to master the learning process to their own advantage,” said Bonny yesterday morning in an interview in the capital.
He was hard at work and enthusiastically teaching and demonstrating the art and importance of reading to grades 6 and 7 classes at Windhoek High School.
“Judging by their enthusiasm, I think these learners are loving and enjoying every bit of what I have been showing and telling them about the right ways and manners to empower themselves through reading,” the young man said, timing one of the learners during a speed reading test.
In his view learners at all schools he has visited in his first week are very receptive to his approach of reading, one of the many problems the Namibian education system is struggling with.
“There is no perfect recipe and method for reading. That is why I make it an enjoyable event every time I walk into a class to encourage proper reading. In my short time working with Namibian learners, I have learned that most of them lack self-confidence to read on their own and in class. This can be attributed to a number of factors,” said Bonny, who is travelling around the country at his own expense.
English teacher at Windhoek High School Timothy Chunga agrees with the Malawian reading activist who took over his class to demonstrate his abilities to the learners.
“It is a fact that our learners throughout the school system do not read enough books nor newspapers, a big problem for intellectual empowerment and the accumulation of general knowledge. However, parents do not encourage enough their children to read and on top of things, television has had a profound negative effect on reading in this country,” said Chunga.
Bonny recounted his own experiences as a child with regard to mastering reading.
“Growing up as the child of a single parent was very difficult, but my mother used to beat me as a tool to encourage me to read in preparation to take on the world. I realized then that reading has the ability to take one beyond one’s wildest dreams and imagination in our quest and the acquirement of knowledge,” said Bonny, whose presentation of how to read properly varies all the time.
Chunga said that at his school learners are quarterly compelled to read at least one English novel that they have to critically discuss as a compulsory assignment.
“We do encourage the basic principles of reading such as proper pronunciation and use of English in class as well as at home. In general our school’s standard of English is not that bad. However, I have the impression that language politics is still playing a major role, especially with children with an Afrikaans background. There is some sort of resistance to the English language,” Chunga said.
Bonny is of the opinion that there exists a definite lack of reading in Southern African societies.
“Reading can transform many lives positively, even among the poor. If you do not read enough, your brain tends to stagnate. Hence the fact that I encourage governments to enforce reading policies wherever I go.
“Experience has taught me that many learners are shy to read in class because they are poked fun at by their peers,” he said, encouraging Windhoek High School learners to create their own reading environment at home in the absence of school libraries.
During the interview, the Malawian reading activist staged a very lively lesson, correlating the presentation with drawing and singing, to much appreciation of the captivated learners present.
“This is done to make learners relax and to connect mentally with themselves as they improve their own reading skills to try and understand text books better. I help learners with basic reading skills to read faster, better and more insightful for better understanding of the material they read.
“Most education systems encourage learners to read slowly, something of a drawback for the learning process in my book,” said the young man, who will be visiting selected schools in the capital over the next three weeks.
The visitor sadly recounted that he was prevented from practising his reading advisory passion at a specific predominantly white primary school in the capital.
“I detected a measure of racism when I was told to go to black schools and I was shown the door, barred from talking to the school principal by the administrative staff. Others discouraged me from making contact with the Ministry of Education.
“I do not think I am doing anything unlawful in Namibia by just sharing my reading skills with learners in government and private schools, pure and simple,” said Bonny, who feels that some education systems in Southern Africa undermine reading progress in schools.