Kenyans, and perhaps Africans in general are known to read only for two occasions – to pass exams or to catch up on politics.
I may not have empirical evidence but from the many occasions I have had to travel abroad, I have not failed to notice that majority of passengers in Europe or US transport hubs are always immersed in books – the hard copy type.
On the other hand, during my many travels across Africa, I have observed that we tend to engage more in the less intellectually stimulating endeavours like watching inflight movies, playing video games or simply getting drunk 35,000 feet above sea level.
No wonder someone once said, if you want to hide something from Africans, put it between the pages of a large volume of books.
This is a serious indictment to our ability to innovate and become competitive in an economy that is increasingly becoming dependent on knowledge.
Some may explain this observation by arguing that it is the outcome of an African culture that was largely oral, rather than written. So the typical African would rather listen than read since this is inherently the cultural way that knowledge was passed on from one generation to another.
Of course this is debatable but it does not change the fact that in terms of knowledge generation, the written word is far more superior to the spoken word.
Nations that perform better in global innovation ranking are those that produce and document knowledge in various forms that range from formal research studies, novels, media to informal content on the web such as social media or Wikipedia.
However, there must be a market for content produced.
There is a symbiotic relationship between authors and readers such that if there are no consumers in terms of citizens with a strong reading culture, there might be no sustainability mechanisms for authors to produce the next book or article.
It’s a typical chicken and egg problem. We need authors to produce content but we also need consumers to read and possibly pay for the content. We must create a virtuous, not vicious, cycle that allows authors and readers to benefit from each other.
Our education system must move away from learning to pass exams to learning to enrich your life with knowledge.
Kenyans must find pleasure in learning something new today, that they did not know yesterday. This is a culture of life-long learning.
It used to be that lifelong learning was the responsibility of only those in the technology fields, but this is rapidly changing as Artificial Intelligence-driven technology begins to invade all sectors.
A truck driver in developed economies is today driving a truck using a dashboard that is not too different from an aircraft cockpit and it will keep changing.
A chef today is picking and cooking recipes that never existed during his time in school, thanks to AI-driven recommendations based on previous customers’ experiences.
Traditional security guards with a rungu at the gate are, in some cases, today already sitting in an air-conditioned office operating a dashboard that controls in-coming and outgoing traffic using digital cameras.
There are many other examples, but the bottom line is that Kenyans must improve on their reading culture.
And content is abundantly available to keep updated on practically anything ranging from general technology skills, university level skills, high school skills amongst others.
Just Google, learn and lets make Kenya a reading and learning nation.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.