By Mohamed Khatib
By Mohamed Khatib
Rabat – The concept of literacy, originally referring to the ability to read and write, has expanded to include such skills as speaking a second or foreign language or accessing knowledge through modern technology. Further, the meaning of literacy differs as contexts differ; i.e., people of different social classes, backgrounds, countries, etc., may not conceive of literacy in the same way or have the same expectations of a literate person.
One of the most important keys to literacy is reading. It is through reading that we get access to almost all types of knowledge, and a well-educated person is oftentimes equated with a “well-read person.” Citing or mentioning books and their authors, for example, is thought of as an asset in almost all contexts, from mere casual conversations to highly formal speech events. Notwithstanding, even among the literate population, not all people read or like reading. In Morocco, the rate of people who read is very low. Moreover, there is a general consensus that few people — and fewer people among the underprivileged poor population — read.
For most Moroccans, a literate person is one who knows how to read and write. In addition, some people, often underprivileged, conceive of a literate person as one who can write his/her name. There is a general piece of advice in Moroccan Arabic that I have repeatedly heard, often from non-educated old persons: “Qra wakha taaraf taktab ghi smitak,” which can be rendered into English as “Study so that at least you can write your name.” Moreover, this traditional and simple conception of the “literate individual,” at least to the layman, has a great bearing on the fact that most Moroccans do not read. (Since a person is literate, why spend much time on reading?)
Why are many Moroccans reluctant to read for pleasure? Before trying to provide some causes for this phenomenon, two notes are needed: (1) The reasons and views put forward in these paragraphs are generalizations and do not hold true for all Moroccans, and (2) the kind of reading I will be referring to is non-compulsory extracurricular reading, that which is done for pleasure or for the sake of intellectual or academic development.
In my discussions with friends, professors, and acquaintances, three major causes seem to underpin this phenomenon of lack of reading for pleasure among Moroccans:
- Reading is too demanding and the state does not encourage reading.
- Reading for pleasure is not part of Moroccan culture.
- Many Moroccans read when they have a material (as opposed to spiritual) purpose.
Let’s examine some of the implications of these claims:
1. Reading it too demanding and the state does not encourage reading:
Is reading too demanding? In addition to the time, energy, and motivation required to read, it is to some extent financially demanding for some Moroccans who live from hand to mouth. Indeed, some of those Moroccans who don’t read don’t have enough money to buy books, newspapers, or other reading materials. Besides, many Moroccans shifted to using modern technology at the expense of books (smart phones, PCs, etc.). A friend of mine states, “When Moroccans got access to TV and internet, they divorced books.” Note, however, that few Moroccans now use this modern technology to read e-books, articles, and so on.
The second part of this claim — that the state does not encourage people to read — is true. I personally have been to two universities, one in Beni Mellal and the other in Marrakech, whose libraries are not equipped with many books that students really need for the subjects they study, let alone books that they can read for pleasure in their free time. Furthermore, underprivileged Moroccans cannot even find many of the interesting books they need. Few book fairs are held in Morocco, and the books exhibited are often of a low quality. Moreover, the poor find the books very expensive, if they have the chance to visit a book fair at all. I think it is a failure of the state to provide more book fairs and more books at a discount.
2. Reading for pleasure is not part of Moroccan culture.
The claim is oftentimes cited to justify the fact that many Moroccans don’t read. What does this mean exactly? Well, to begin with, what is culture? The most widely accepted definition of culture was formulated by the English anthropologist Edward Burnet Tylor in 1871:
Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. (Tyler cited in Katan, 1999: 16)
Reading for pleasure might be considered as one of those “habits acquired by man as a member of society.” If this habit is not part of Moroccan culture, then it is not acquired by Moroccan children. Consequently, they grow up to become “members of a society” that lacks a very useful habit: reading for pleasure. Therefore, many Moroccans are simply not socialized to become good readers and life-long learners.
3. Many Moroccans read when they have a material (as opposed to a spiritual) purpose.
My mother, when I tell her that I have bought a new book or when she sees me read or study for a long time, says, “What do you need these books for? You have already got a job. Why more study?” Being illiterate, my mother correlates study with getting a job. In fact many Moroccans do. However, many Moroccans are also keen readers when it comes to curricular, compulsory reading. They do their best when reading is done for an examination, or a specific material purpose.
This being said, I think that reading for pleasure should be encouraged in Morocco. This encouragement should be given due care by the state and by schools and families. I want to emphasize that teachers in particular have a great role in sensitizing students to the benefits of reading for pleasure. Such reading is the road to intellectual and cognitive development as it introduces readers to new ideas and cultures, as well as to affective development as it provides relaxation and relief from the stresses of daily life.
Edited by Esther Bedik
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