“Papua New Guinea lacks a reading culture. Being predominantly an oral culture is no excuse for the times we live in. For mass consumption, therefore, the country's educated elite, the so-called literate few, gets spoon fed by the internet and social media.
“Ask the average PNG citizen in the street what a novel is and s/he won't have a clue what you're talking about. This confirms that the whole nation is illiterate. Sad. To be literate, you must write and you must read books - using your own head.”
- Russell Soaba, Facebook, 3 December 2016
RUSSELL Soaba’s post on Facebook few days ago got me thinking about all the young people I see using Facebook every time I go online.
I sometimes wonder if they have nothing better to do than post a status every five minutes. I also wonder if they ever read a good book instead of being online all the time.
A National Book Week theme in my primary school days stated: ‘Reader Today, Leader Tomorrow’. There’s a lot of truth in that. Back then we graduated from high school and university without Facebook and mostly without the internet.
I had my own small library in primary and high school. There had been a container of books donated to Alotau General Hospital where my parents worked, and Dad collected several cartons of books for me to read.
The floating bookshop, MV Doulos, visited Alotau in 1994, 1997 and 2007 and I had the opportunity to buy as many books as I could afford. Dad built book shelves to hold all my books.
I had books on astronomy, science, geography, dieting, home economics and poetry as well as novels and much else.
I read Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Goldilocks, Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Animal Farm, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Robinson Crusoe, Around the World in Eighty Days, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, The Three Musketeers and so many other books on all sorts of subjects.
If you visit my parents’ house in Alotau, you'll see my small library of books still there in the living room. I left it for my younger siblings to read. I hope they treasure the books like I did.
I wasn't surprised to hear that University of Papua New Guinea students this year were allowed to continue to second semester irrespective of their low Grade Point Average. About half the students would have failed but were allowed to continue so they'll be graduating next year.
But will they prove their worth in the jobs market? Or are we mass producing half-baked graduates at the expense of quality?
Even on social media, many university graduates cannot structure original and intelligent posts. They are fond of 'copy-paste' so they appear smart and wise on Facebook!
To be literate not only means reading and speaking English in a fancy accent. It also entails writing, including writing books. We can't afford for outsiders to be the only ones to write about us. We have to write about ourselves.