Tuesday, 25 October 2011

At last, a reading reality show for kids

We have heard and watched the Big Brother
Africa, Gulder Ultimate Search, Maltina
Dance All and countless other national and
international reality shows; some despicable;
others edifying. But none yet has been
focused on education, more so for the kids.
Thus when The Reading House, a reality
show for children between the ages of six to 11
stormed Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital
last month, it appeared as it was a child’s
play. Most residents of Uyo never even viewed
it on the state television service; possibly
because they were not aware.
By the time the event ended on October 1,
2011, and the winners, tagged “The Reader of
The Year” emerged, those who got to know
about it through the video clips of the actions
in the House, really regretted missing such an
education-based project for the kids.
According to its organisers, The Reading
House Reality Show, with the motto: Books,
the Diamonds in Our Hands, “is an initiative
aimed at preparing children, the leaders of
tomorrow for the challenges of leadership and
directly for a profitable citizenship of
“By training these children, there is hope to
consciously groom a class of future leaders,
who will appreciate the truth that
information rules the world and will
painstakingly lead this great nation Nigeria,
through world-proven and accurate
information rather than on baseless
Though it was meant for the kids, it,
however, had the trappings and formalities of
all standard reality shows ever aired in Nigeria
or elsewhere. Kids had to fill forms to get
auditioned; those qualified were camped in the
house for the period that the show lasted and
some were gradually evicted till the final
winner emerged.
The president of The Reading House and
coordinator of the show, Mrs Mariastella
Victor Mkpong, told Daily Sun that the
philosophy behind the reality show was to
bring back the reading culture among the
youth in Nigeria.
“Our children no longer read. I remember
when I was in school; reading was the
ultimate; reading was like a passion. You can
get into the class and hear questions being
asked and your classmates are giving answers
in new vocabularies, and that would motivate
you to read,” but today, you find out that
children prefer to go into computer games to
do all sorts of things without reading. So we
want our children to go back to the reading
culture so that we can be rest assured that our
tomorrow is secured. A reader is a leader so
they have to read to lead.”
Mkpong, who is an educationist, disagreed
that the standard of education in Nigeria is
irreparably low. Her only quarrel is with policy
implementation in the education sector. `She
argued that Nigeria’s academic curriculum is
always one of the best.
“All I want to say is that we could, as
Nigerians, take the bull by the horns by
looking into our educational system and
saying it is going to be great. It is not
everybody that should be a teacher. There are
some people hanging there and looking for
greener pasture. Where I am teaching, I have
made it known that teaching is first of all a
call, then a ministry and then a profession.
You must have passion about it to be able to
impact positively on the children. And you
must be a Nigerian that is detribalised to see it
our thing. It is not the government thing but
our thing and together we can make it work.”
Mkpong shocked everyone when she said The
Reading House was barely only one month
when it staged the show but said awesome
result it recorded within the period could not be
divorced from the belief that the finger of
God was upon it from inception, thus
moulding it into a brand through which
young children would culturally and positively
represent Nigeria through books.
“By the time these ones become the leaders of
tomorrow, the question of examination
malpractice would have been nipped in the bud
because in The Reading House they had been
exposed to consciously stand up to walk, pick
up a book and read; summarise it and retell it
as a story, because we are Nigerians who have
the culture of telling stories, which goes back
to the villages and moonlight entertainment
era; those compositions that man rolls out
offhand but now put on the pages of books.”
Though the project was pioneered in Uyo,
Akwa Ibom State, Mkpong said subsequent
editions would have a national outlook because
every Nigerian child has a right to be in The
Reading House. “All we need to do is for our
parents to open the pages of newspapers and
read and retrieve the information to know
when the next edition is taking place. We will
have to put up for auditioning in all the geo-
political zones; get children that are eager to
read to auctioning and eventually to The
Reading House.”
Apart from the 10 competing housemates,
there were other five mates regarded as
ceremonial housemates; those who could not
really read well but were admitted into the
house to draw inspiration from the
Of course there was the eviction challenge.
“We took a day to address the issue of
eviction with the children making them know
that it was a training programme as well as a
completion and that we want to keep it at an
internationally acceptable level; that we could
not accept anything below global standard.
We counselled them one-on-one, that to be
evicted doesn’t mean that you are not clever.
We were also always around at the place of
eviction to talk to them, manage them, and
even allow them to cry, because as children,
they are supposed to cry it out; say everything
they want to say behind the camera. So they
were able to un-bottle their emotions and let it
Mkpong said those evicted this year would not
be admitted for auditioning next season in
order to give other children the opportunity to
partake of the programme, which had Degree
360 as technical partner and Reader
Development, Information and Literacy
advocacy (REDILA), an NGO, as a major
sponsor. She said several other groups have
indicated interest to partner with the House.
Master Gideon Utip Ekong, a 8-year old
primary three pupil of Sandy International
School, who emerged the overall winner, and
won the star prize of N150, 000 and some
other items, mostly educational, told The Sun
that he would want to be a professor of
science. But before becoming a professor,
Utip would like to play football.
“I was not scared when I was in the house.
When I was declared the overall winner I felt
excited. It feels good to be a star. I started
reading from the age of four. My mother
taught me how to read. So my parents were
equally very happy when I won. My football
idol is (Lionel) Messi but I will like to play for
Manchester United before playing for
Miss Edidiong Ekong who was the first
runner up got N100,000 and some reading
materials while Miss Blessed Umoetuk got
N70,000 and some books.
The winners as well as organisers had insisted
that their stories should be published in The
Sun as it was the preferred newspaper in The
Reading House.

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