Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Promoting Literacy in School in some countries can help

Stories are as old as language, as old as the earliest societies. A few of the earliest stories even survive: those told in pictorial form on walls of cave in Lascaux, in France or in the Mpongweni Mountains in Lesotho. And others have come down to us in the world's myths and folklore to which we now have access on the printed age. Storytelling is older than printing, older than writing, and the first stories to be set down on paper, papyrus or parchment were not the work of those authors but records of the oral traditions of past centuries. In Sierra Leone as it is in most African countries storytelling is an integral part of the country's life although oral traditions have very largely yielded to the written word.

We learn as we live while we are children, young people and adults. Learning is not confined to the classroom alone: it can take place anywhere. Moral values and social norms, beliefs and codes have to be transmitted from generation to the next, whether modified or not. Informal learning settings are relevant and might be dominant even today when more formalized and specific institutions have partly taken over.

While Sierra Leoneans guard themselves against their past both educationists and librarians see a lot in storytelling that could be used as foundation to orient and develop the young in the school system. There are many indications that an immense richness of traditional pedagogy in respect to the principles, contents, methods and institutional arrangements existed and still exist in Sierra Leone. Story tellers, their stories and songs, proverbs and riddles are still important assets and subjects for indigenous learning and education. Oral traditions do not only pass the mores and standards of a society. They set out to explain the world and behaviour of the people in it. Oral traditions offer accounts of how the world began and these creation myths are part also of the Holy Books of all the world's long-established religions such as Christianity and Islam. Also explained in allegorical terms is all human behaviour in which good does not always triumph over evil.

Stories which do not depend on literature in turn do not depend on literacy. They can reach all of the community and their interactive quality is itself power, for it facilitates the functions of stories in social instruction, what Leeson (1985) called "passing on the country's shared wisdom and values to the next generation." Sadly there is a missing link in Sierra Leone as school going children are well acquainted with the stories of Great Britain, the United States of America, Canada and Italy to cite a few examples but know very little about their traditional stories.


Sierra Leone comprises sixteen (16) ethnic groups. The largest of these is the Mende found in the Southern and Eastern Provinces. Next to them in number is the Temne in the North. The third largest group is the Limba, also in the Northern Province, followed by the Kono in the Eastern Province. There's also the Koranko in the North as well as the Yalunka, Loko, Soso, Madingo and Fula. On the coast, North and South are the Bullom and Sherbro followed by the much smaller groups of Krim, Vai and Gola, with the Kissi further inland in the Eastern Province. The Western Area, including Freetown, is more mixed in population, but is basically the home of the Creole group. In all these ethnic groups storytelling is common as part of their culture.

Ogutu and Roscoe (1974) had this to say about storytelling in Africa: "The continent has its own fiction traditions; it has the tradition of storytelling, narrated orally... the medium through which Africa down the centuries has bared its soul, taught its people and entertained itself" (pp. 43-44).

Traditional stories in Sierra Leone are perceived as embodiment of the beliefs, customs, rituals and structures of society that need to be maintained. Stories operate within society to insure conformity to the accepted cultural norms of continuity from generation to generation through their role in education and the extent to which they mirror culture. Most traditional storytellers claim to derive their art through dreams, spirits, and apprenticeship to professional storytellers; others claim to acquire the art directly from God while some say they paid to acquire it. Storytellers possess the following features:

• Fluency in the local language and mastery of a wide range of vocabulary for all levels of audiences;
• Creativity and ability to establish rapport with their audiences;
• Knowledge of their audiences and their needs;
• Familiarity with and ability to refer to their culture and environment to enliven their stories and make them appeal to their audience;
• Good memory of accurate retention and narration of a large corpus of material; and
• Candour.

The contents of traditional stories can be grouped into:

• Myths-stories tinted with religion, superstition and traditional beliefs especially about the origins of mankind and phenomena;
• Legends-stories about historical events and memorable people such as war heroes, outstanding medicine men and migration;
• Fiction-imaginary tales categorized into allegory, fables, fantasy and parables.

These can be further classified by social function or institution namely:

• Political stories-stories about leadership and the relationship between leaders and their subjects;
• Tribe stories-these reveal the structures, families and communities i.e. marriage and genealogies;
• Religion and deities-stories about creation and phenomena such as death and rain;
• Moral virtues-stories intended to deride such vices as pride, greed, thievery, murder, dishonesty, foolishness and lack of insight;
• Economics-stories that deal with work, borrowing and lending, industriousness and laziness.

Characters in typical traditional Sierra Leonean stories range from people to animals, stones, trees, plants, deities, spirits and birds. These characters are symbolic: Bra rabbit- trickery; tortoise-wisdom; elephant-nobility; vulture-patience; lion-bravery and strength; sparrow, parrot and crow-intelligence; dove-good fortune; spider-cunning. Stories are told purely for evening entertainments. Sometimes storytelling sessions could be any time of the day with audiences in private verandahs, 'court barries' or other public places. However, the traditional setting where twenty to forty people sit together around a kerosene lamp or fire at night after a day's work is done and food has been cooked and eaten. Storytellers are also invited to cultural social functions such as weddings, burials, secret society celebrations and crowning ceremonies. Tobacco is often provided for without smoking storytelling ideas will not flow.

Stories go together with songs; a song starts off a story; an important line in a story makes up a new story; a proverb ends a story; a song in the middle of a story is used to wake up listeners or to prepare for the coming climax. Very often songs do invite participation, and listeners become active supporters of a chorus, clapping their hands, reaching to lies and jokes of the story teller, who in turn answers the comments often with another story. Songs are backed by the beating of traditional musical instruments like 'kaylain', 'sira' 'seigureh' and 'sangba' (local drum) to add rhythm. Story telling audience is usually active. It catalyses the narratives by spontaneous exclamations, questions to the narrator, echoing of the narrator's voice, and joining in the singing of choruses. For all these to take place discipline is maintained. The audience is made to laugh and exclaim but without jeopardizing the continuation of the narration.


Foremost is socialization. The telling and listening of stories is a social activity that brings people together to share in artistic and creative affair. The occasion is meant to entertain so that people could forget the drudgery of daily life. People are transplanted to a world of make-belief. As the narration goes through the nuances of recreating the fictional world the audience is carried along like passengers on a flight. The enjoyment derived is facilitated by the social organization of the audience. The atmosphere is generally informal with no coercion or harassment; everyone is on equal footing regardless of gender and age.

Participants have a chance to narrate and listen. The situation underscores the value of social cooperation. The discipline inherent in the narration is inevitably transformed to spheres of life. Participants learn to respect others, appreciate personal differences in abilities and temperament and be able to relate in a common activity.

Mental stimulation is derived from storytelling. Stories are told and received through the ear. The demand they place on the narrator is to remember the story and tell it for a possible retelling in future. This is good training for the memory. One has to be attentive to get the essentials of a story and assimilate it into repertoire. Thus the mind must be very active to accommodate the new knowledge or varieties of what is already known. As well as training of memory the narratives sharpen critical appreciation. One has to inquest the message of the narrative and evaluates the events related.

Stories are not just told for their own sake but have important pieces of social instruction to impart. The allegories of events and characters reflect on human life and are a source of learning. In the characters of stories the audience will see laziness, sages, cowards, agitators and the arrogant to cite but a few examples. Stories give hints as to how to react to them. The narratives give guidelines on what is cherishable. In other words they seek to change life.

Stories are cultural records. The culture of a people is the totality of their ways of life which include religion, beliefs, customs, practices, music, literature, attitudes, and philosophy. By being didactic stories present to people the philosophical essence of the society. The contents of oral traditions epitomize the foundations of that group. The tales of religion, creation and supernatural give the religious foundations of that group. Biographies and historical tales present the mundane landmarks in what is the society today. Through the traditional heroes, people appreciate what the society admires.


Stories are rich in tradition and a valuable heritage which are the country's source of oral literature. Storytelling is like history: it reveals the past, educates the present and throws lights on the future. Stories touch the soul of society and jolt them into an awareness of their condition. In Sierra Leone however these treasures of oral tradition are in danger of being disdained, forgotten and buried. By promoting the collection and publication of these oral sources of information school librarians will not only contribute to a worthwhile revival of interest in a hitherto neglected field but will ensure that posterity will derive maximum benefits from such an endeavour.

Sierra Leone is, in political parlance, a relatively new state following a decade-long civil war (1991-2001). Recording stories and including these in the school curriculum could find solutions to the country's problems of non-integration. Just as the country's National Dance Troupe over the years evolved into a family national ensemble so will recording traditional stories present a less heterogeneous origin and assume a truly national and homogenous character.

Traditional stories teach moral lessons common to all the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Sir Winston Wilson once observed that the further back we look into the past, the more into the future we can see. Recording traditional stories could help Sierra Leoneans to look back to their past with a view to seeing into their future. Besides, schools alongside public libraries are the most popular places to tell stories to children. The type of audience determines the kind of story to be told. For instance children from ages three to five enjoy stories about animals and about children themselves. While school-age children go in for long stories. Junior High School pupils like myths and epics. They are fascinated by heroes and enjoy adventure and romance.

The right to read one's own world is an essential part of the right to learn. Stories and songs are the media through which Sierra Leoneans have been to pass to their children the traditions, customs, culture and oral history of their society. Indigenous literature however is necessary to prevent the literate person from becoming alienated from his own culture and tradition. It strengthens the appreciation of one's own cultural values and cultural identity in a rapidly changing environment. In Sierra Leone where for a long time education has been based on books that relate to other cultures this is very important. Like everywhere else in the world the awareness of people's cultural heritage is also a prerequisite for the continuity, cohesion and progress of their society. Over and above all the rich oral traditions of Sierra Leoneans with their different languages can easily get lost with the propagation of modern means of communication, if not preserved.


Libraries are the gatekeepers to the world of information and knowledge. Kinnell (1992) opined that Good libraries empower. Using their resources can unfetter our imagination, disclose hitherto unrealized worlds; promote knowledge; induce pleasure; make us laugh; insights; challenge our misconceptions; assuage fears; prick our conscience; influence our sensibilities; and provide professional refreshment. "What we learn from good books and other resources become part of us"(p.5).

Libraries are the neutral grounds on which the individual child may grow through independent and unhindered discovery. They are places to learn and practice information skills. Libraries provide sources of information for young people, enabling them to discover and use the power of access that information skills can bring in the society of today and that of tomorrow. Amonoo and Azubuike (2003) opined that libraries are catalysts for human progress as they aid the development and transmission of knowledge and culture, and foster civic awareness in support of democracy. Libraries preserve and promote cultural heritage and diversity, and foster mutual understanding and respect for cultures and peoples. For Johnson (2013) "good school and college libraries can enhance the educational experience, encourage reading and fostering the critical thinking that students will require to survive and prosper in an increasingly complex society"(p.295).

An advantage that libraries enjoy is that they are centrally placed within communities. As such they are well placed to fulfill a role as cultural centers. They are natural places for the promotion of literature including poetry, drama, prose and storytelling. They also offer venue for visual arts and music. In addition they are cultural centers in the true sense of the word, highlighting local culture and able to highlight the culture of children representing the various groups within the community.

Le Roux (2005) averred that the school library is nothing less than the conscience of the curriculum. Schools libraries provide relevant and up-to-date materials and services for teaching staff and pupils to support the curriculum. Implicitly the collection so developed should be one that reflects not only the known needs of users but also anticipated needs of prospective teachers and pupils. By presenting their users with a representative collection of children's literature libraries could stimulate teachers and pupils alike to develop imaginative use of storytelling materials that could be passed on to pupils in subsequent years.

Provision and promotion of services presupposes a knowledge and understanding of the world within which children live on a global, national and basis. Children can derive from libraries enjoyment of story experience, of language, and of associated art. The resources of the library may foster knowledge of a wider world and an understanding of other people with regard to behavior, culture, or situations (Johnson,2013). Children can gain self-knowledge through relating to situations, events and characters. Libraries can provide for children's information needs. Good services may help to engender confidence in the acquisition of vocabulary, speech and language. Libraries provide opportunities for shared experience between adults and children. Central to the philosophy of library provision for young people is to support formal and informal education.

School libraries are communication centers. They constitute an ideal means of disseminating / knowledge. Their purpose is to facilitate access to the clientele they serve to the tools of knowledge to assist their cultural and professional development (Wehmeyer, 2005). Ultimately this function is associated with the intellectual development of pupils and their attitudes towards situations of all kinds, moral, intellectual, social, practical and recreational.


Traditional stories are aspects of peoples' indigenous knowledge systems and considering their social functions in society there is every need for these to be preserved. The fact in the main is that much of the art of storytelling is owned by adults most of whom are growing old and dying. And in Africa for instance when an old person dies it is believed that a library is burnt. This is where school librarians should come in to play a crucial role. Traditional storytelling is an inexplicable phenomenon of Sierra Leonean life and is indispensable for future development. Already steps have been undertaken by some organizations like Partners in Adult Education (PEA), the Department of History and African Studies and the Division of Extra-Mural Studies (DEMS) at Fourah Bay College to record some traditional stories, songs, proverbs and riddles for future use. School librarians should be part of these efforts by recording traditional stories using conventional information and communication technologies such as telecommunications (mobile phones), computers, microfiche, and audiovisual technologies( e.g. cassette recorders, slides, video tapes, tape recorders and CD-ROMs) to record, repackage and disseminate stories for their intended audiences. Given the importance of web technology in information gathering and dissemination librarians can also record stories in web OPACs so that teachers, pupils, and researchers can read different stories as well as biographies of renowned story tellers in the country (Kochtanek and Mathews, 2002).

Further school librarians should be transcribing and publishing stories into booklets and anthologies for use in schools. Such efforts will contribute to the modest stock of written materials in the country available for schools, youths and even adults. Translating traditional stories into several languages will contribute to intercultural understanding in the country. Through these efforts the country's cultures would become the content of learning and even the form by taking it from its roots.

As traditional stories and songs are living in certain contexts rudiments of these could be presented in pictures: village life, arts and crafts, landscapes, peoples and travel routes. Central in all these efforts will be pictures of story tellers and their audiences, dancers and artists. The visual impressions created by photos will further strengthen children's understanding and interest in school. Story telling sessions should not only be filmed / videoed but librarians should compile biographies of storytellers for use in schools. Such strides will enrich children's knowledge of the various ethnic groups in the country and could go a long way in reducing illiteracy.

In school librarians should advocate for increased slots for storytelling on the time table. They should also lobby for the introduction of traditional storytelling up to Junior Secondary School level as aspects of Literature. Children should be brought to the library for special storytelling sessions so that they could not forget their culture. Parents and Storytellers should be invited to narrate stories in school for the benefit of children. Such efforts need collaboration with subject teachers who better understand the needs of pupils and the curriculum. School librarians should also maintain links with public libraries and nearby schools in their areas. Children should be taken on visit to public libraries within their localities where storytelling sessions could be held. In all these moves school librarians should possess extensive knowledge of storytelling appropriate for the varied needs and levels of pupils in their respective schools. Links should also be made with tertiary institutions and organizations engaged in adult literacy which are already involved in traditional storytelling activities as part of their curricula. Lecturers and animators could be invited to school to talk to children about the importance of traditional storytelling and even tell stories for the benefit of pupils and teachers. There are community radios stations all over the country and schools can buy air time to hold discussions on storytelling. If possible storytellers should be invited to such talks to be either interviewed or tell stories. In fact the national broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC) could play a leading role in this direction by creating at least a slot in its weekly programs for storytelling.

The school librarians, to be effective, need to be able to "sell" the art of storytelling in the same way other competitors for children "sell" their wares. They should organize Book Weeks with storytelling sessions included in the activities to be carried out in such Weeks. During such sessions storytellers and parent could be invited to tell stories to children. Teachers, parents and older pupils should be encouraged to write and read stories to the younger ones. They should also show video clips or slides/musical versions of renowned traditional stories.
A well used school library promotes learning, raises achievement and enhances pupils' personal and social development. It is an asset to the school, both in terms of physical resources and the wider resources throughout the school it will harness for the benefit of its users (The Library Association (1998). Invariably, traditional stories have passed from the ancient to present day generations by word of mouth. They have survived the test of time because of the universality of their messages across time and boundaries. Thus Sierra Leoneans still find traditional stories relevant and adoptable to their experiences today. As time passes on traditional stories still have to be passed down to their descendants. Noticeably this should not be solely through the oral word. Literacy and other aspects of modern life come in to aid the preservation and further transmission of traditional stories. And this is where school librarians should come in. Through compilation of anthologies, recording stories into audio tapes, CD ROMs, and cinema films and creation of networks to cite but a few examples, school librarians will be able to create a more permanent record of this valuable asset for future use. The heart of information literacy is contained within definitions used to describe it. Traditionally librarians have given 'library induction' or 'library skills training' in a limited role. Library users need to know where the catalogue is, what the services are, and most importantly where the enquiry desk is. This is not to reduce the value of traditional library induction, but libraries and information are also changing. The provision of information through a library in a traditional form has gone through radical alterations. Already in most library and information organisations staffs are adjusting their services with the provision of new media and access to information provision within these organisations. Thus librarians are talking about social inclusion, opportunity, life-long learning, information society and self development.

A plethora of definitions for information literacy abound in books, journal papers and the web. Some of these definitions centre on the activities of information literacy i.e. identifying the skills needed for successful literate functioning. Other definitions are based on the perspective of an information literate person i.e. trying to outline the concept of information literacy. Deriving therefore a single definition is a complex process of collecting together a set of ideas as to what might be, should be, or may be considered a part of information literacy. For example Weber and Johnson (2002) defined information literacy as the adoption of appropriate information behaviour to obtain, through whatever channel or medium, information well fitted to information needs, together with critical awareness of the importance of wise and ethical use of information in society. The American Library Association (2003) defined information literacy as a set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information. While CLIP (2004) defined information literacy as knowing when and why one needs information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner. Succinctly these definitions imply that information literacy requires not only knowledge but also skills in:

• recognising when information is needed;
• resources available
• locating information;
• evaluating information;
• using information;
• ethics and responsibility of use of information;
• how to communicate or share information;
• how to manage information

Given therefore the variety of definitions and implied explanation information literacy is a cluster of abilities that an individual can employ to cope with, and to take advantage of the unprecedented amount of information which surrounds us in our daily life and work.


Sierra Leone's current educational system is composed of six years of formal primary education, three years of Junior Secondary School (JSS), three years Senior Secondary School (SSS) and four years of tertiary education-6-3-3-4. (The Professor Gbamanja Commission's Report of 2010 recommended an additional year for SSS to become 6-3-4-4). The official age for primary school pupils is between six and eleven years. All pupils at the end of class six are required to take and pass the National Primary School Examinations designed by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) to enable them proceed to the secondary school divided into Junior Secondary School(JSS) and Senior Secondary School (SSS). Each part has a final examination: the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) for the JSS, and the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) for SSS, both conducted by WAEC. Successful candidates of WASSCE are admitted to tertiary institutions based on a number of subjects passed (GoSL,1995)

The curriculum of primary schools emphasizes communication competence and the ability to understand and manipulate numbers. At the JSS level, the curriculum is general and comprehensive, encompassing the whole range of knowledge, attitudes and skills in cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. The core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science and Social studies are compulsory for all pupils. At the SSS level, the curriculum is determined by its nature (general or specialist), or its particular objectives. Pupils are offered a set of core (compulsory) subjects with optional subjects based on their specialization. Teaching is guided by the teaching syllabuses and influenced by the external examinations that pupils are required to take at the 3/ 4-year course. English is the language of instruction (GoSL,1995).

The countries two universities, three polytechnics, and two teacher training colleges are responsible for the training of teachers in Sierra Leone. The Universities Act of 2004 provides for private universities so that these institutions too could help in the training of teachers. Programs range from the Teacher Certificate offered by the teacher training colleges to the Masters in Education offered by universities. Pre-service certification of teachers is the responsibility of the National Council for Technical, Vocational and Other Academic Awards (NCTVA). There is also an In-service Teacher Training program (Distance Education Program) conducted for teachers in part to reduce the number of untrained and unqualified teachers especially in the rural areas.


In Sierra Leone as it is in most parts of the developing world literacy involves one's ability to read, write and numeracy. It is the ability to function effectively in life contexts. A literate person is associated with the possession of skills and knowledge and how these could be applied within his local environment. For instance a literate person is believed to be able to apply chemical fertilizer to his crops, fill in a loans form, determine proper dosage of medicine, calculate cash cropping cost and profits, glean information from a newspaper, make out a bank deposit slip and understanding instructions and basic human rights.

Literacy is at the heart of the country's development goals and human rights (World Bank, 2007). Wherever practised literacy activities are part of national and international strategies for improved education, human development and well-being. According to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index Sierra Leone has a literacy rate of 34 %.Implicitly Sierra Leone is an oral society. And oral societies rely heavily on memory to transmit their values, laws, history, music, and culture whereas the written word allows infinite possibilities for transmission and therefore of active participation in communication. These possibilities are what make the goal of literacy crucial in society.

In academic parlance literacy hinges on the printed word. Most pupils are formally introduced to print when they encounter schoolbook. School teachers in Sierra Leone continue to use textbooks in their teaching activities to convey content area information to pupils. It is no gainsaying that pupils neither maximise their learning potential nor read at levels necessary for understanding the type of materials teachers would like them to use. Thus the performance of pupils at internal and public examinations is disappointing. Further pupils' continued queries in the library demonstrate that they do not only lack basic awareness of resources available in their different school libraries but also do not understand basic rudiments of how to source information and materials from these institutions. What is more worrisome is that pupils do not use appropriate reading skills and study strategies in learning. There is a dearth of reading culture in schools and this situation cuts across the fabric of society. In view of the current support the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) to establish literacy standards in school this situation has proved frustrating as teachers do not know how to better help pupils to achieve this goal. Thus they look up to the school librarians to play a more proactive role.


In everyday situations school pupils are expected to be able to identify and seek information they need. Providing a variety of reading and writing experiences using varied materials in the school library can help develop pupils' literacy ability (Roe, Stoodt-Hill and Burns, 2004). The mode of assessment in schools in Sierra Leone includes class exercises, tests, written and practical assignments, as well as written examinations to see pupils through to their next levels. These pupils, for example, need to read content books and supplementary materials in school for homework. Pupils have even more literacy needs in their activities outside school. They need to read signs found in their communities, job applications, road maps and signs, labels on food and medicine, newspapers, public notices, bank statements, bills and many other functional materials. Failure to read and understand these materials can result in their committing traffic violations, having unpleasant reactions to food or medicine, becoming lost, losing employment opportunities and missing desirable programs. Equally so pupils need to write to their relatives and loved ones, instructions to people who are doing things for them, notes to themselves about tasks to be completed, phone messages for colleagues and many other items. Mistakes in these activities can have negative effects on them. Good literacy skills are especially important to pupils who plan to pursue higher education studies. The job market in the country calls for pupils to be literate. For instance most jobs advertised these days require people who have completed their JSS. The fact is that workers need to be able to understand graphic aids, categorized information and skim and scan to locate information. Also the nature of reading in the workplace generally involves locating information for immediate use and inferring information for problem solving. The reading and writing of a variety of documents like memos, manuals, letters, reports and instructions are necessary literacy skills in the workplace.


School libraries in Sierra Leone are perceived as integral aspect of the county's educational system. These institutions bring together four major components of the school community: the materials, pupils, teacher and library staff. The main purpose for the establishment of these institutions in schools is to complement the teaching/learning process, if not to support the curriculum. This purpose is achieved in two ways: by providing pupils with the means of finding whatever information they need; and by developing in pupils the habit of using books both for information and for pleasure. Pupils need information to help them with the subjects they learn in school. The textbooks they use and the notes they take in class can be an excellent foundation. They may also be sufficient for revision purposes. But these could not be enough to enable pupils to write good essays of their own or to carry out group projects. School libraries then are expected to complement this effort and therefore are perceived as learning centres.

Pupils need information on subjects not taught in school. School libraries are looked upon as places pupils find information to help them in their school studies and personal development. Through these institutions pupils' habit of using libraries for life-long education is not only developed but also school libraries could be used to improve pupils' reading skills. In the school community both pupils and teachers use school libraries for leisure and recreational purpose and for career advancement. The culture of society is also transmitted through use of school libraries. Because of the important role school libraries play in the country's educational system they are organised in such way that pupils as well as teachers can rely upon them for support in the teaching/learning process. Most of these institutions are managed by either a full-time staff often supervised by a senior teacher. Staffs use varied methods to promote their use including user education.


A pre-requisite for the development of autonomous pupils through flexible resource-based learning approaches is that pupils master a set of skills which gradually enable them to take control of their own learning. Current emphasis in teaching in schools in Sierra Leone has shifted from "teacher-centred" to "pupil-centred" approach thereby making pupils to "learn how to learn" for themselves so that the integration of process skills into the design of the school curriculum becomes crucial (GoSL,1995). It is in this area of "learning" or "information literacy" skills that one can most clearly see the inter-relationship between the school curriculum and the school library. For pupils to become independent users of information and for this to occur it is vital that they are given the skills to learn how to find information, how to select what is relevant, and how to use it in the best way possible for their own particular needs and take responsibility for their own learning. As information literate, pupils will be able to manage information skilfully and efficiently in a variety of contexts. They will be capable of weighing information carefully and wisely to determine its quality (Marcum2002). Pupils do recognise that having good information is central to meeting the opportunity and challenges of day-to-day living. They are also aware of the importance of how researching across a variety of sources and formats to locate the best information to meet particular needs.

Literacy activities in schools in Sierra Leone are the responsibility of content area teachers, reading consultants and school librarians. Of these the role of the school librarian is paramount. As specialist the school librarian is expected to provide assistance to pupils and teachers alike by locating materials in different subjects, and at different reading levels by making available materials that can be used for motivation and background reading. The school librarian is also expected to provide pupils with instructions in locating strategies related to the library such as doing online searches and skimming through printed reference materials. The librarian is expected to display printed materials within his purview, write specialised bibliographies and lists of addresses on specific subjects at the request of teachers. He should be able to provide pupils with direct assistance in finding and using appropriate materials; recreational reading can be fostered by the librarian's book talks or attractive book displays on high-interest topics like HIV/AIDS, child abuse, child rights, human rights and poverty alleviation. In view of this the fundamental qualities expected of the good school librarian include knowledge of his collection and how to access it; ability to understand the needs of his users more so those of pupils; ability to communicate with pupils and adult users; and knowledge of information skills and how to use information.


Pupils' success in school depends to a large extent upon their ability to access, evaluate and use information. Providing access to information and resources is a long-standing responsibility of the school librarian. The school librarian should provide the leadership and expertise necessary to ensure that the library becomes integral in the instructional program of the school. In school the librarian is the information specialist, teacher and instructional consultant. He is the interface responsible for guiding pupils and teachers through the complex information resources housed in his library (Lenox and Walker, 1993). He is looked up to assist and guide numerous users in seeking to use and understand the resources and services of the library. In this respect the school librarian should inculcate in these users such skills as manual and online searching of information; use of equipment; developing critical skills for the organization, evaluation and use of information and ideas as integral part of the curriculum (Lonsdale, 2003). The school librarian should be aware of the range of available information retrieval systems, identify that most suitable to the needs of pupils and provide expertise in helping them become knowledgeable, if not comfortable, in their use. Since no library is self-sufficient the school librarian can network with information agencies, lending/renting materials and/or using electronic devises to transmit information (Tilke, 1998; 2002).

As information specialist the school librarian should be able to share his expertise with those who may wish to know what information sources and/or learning materials are available to support a program of work. Such consultation should be offered to the whole school through the curriculum development committee or to individual subject teachers. The school librarian should take the lead in developing pupils' information literacy skills by being involved with the school curriculum planning and providing a base of resources to meet its needs. He should be aware of key educational initiatives and their impact in teaching and learning; he should be familiar with teaching methods and learning styles in school; over all he should maintain an overview of information literacy programmes within the school (Herring, 1996; Kuhlthau, 2004).

Kuhlthau (2004) opined that information seeking is a primary activity of life and that pupils seek information to deepen and broaden their understanding of the world around them. When therefore, information in school libraries is placed in a larger context of learning, pupils' perspective becomes an essential component in information provision. The school librarian should ensure that skills, knowledge and attitude concerning information access, use and communication, are integral part of the school curriculum. Information skills are crucial in the life-long learning process of pupils. As short term objective the school librarian should provide a means of achieving learning objectives within the curriculum; as long term information skills have a direct impact on individual pupils' ability to deal effectively with a changing environment. Therefore the school librarian should work in concert with teachers and administrators to define the scope and sequence of the information relevant to the school curriculum and ensure its integration throughout the instructional programs (Tilke, 2002; Birks and Hunt, 2003). Pupils should be encouraged to realise their potential as informed citizens who critically think and solve problems. In view of the relationship between the curriculum and school library, the librarian should serve on the curriculum committee ensuring that information access skills are incorporated into subject areas. The school librarian's involvement in the curriculum development will permit him to provide advice on the use of a variety of instructional strategies such as learning centres and problem-solving software, effective in communicating content to pupils (Herring, 1996; Birks and Hunt, 2003).

Literacy could be actively developed as pupils need access to specific resources, demonstrate understanding of their functionality and effective searching skills. In this regard pupils should be given basic instruction to the library, its facilities and services and subsequent use. Interactive teaching methods aimed at information literacy education should be conducted for the benefit of pupils. Teaching methods could include an outline of a variety of aides like quizzes and worksheets of differing complexity level to actively engage pupils in learning library skills and improving their information literacy. Classes should be divided into small groups so that pupils could have hands-on-experience using library resources. Where Internet services are available in the library online tutorials should be provided. Post session follow-up action will ensure that pupils receive hands-on-experience using library resources. Teaching methods should be constantly evaluated to identify flaws and improve on them.

Further the school librarian should demonstrate willingness to support and value pupils in their use of the library through: provision of readers' guides; brochures; book marks; library handbooks/guides; computerization of collection; helpful guiding throughout the library; and regular holding of book exhibitions and book fairs. Since there are community radio stations in the country the school librarian could buy air time to report library activities, resources and services. He can also communicate to pupils through update newspapers. Pupils could be encouraged to contribute articles on library development, book reviews and information about opening times and services. The school librarian could help pupils to form book and reading clubs, organize book weeks and book talks using visiting speakers and renowned writers to address pupils. Classes could also be allowed to visit the library to facilitate use. More importantly the school librarian should provide assistance to pupils in the use of technology to access information outside the library. He should offer pupils opportunities related to new technology, use and production of varied media formats, and laws and polices regarding information. In order to build a relevant resource base for the school community the librarian should constantly carry out needs assessment, comparing changing demands to available resources.

The Internet is a vital source for promoting literacy in the school library. The school librarian should ensure that the library has a website that will serve as guide to relevant and authoritative sources and as a tool for learning whereby pupils and teachers are given opportunity to share ideas and solutions (Herring, 2003). Through the Internet pupils can browse the library website to learn how to search and develop information literacy skills. In order for pupils to tap up-to-date sources from the Net the school librarian should constantly update the home page, say on a daily basis, if necessary. Simultaneously the school librarian should avail to pupils and teachers sheets/guides to assist them in carrying out their own independent researches. He should give hands-on-experience training to users to share ideas with others through the formation of "lunch time" or "after school support groups". Such activities could help pupils to develop ideas and searching information for a class topic and assignment.

Even the location of the library has an impact in promoting literacy in school. The library should be centrally located, close to the maximum number of teaching areas. It should be able to seat at least ten per cent of school pupils at any given time, having a wide range of resources vital for teaching and learning programs offered in school. The library should be characterised by good signage for the benefit of pupil and teacher users with up-to-date displays to enhance the literacy skills of pupils and stimulating their intellectual curiosity Indeed the promotion of literacy should be integral in the school curriculum and that the librarian should be able to play a leading role to ensure that the skills, knowledge and attitudes related to information access are inculcated in pupils and teachers alike as paramount users of the school library. But the attainment of this goal is dependent on a supportive school administration, always willing and ready to assist the library and its programs financially. To make the librarian more effective he should be given capacity building to meeting the challenges of changing times.

No comments:

Leave a comment