Ghana has adopted English as its national language and most media services: newspapers, television and radio are in English. This choice was made, no doubt, to avoid disputes between ethnic groups using three or four major indigenous languages and a total of about sixty languages when all the small tribal groups of the Northern and Upper Regions are included. So English acts as a unifying influence and as a means of universal national, as well as international, communication. It is taught as the primary language in schools, and literacy rates are calculated in English. For several decades, the majority of adults have been classified as literate yet most people read only out of necessity.

As of 2010, the adult literacy rate was reported to be 67.2 percent, and amongst the youth (aged 15 – 24 years) it was said to be 80.8 percent and rising steadily year-on-year. Nearly sixty years after independence, and starting with an already well established education system, one might have expected much higher literacy rates, but the political background has often been turbulent and every government has had its own radical ideas about education. Even so, the majority of professionals have always needed literacy, and all university lecturers and professors have always been expected to teach in English. For these people, much reading is required in the line of duty, but at home they relax with the vernacular and reading for pleasure is a minority pastime.

Many present day adults in Ghana have difficulty reading their vernacular and the vernaculars are in danger of again becoming spoken-only languages. The old people who read their bibles in Twi or Ewe have mostly passed away, and although there are broadcasts in the vernaculars there are few written publications. The major newspapers are in English and are widely read, but everything of substance can be absorbed in ten or fifteen minutes. People spending longer poring over a newspaper are invariable engaged is devising a strategy to win the national lottery.

Professors and lecturers read the agenda and minutes of the university’s faculty boards and Academic Board, at least the items affecting them directly, and students complain that some lecturers read out the textbook, inviting the students to take dictation, but in general nothing is read that is not categorised as ‘compulsory.’ High literacy rates in a country where English is the national language, but not the mother tongue, does not necessarily imply widespread fluency in reading, neither does it create anything like a proportionate market for English books.

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