Background to the study
Academic achievement is very important in any educational setting, as it indicates the level of students' competence in respect of the academic content. This is typically defined in terms of performance, and grades which represent the most obvious and universally accepted indicator of academic achievement in educational contexts. Indeed, academic achievement does create competition among students, and it may remove the focus from the academic content of a course, but it is a prerequisite in order to obtain success at university, and equally important in life after university (Harackiewicz, Barron and Elliot, 1998). The academic achievement of students determines whether he or she is considered to be successful or not, and as a result, academic achievement is very important in education.
One of the most topical issues in the current debate all over the world has been that of gender differences and academic achievement among students in schools. Hence, it is crucial to know and to understand which factors are responsible for determining, predicting or for causing variance in academic achievement. Fergusson and Horwood (1997) reported pervasive differences in the school achievement of males and females with males having lower scores on all standardised tests; being uniformly rated as performing less well in the areas of reading, written expression, mathematics and spelling, and at age 18, having lower success rates in School Certificate examinations, higher rates of reading delay and more often leaving school without qualifications. According to them, the consistently poorer academic achievement of males was due to the fact that males were cognitively less able than females.
Abdu-Raheem (2012) in his study on gender differences and students' academic achievement reported that there was no significant different between the achievement mean scores of male and female student in the experimental and control groups. This is an indication that gender has no significant contribution to the achievement of student.
On the other hand, variation in reading between male and female students has also been found to have implications on their academic achievement. Reading habit according to Orasamu (1982) as cited by Issa, Aliyu, Akangbe and Adedeji (2012) refers to the art of interpreting printed and written words. Greene (2001) is of the opinion that reading habit is best formed at a young impressionable age in school, but once formed it can last one's life. Once a child has been taught to read and develop love for books, he or she can explore for himself or herself the wealth of human experience and knowledge. Children, missing the opportunity of getting in touch with books at this stage, find it hard to acquire good reading habit in their later years. According to Issa, Aliyu, Akangbe and Adedeji (2012) reading habit is an intellectual action which is possible only if a man has formed the habit of reading and practicing it since childhood.
The reading habit refers to the frequency of reading, and the average time spent on reading materials. Cleary cited in Abeyrathna (2004) stated that an individual's interest is determined to a considerable extent by the amount of reading materials he will read and the intensity with which he will pursue his reading activity. By reading books, one gets confirmation or rejection of one's own ideas, which makes one think more critically about right and wrong in the society (Bergland in Abeyrathna, 2004). Nonetheless, Bas (2012) emphasized a favourable reading habit as a prerequisite for a healthy intellectual growth and plays a very crucial role in enabling a person to achieve practical efficiency. Bas (2012) established through his findings that, reading habit of high school students showed a significant difference according to gender variable in favour of female students.
Similarly, according to Okebukola (2004), through acquiring good reading habit, humans possess the tools to transmit knowledge to each succeeding generation. Besides, it allows one to listen to the wisdom and people of the ages. This is emphasized by many different religious traditions. Reading habit is a vital factor affecting intellectual and emotional growth. The individual who reads well has a means for widening mental horizons and for multiplying opportunities of success. For an undergraduate student to be successful in his studies, he/she needs to acquire efficient reading habit. She/he needs not only to read more materials but also to learn how to do so with great comprehension. A student is expected to read very widely and at the same time be able to reproduce much of what he/she has read.
Reading, a lifelong habit, is the major source of access to the knowledge. It is taken as an implicit practice that supports an individual to achieve original power and develops one's critical thinking capability. Reading habit, thus, is considered as an essential means for the development of personal traits, mental abilities, getting knowledge, information and understanding of an individual (Clark & Rumbold, 2006). According to Ozbay (2006), individual reading preferences differ in terms of interest, attention, aptitude and situation. Reading interest, curiosity or inclination seems to be different with boys and girls having different reading habits and reading aptitudes such that girls enjoy reading more than boys. Clark and Foster (2005) are of the view that girls prove to be more positive than boys towards reading. But in school years, boys read more for getting a good job in future while girls read for fun and for some break. Gender and background have an effect on reading abilities of students. Reading habit is essential and it can leave a positive impact on all age groups. Gaining knowledge is a good way, but it must be constructive knowledge, it must facilitate a man to get on in a profession and pass an examination. Dilshad, Adnan and Akram (2013) investigated gender differences in reading habits of university students and reported that reading habits of male and female students are somewhat different which is in consistent with the results of Frankenstein's (2009) study, who stated that boys and girls have different choices when it comes to reading. Shafi and Loan (2010) also found that gender was major factor impacting students' reading habits and female students were better than male students in reading culture.
Moreover, studies have shown that girls and boys differ in their reading attitudes and other measures of motivation, with girls typically having more positive attitudes toward reading, demonstrating more positive reading self-concept, and engaging more often in reading activities outside of school (Gambell & Hunter, 1999; Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Kennedy, 2003; Meece, Glienke, & Burg, 2006). These differences have often been cited as explanation of national and international results showing that girls have higher reading achievement than boys (Wagemaker, 1996; Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez & Kennedy, 2003; Perie, Grieg, & Donahue, 2005). While boys and girls differ in many of their reading habits and behaviors, these differences tend to be smaller within the top-achieving group, with the gap between boys and girls increasing within the low-achieving group. It is apparent...