There is an English saying that 'a problem well stated is half solved'. As such it's important to recognise the attention that the need to develop a reading culture has attracted various stakeholders in Education.
From all this we should learn that given all benefits that accrue from nurturing a culture of reading and writing, given our low scores when it comes to the same, one can say that even though there are efforts towards the promotion of reading in Rwanda. This great initiative is spearheaded by the Government through various institutions notably the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Efforts of other development partners, particularly USAID, UNICEF, Plan, IMBUTO Foundation and other civil society organisations, towards developing a culture of reading in the country must also be appreciated. Word on the grapevine is that promotion of a reading culture is among performance contract targets that the Honourable ministers of Education and his counterpart from the Ministry of Youth and Culture signed.
All these are positive indicators that the key players in the Education sector have recognised the deficiency or non-existence of reading that continues to plague Africa at large and Rwanda in particular.
My sense of optimism is very high that if the vigour and fire keep burning, Rwanda will be a literally society within the next one decade! One of my professional mentors always tells me that among other admirable traits that Rwandans have is that when they set out to do something they do it to perfection!
There are various reasons why each of us must give necessary support to promote reading, writing and strengthening the book sector in Rwanda. Besides the contribution of literacy to economic growth, Parry (2005), who conceives literacy from the "reading" point of view, points out the individual and social advantages of reading by referring to the paradigm "literacy without boarders".
He further contends that "...reading offers a means for people to travel, in imagination and even in actuality, beyond the boundaries of their own lives, thus opening the way for individual and society development." Literacy is not only linked to economic development, but also to technological advancement. Onukaogu (2000) affirms that lack of written documentation on the traditional African technologies that flourished in 500 BC led to the demise of such technologies and, by extension, to the impoverishment of the African continent.
Although the above quotation puts the African continent into perspective and whereas some other African countries have made significant improvement in the fields of literacy and reading, Rwanda still registers low scores in this area to date.
In his words, Onukaogu expects Africa's lost glory to be restored and retransformed into a new superpower in the field of literacy. He says, "Present date Africa must therefore thirst for literacy, search for literacy and invest in literacy. If its people are to benefit from current science and technology, present day Africa must ensure that every African, old or young, female or male, is empowered with literacy. Africa must empower its people to read and write so that every bit of its societal achievements or landmarks is carefully documented...".
From this quotation it's evident that on top of the aforementioned benefits of reading and writing, it is through the same values that any given society can document its cultural values for posterity.
From all this we should learn that given all benefits that accrue from nurturing a culture of reading and writing, given our low scores when it comes to the same, one can say that even though there are efforts towards the promotion of reading in Rwanda a lot still needs to be done.
Some of the impediments that have worked against developing a reading culture in Rwanda include our cultural context, lack of awareness initiatives, poverty, lack of locally published materials and lack of role models and mentors.
As such, this has created a vicious cycle of lack of a reading culture. Whereas some of these factors might be beyond our means, there are some that we can fight and break. To begin with, we must recognise that a society that does not read and write is doomed to fail. The immediate step that should be taken is creating massive awareness campaigns so that reading, writing and books are not a reserve for students.
Indeed there must be deliberate policies to create massive awareness that reading and books are long life values than exclusively academic as most Rwandans perceive it today. That's why I am inclined to submit my humble request to the powers that be; we need a National Book Week Festival declared on the school calendar. During such a period, book events should be put in focus, this would include reading festivals, inter-school debates, book exhibitions, book talk shows, community libraries, book donations, writing competitions, among other book related activities. In Mark Twain's own words "the man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who can't read them".
The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.