26 November 2012

Rwanda: A Reading Culture - Its Relevance and Challenges


"... Stephen, why are you so much bothered about reading?" This is a question that was genuinely paused to me by one of my closest friends of recent. Although I tried to answer this question and explained to him why a reading culture should be nurtured and be part of every Rwandan life style, I still felt my explanations were not exhaustive.

In addition, I felt there could be other people who could be having similar questions or who don't see the value of reading. As such I decided to share my thoughts with the wider audience through this article. A reading culture can be defined as how a group of people (parents, teachers and society at large) perceive the importance of reading and as such work towards inculcating the values of reading. Accordingly, a reading culture can best be explained as a learned practice of seeking knowledge or information through the written word. As such one does not need an advanced dictionary, but rather a group of words put together will make us understand that functional literacy empowers a people with the knowledge and skills required for tackling the causes and effects of poverty such as unemployment, environmental degradation, or hunger To emphasize the need for developing the culture of reading in Rwanda today, we shall borrow from; Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the English Philosopher who once asserted that 'reading maketh a full man, speaking...a ready man, and Writing maketh him exact.' This assertion has never been proved otherwise. Great readers have always made great writers as history, autobiographies and biographies of great men and women have taught us.

But who should be responsible for developing the culture of reading? To the best of my understanding, if we are to develop and maintain a reading culture in our society; there must be a strong collaboration and partnership amongst teachers, parents, private sector, governments and members of the civil society organizations. To address this question, I have tried to apportion responsilities among the mentioned stakeholders towards promoting the culture of reading as follows;

The Ministry of Education needs to emphasize the need for developing the culture of reading as early as possible. For example, there should be a reading hour/ library hour on the schools time table. This should include visiting the library and learners choosing what they want to read. For schools that do not have libraries this activity can be carried out in students respective classrooms. In order to emphasize the importance and value of reading, the ministry of Education should create a book week festival on its school calendar. Also the ministry of Education and other stakeholders need to encourage local associations, for example of teachers, writers and librarians such associations play a leading role towards enhancing the Education for excellence. This will not only improve on our quality of education, but will create a generation of Rwandans who are free and creative thinkers.

Teachers, to motivate children to read, classroom teachers should; demonstrate a passion for reading and act as model readers for their students. Also, teachers should know how children perceive their own ability as readers and support them in developing a positive self-image by having them work with texts that are at their current reading level and by providing them with enough time to complete their reading tasks as well as making learning meaningful, taking into account the age, interests, and needs of children. Finally, teachers should integrate reading into other activities to show that it is an essential, everyday skill with practical value which focuses on the internal reward of personal satisfaction and the achievement of goals that matter to the individual child/person.

Civil society organizations, there is need for both local and international NGOs to intervene in Education sector to complement government efforts towards enhancing the quality of Education. We need the creation of vibrant Associations of writers, readers, librarians, booksellers among others.

The private sector, the corporate world should have a direct role towards enhancing the quality of education in communities in which they operate. They should come up with sponsorship programs like interschool debates, building school and community libraries, donating books to schools among other activities through their corporate social responsibilities.

There are various problems that threaten the developing and maintaining the culture of reading especially in schools today. But some of the challenges do stand out and these include the following; the environment we live in, our mind set and general attitudes towards reading. For example, how often do parents or teachers take time to read for their children ...if you don't read for your child he/she will not read for his children because you can't give what you don't have! So, the cycle will go on and on 'Tell me and I will forget, Show me, and I may not remember, involve me and I will understand!' I love this swahili saying that 'mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka, and the English say that readers beget readers and that a reading parent gets a reading child!' My rhetoric question is, as parents and teachers how often do we model to our children when it comes to building a culture of reading? Many people barely read even newspapers, preferring instead to receive their information through the television and the radios. The

trouble of being born in the television age is that it has discouraged concentration of the mind and encouraged serial, kaleidoscopic exposure. Its variety becomes narcotic, not a stimulus; you consume not what you choose and when, but when they choose and what they choose to reveal to you. So our generation today is distracted by the fall offs from technological innovations which has aggravated our non-existent reading habits or practices. As already mentioned above, parents and teachers need to lead by example, our students need to see us their models.

All in all, to address the challenges of poor reading habits that are deeply rooted in us and have plagued our society, our children have to be trained at the earliest age to read well. This means access to a wide variety of quality books at their homes, schools, and building public libraries and set up programs that encourage reading for pleasure - because the surefire way to develop a reading culture is by making reading a habit, after all we learn reading by reading!

The author is and educationist, author and publisher.

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