11 December 2012

Rwanda: Reading Is Key Ingredient of Vision 2020


"I must acknowledge your call to nurture a reading culture in Rwanda. Reading pays off. On reading, Chinese said without eating, you cannot puke [throw up].

Literally, the Chinese wanted to say nothing sensible comes from a non-reading person. I have practically witnessed this while working as a journalist in Rwanda..." This quotation is an extract from a reaction to my last week's article on reading and I can't better explain the power of a culture of reading than his observation.

The relationship between reading and development lies in the fact that one of the yardsticks used in measuring the progress and development levels of countries is the degree of literacy of the population. As such, any country which takes development seriously must put literacy on top of its agenda. Much as we may agree with this blanket statement the new literacy studies challenge the assumption that literacy in and itself leads to social and economic development, whether on the individual or the societal level, hence emphasizing a culture of reading and lifelong learning (Street, 1995, pp. 17-27). To many, these two preceding sentences are confusing and contradicting each other (this is subject to further research on).

In my view, both theories are correct in their own right, but for the sake of this article I will categorise readers into two groups; those who do not read because they cannot and those who can but do not.

So, when we talk of adult literacy programmes and education for all, we are addressing the first category of non-readers and God willing we shall reach a time when the next generation of Rwandans will all be able to read and write.

However, my big concern is the second category of people who are literate, including even university graduates, who do not see the importance of personal development through reading! The majority of our generation today, once someone finishes school or university, once they have completed their examinations...to hell with books and reading! The pain is that, when this category of people joins the labour force they perform poorly and, as such, make less progress in their career because the exponential growth of knowledge usefulness in the development of their career passes them by!

It's no wonder, therefore, that in the world of academia, especially here in Rwanda, we have some Professors and Doctors (this excludes you if you have published or in any way contributed to the pool of knowledge) whom you try to Google in and the search engine goes silent! The reason is everyone's guess...no publications, no research no paper presentations, in short they contribute less or no knowledge at all for the Google to download.

Ironically, these are the custodians of knowledge, who will pass their expertise to the coming generations. To underscore my point why reading is important and why people should develop a culture of reading at all levels I will borrow from Ben Carson's book The Gifted Hands.

He says thus; "when you read, your mind must work by taking in letters and connecting them to form words. Words make themselves into thoughts and concepts. Developing good reading habits is something like being a champion weightlifter....always building up and preparing. It's the same thing with intellectual feats.

We develop our minds by reading, by thinking, then figuring out things for ourselves..." (Ben Carson, 1990, pp. 219). So if the majority of us neglect this brain replenishing activity in today's world where the economies are becoming increasingly knowledge-intensive, our country is at a disadvantage.

As literate non-readers we will not manage to cope with the pace of the development of knowledge, which is so essential in the

knowledge-intensive world so as to steer our country to greater heights of development. It's against this argument that a reading culture needs to be given stronger emphasis in Rwandan schools and society at large.

Because by neglecting this we put in jeopardy Rwanda's progress towards one of the pillars of Vision 2020 - the achievement of knowledge based economy. Also, literacy plays a big role in good governance, because democracy requires the availability of informed public opinion.

It's, therefore, very difficult for governments to build democratic institutions if the population can neither read nor write because reading is a major source of information from which opinions can be formed. Without informed public opinion the impact of civil society on governance will be minimal and democracy weak.

Let us plant the culture of reading and books to be the integral part of our life styles.

The notion that books are expensive is not justified, because we get disposable income to buy non-essentials of life. Literacy and a culture of reading will lead to the rapid development of our nation; what literacy did for South East Asia can do for Rwanda.

The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.

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