EVERY other day my mind wanders off into the thick world of literacy and its development. In 2008, when Rwanda made the switch from French to English, I did hear quite a number of people praising the move because English was simpler to grasp than French was.
I really think the issue is not quite that one language is easier than the other is, but the efforts invested in learning this language. In other words, if we as teachers failed to ensure enviable levels of literacy as far as French was concerned then what guarantee do we have that it will not be the same case with English.
If someone failed to master the art of driving a Mercedes Benz, what guarantee do we have that he or she will have it easy with a Toyota car? At the end of the day, the basics remain the same and hard work is a constant. Sitting back simply because we have assumed that English is easier than French is nothing but unwanted complacency.
That said, new measures must be employed to encourage reading and writing in English for success to be achieved. The Government has indeed employed several measures including recruitment of teachers from neighbouring countries where English has always been the language of instruction.
Rwanda’s success story has often come with initiatives that gradually empower individuals to improve their lives. The most common of such might as well be the “One Cow Per Household” programme where extremely poor families are given a cow to boost their nutrition and generate income.
The other popular programme is the “One Laptop Per Child” where millions of primary school pupils have acquired laptops to demystify the fear of technology at an early age and encourage better learning through ICT strategies.
The above two programmes have been commended for their positive impact on the lives of the beneficiaries.
The other day, I was walking through a supermarket and I saw some children’s reading books. I took time to check them out and was quite impressed. I remembered my early school days when we had to read such books (especially the Ladybird series) during the times when a teacher was not in class or was in class but busy marking our exam scripts or exercise books.
The whole experience provided me with an idea that I thought was worth sharing. How about a “One Book Per Child” initiative? Is there a chance that parents and guardians can be encouraged to buy just one reading book (not a textbook) for each child just before they report to school?
This would result in children getting at least three books per year and reading many more. After reading their book, they could exchange it with another student’s book and the process would go on throughout the school term.
With such a scheme, a school with about 500 students would have 500 new books each term circulating within its premises. By the time these books have been shared and read by the students, so much learning would have taken place, not only during class hours, but also during their free time.
In schools where children come from poor backgrounds and cannot afford to buy story books, donations can be sought from individuals and companies as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility projects.
And by the way, although this article largely talks about English language books, at the lower levels, books written in Kinyarwanda are great as far as boosting literacy is concerned.
On the business side of things, the sale of books would become a profitable venture and this will see bookshops importing more books, thus expanding the variety and quantity of books available on the market. Eventually, book fairs would also become events that are more regular and gradually we shall see the rise of a reading society.