THE BIG STORY:What is the future of the reading culture in the country?

As education development stakeholders advance efforts to enhance reading culture in the country, they are facing a challenge where hardly any homes indulge children in reading for pleasure. As Jean de la Croix Tabaro writes, there is a high mountain to climb ahead, but with desirable input, the project is plausible.
A pupil reads for pleasure in a school 			       library. Such readings enhance academic excellence. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira
A pupil reads for pleasure in a school library. Such readings enhance academic excellence. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira

As education development stakeholders advance efforts to enhance reading culture in the country, they are facing a challenge where hardly any homes indulge children in reading for pleasure. As Jean de la Croix Tabaro writes, there is a high mountain to climb ahead, but with desirable input, the project is plausible.

It is not unusual to find music playing at a disturbing volume. When there is no radio in the bus it is common to see some passengers dosing off for most of the journey.

It is rare to find someone in such a bus reading a newspaper or a book. In homes and schools the situation is not any different. Plasma television screens and home theatres dominate most living rooms where bookshelves are a rarity.

Many children grow up in such an environment and graduate without any book read for general knowledge or pleasure besides the textbooks.

Education experts say this is the trend that is threatening the future of the reading culture in the country.

At World Mission International, a day school in Gasabo district, Marie Grace Uwimpaye, a Senior Five student, admits she has not read a book in ages. “There was a library at my former school, but the teachers used to only bring History, Biology and Chemistry text books [for basic curricula]; there was no need to go to the library,” she said.

Uwimpaye leaves school at 2pm and once home, she buries herself in domestic chores. At night, she revises her notes. This is basically her routine. She does not know any author, nor a columnist from Rwanda or abroad. Interestingly, the director of her school, Samuel Hategekimana, insists that the school has a library where they keep books, including bibles, a Kinyarwanda and foreign newspapers.

“Teachers bring books for one hour of the reading session; afterwards they take them back to the library. Our students cannot borrow since we are afraid they can steal them,” he said, disclosing that there is no follow up to see if the students are actually making an effort to read.

Studies show that because most students never get time to read during school time, it is advised that they are allowed to borrow a book and carry it home and read during free time. But, unfortunately, most schools in the country do not allow pupils to borrow books.

Onus on parents

Whereas schools and teachers often take the carrot for ‘not doing enough’ to inculcate reading culture in students, there is no denying the role parents have to play.

Alyce Mutamuliza, 41, an entrepreneur and mother of four, said she teaches her children to embrace the reading culture. She advises parents to use their free time at home and cultivate reading culture by being exemplary in front of their children.

“A book is the best gift I always give and my children are coping well with regular reading,” Mutamuliza said.

She said reading of entrepreneurship books is what made her a successful entrepreneur.

Available opportunities

Despite complaints that students and Rwandans in general do not have books to read, the few that are available in the books shops are not even being purchased that much.

Besides, Rwanda Education Board (Reb) now has a plan to avail more books under the mobile library programme. Joyce Musabe, the Reb deputy director-general, said the board has established eight mobile libraries across the country, each equipped with 1,200 books for the public use.

For schools, Reb has signed contracts with publishers to deliver reading and other learning and teaching materials to schools.

Kigali Public Library, which was opened last year, is also helping both schools and the general public to embrace reading.

Recently, Jennifer Turatsinze, the director of the Kigali Public Library, told The New Times that individuals can read from the library or borrow after subscription of Rwf10,000 for adults or half that figure for children. Schools and institutions subscribe with Rwf200,000 per year.

The library is equipped with more than 45,000 books, on top of online materials. Through various stakeholders in the education sector, the library has started a mass campaign for schools to subscribe for books. Turatsinze, however, said many schools go for teaching materials as compared to the almost zero demand for anything that is non-academic.


Kigali Parents’ School makes the difference

Kigali Parents’ School has made some significant progress in boosting the reading culture among pupils.  The school, located in Kimironko sector, Gasabo district, has its compound dotted with small messages inscribed on sign posts in the garden calling on pupils to embrace reading. The English nursery and primary school has a clear programme and spends more than Rwf300,000 on buying reading materials every term, officials said.

Charles Mutazihana, the school principal, said they have a library equipped with more than 20,000 books, making teaching and reading materials appropriate to students.

“I like Blood Sister by Angel,” explains Happy Teta of P.6, sharing a tale of a girl who was jealous of her step-sister, but the latter ended up marrying a prince.

“My favorite is Cinderella,” said Francis Shema, also of P6.

“We teach them how to summarise these books and we involve them in story telling and writing, which we always evaluate,” said Noah Kaziba, the in-charge of reading local and regional papers to which the school subscribes. He pins the summaries on the school notice board.

The story which stuck in the minds of these pupils is the one of Dr Rajab Mbukani, a university lecturer who was allegedly bludgeoned to death by killers hired by his wife.


Four steps to creating a school-wide reading culture

Sending a message that you think reading is important begins before the first day and influences your school culture in explicit and implied ways. Here are some easy-to-implement tips for kicking off a reading culture at your school.

Reading Role Model

As a reading expert Stephen Krashen reminds us, “Children read more when they see other people reading.” We hope that children have reading role models at home, but many don’t. We must surround children with reading role models throughout the school day.

Sharing your own reading life with your students and staff reinforces that you believe reading enriches your life. Endavour to participate in the reading initiatives at your school, not only as a school leader, but also as a reader! 

Book Commercial
When readers are asked how they find out about books they would like to read, they say the main way is from other readers’ recommendations. A book commercial – a short testimonial sharing a book – promotes new books to readers.

Ask staff members to share book titles at the start of every staff meeting. Likewise, invite students to share about books they are reading in class.

Reading Doors

Teachers often create classroom bulletin boards and door displays to celebrate the new school year and share with students what their classes are like.

You can tap into these ‘beginning of the school year displays’ by creating school-wide reading doors. Ask teachers to design their displays around a ‘My Reading Life’ theme. Each class and staff member showcases the books, magazines, newspapers, and comics they enjoy reading.

Locker Tags

Invite students to share and celebrate the books they are reading with their own displays. Create laminated locker or cubby tags with messages like ‘I am currently reading; ask me about it,’ or ‘My favorite book (author, series, genre)’.

Encourage your staff to create these signs and display them prominently in their classrooms or offices. Such activities celebrate and promote more reading and communicate that every reader and type of reading has value .

Source: Washington Post

way forward :Govt launches reading culture

In its endeavour to promote the reading culture among Rwandans, the Ministry of Education recently launched the Rwanda Reads Initiative (RRI), a platform to enhance readership needs.

Through the platform, reading materials and tutorials for all age groups will be available countrywide. The book-to-student ratio in schools was recorded at a creditable 1:1, although education ministry says 30 per cent of the population is illiterate, though drastic measures are being implemented to halve the figure. 

“Through RRI, we want to commit to strengthening the reading culture in Rwanda, to improve the quality of education, which is key to achieving the country’s development vision,” said Education Minister Vincent Biruta.

“A good reading culture is the foundation of children’s early development. Parents and teachers have a crucial role in helping children understand and love reading.”

Unicef Country Representative, Noala Skinner, said reading initiatives must be sustainable to help the country achieve its targets.

“Reading is one of the most important aspects of growing up and shaping children’s wisdom and intelligence. Children who read more are more likely to perform better at school. It is never too early to start reading. It is important for all of us to make reading a daily part of our lives,” Skinner urged.

RRI will increase the availability of reading materials through support to local and regional publishers as well as facilitate traditional and mobile libraries in schools and communities.


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