“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one,” wrote American novelist George R.R. Martin in his book, A Dance with Dragons. These words echo one of the benefits of adopting a reading culture and why both parents and schools should promote it.
In Rwanda, the reading culture has improved considering the number of initiatives that have evolved over the years such as the introduction of Rwanda Reads initiative, among others, four years ago.
Data collected from Ready for Reading Library at Rwinkwavu, Kayonza in Eastern Province, for instance, shows that in just one month (January), the library has served 3,938, people - an average of 140 people a day. This is a big improvement compared to January 2016, where the average number of readers using the library was only 96 a day.
According to Jean Marie Habimana, the IT and school enrichment manager at the library, more people, especially the youth, are getting to appreciate the importance of reading.
At Kigali Public Library, records show that in early 2016, 74, 483 adults, and 16,385 children visited the library. A total of 7,533 books were borrowed within the same year. On the other hand, online library SOMA received 5,883 visits between September and December, 2016.
For Oriane Ruzibiza, the culture director of Village Group Ltd, Kigali, these numbers show that there is a growing interest in the public library, its books and its activities.
“This is more common within the younger members of our society who religiously go to the library during the holidays to read and participate in literacy-related activities. We have also been reaching out to more audiences through our digital library by providing relevant content that will encourage them to read for leisure, but also for learning,” she says.
Ruzibiza adds that Kigali Public Library does its best to hold as many activities for children and teenagers as possible to ignite and reinforce their interest in creativity and storytelling.
“The aim is to continue reaching more audiences. We believe these activities have made an impact on the reading culture in the country by bringing more and more people into a space that is dedicated to literacy, literature and storytelling,” he says.
Impact of a good reading culture
Arthur Barigye Mugunga, the chief executive officer of School Books Distributors, Rwanda, says that reading does not only impact children and students but also adults.
“Reading builds critical thinking and an innovative culture in a student. Such students are able to solve many questions compared to those not exposed to reading and most especially will emerge as the best in class,” he says.
Mugunga adds that as a student reads different materials more often, he will be able to learn more about life experiences and most likely will know how to get out of a certain situation in life using lessons they could have picked from some books they have read.
Giving an example of some fiction stories about how a teenager got out of an addiction to drugs, he says a student is able to avoid such habits, hence growing into a responsible person in the school, family and society.
Mugunga stresses that when reading is started at an early stage, students are able to learn a lot of things and improve their grades in class. They are also able to improve their speaking and writing skills, which improves their chances to excel in their academics.
“Students exposed to reading tend to have confidence since they know how to express themselves orally and through writing,” he adds.
Fiston Mudacumura, the proprietor of Mudacumura Publishing House Ltd, says that with a norm of reading, a student will have a wide range of vocabulary and, most especially, such a student is less likely to fail subjects like English, social studies, history, as well as general paper.
At what age should reading commence?
Mudacumura says children can be introduced to reading at any age, explaining that for toddlers parents can use picture books from which babies can appreciate basic knowledge.
“Even at four months, a baby can be able to interpret a set of pictures from a book by seeing and hearing from the caretaker. As this continues in the baby’s life, they are able to even talk fast and also grow up in love with reading books,” he says.
Habimana believes that any child can become a successful adult in future if reading is a part of them.
The intensive reading should start at an early age of about three, the reason being that it helps a child to grow up with the passion for reading written material.
“For instance, there are many adults who cannot read and understand the instructions on a medicine pack. This is a scary situation, especially for their children. For one who has no interest in reading even filling out job application forms becomes hard without assistance. All these should be blamed on not embracing the reading culture at early age, he says.
In higher education
Jmv Haburemyi, a lecturer in the department of Early Childhood and Primary Education at University of Rwanda’s College of Education, says having a good reading culture eases research.
“When one has developed a good reading culture from childhood, they spend less time on research compared to their counterparts who will struggle to pick information from books because they have not developed this skill,” he says.
For Stanely Mukasa, a program memanager for entrepreneurship at Akilah Institute of Women in Kibagabaga,Kigali, one of the biggest reasons why students fear doing research is because research itself is a reading process.
“Reading boosts research because one can easily make meaning out of the information collected when they are able to do some additional reading around a particular topic,” he says.
Nestor Niyitegeka, a teacher at Nyange1 in Musanze District, says for graduates, a good reading culture impacts their performance on the job positively.
“Lack of a reading culture increases the amount of time it takes to absorb information at the workplace, which could compromise performance and job security,” he says.
Habimana says the best way for teachers to instill the reading culture in students is to lead by example.
“When children see you reading books, they will most likely copy that habit. It is also good to always ask students to share their reading experiences before their colleagues to boost their confidence,” he says.
What should be improved?
For Rodriguez Iragena, a film producer based in Kigali, putting in place more incubation centres with reading materials should be done to encourage more people engage in reading.
“There are some incubation centres like Agacia Book Store, Abana and Imagine We, where a group of people choose a day, pick a book and read it together. Such kind of centres, if put in place, will serve as attractions for more readers,” he says.
Iragena also adds that old concepts like Hobe for young ones should be brought back so that they can adapt a reading culture at an early age.
Back in the day, children in primary schools were given these Hobe magazines at school to read and it was a must for the children to make a monthly report about what they had read. This practice motivated children to read and adopt a reading culture at an early stage.
Education experts also assert that celebrating books read goes a long way in encouraging the reading culture.
“When schedules are made there should be time placed for reading aloud. This should not be seen as a frill, nor as something that would be nice to fit in if only we had more time. All students at every age should encounter an adult that reads fluently with expression aloud to them every day. It develops their minds as readers,” says Peter Safari, a post-graduate student at Mount Kenya University-Rwanda.