THERE IS an old adage that ‘a problem identified is half way solved’. This saying fits in well in respect to the attention that the need to develop a reading culture in Rwanda has attracted from various stakeholders in the recent past.
This great initiative is spearheaded by the Government through various institutions. Efforts by other non-government institutions particularly Save the Children, VSO, USAID, UNICEF, Plan, IMBUTO Foundation and several other civil society organisations toward developing a culture of reading in the country must also be appreciated.
It is also said that promotion of reading is among performance contract targets for the ministries of Education, and Culture and Sports.
All these are indicators that the key players in education sector have recognised the deficiency or non-existence of reading culture that continues to plague Africa at large and Rwandan society in particular.
My sense of optimism is very high that if the vigor is maintained, Rwanda will be a literally society within the next one decade.
There are various reasons why each of us must give necessary support to promote reading, writing and strengthening the book sector in Rwanda.
Besides the contribution of literacy to economic growth, Parry (2005), who perceives literacy from the “reading” point of view, points out the individual and social advantages of reading by referring to the paradigm “literacy without borders”.
He further contends that “… reading offers a means for people to travel, in imagination and even in actuality, beyond the boundaries of their own lives, thus opening the way for individual and social development.”
Literacy is not only linked to economic development, but also to technological advancement. Onukaogu (2000) affirms that lack of written documentation on the traditional African technologies that flourished in 500 BC led to the demise of such technologies and, by extension, plunged the African continent into abject poverty.
In his words, Onukaogu expects Africa’s lost glory to be restored and retransformed into a new superpower in the field of literacy. And, he says, “present date Africa must therefore thirst for literacy, search for literacy and invest in literacy.
If its people are to benefit from current science and technology, present day Africa must ensure that every African, old or young, female or male, is empowered with literacy.
Africa must empower its people to read and write so that every bit of its societal achievements or landmarks is carefully documented…”.
From this quotation it’s evident that besides the aforementioned benefits of reading and writing it is through the same practice that any society can document its cultural values for posterity.
From all this we should learn that given all benefits that accrue from good values of reading and writing, given our low scores when it comes to these values, a lot still needs to be done.
Some of the impediments that have derailed the development of a reading culture in Rwanda include the cultural circumstances, lack of awareness, poverty, lack of locally published reading materials and lack of role models and mentors when it comes to reading practices.
There is no doubt that this has created a vicious cycle of lack of a reading culture in our society. Whereas some of these factors might be beyond our means, there are some that we can fight and break.
To begin with, we must recognise that a society that does not read and write is doomed to fail. The immediate step that should be taken is to create massive awareness campaigns so that reading and writing are not exclusively school activities. We need to create awareness that reading and writing are long life values.
That is why I am inclined to submit my humble request to the powers that be, to introduce a national book week festival on the school calendar.
During such a period book events should be put in focus; this would be in the form of inter-school reading festivals, inter-school debates, setting up community libraries, book donations, inter-school writing competitions and other book and educational activities.
The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.