Why reading remains a fundamental principle of knowledge

While it is indisputable that knowledge is constructed through discourses, reading on the other hand is a vital source of knowledge.

Soma umenye—loosely translated as ‘read and understand’— is an element that has recently caught my attention.


Two weeks ago while on a flight to Kigali, I sat next to an American academic who was heading to Nairobi for a conference. He was immersed in his reading until I had to engage him with my ideas, which sadly after talking to him, I later discovered were shallow. 


He told me of the books he had read since the age of four and how this has been an arsenal of knowledge accumulation for him and many that have adopted that kind of lifestyle.


The trip that was to be a long and tiring one, turned out so short and interesting. It is enriching to interact with a person who is informed, the content of their ideas are always inspiring. 

We need to pursue human interaction for it is obviously the benchmark of a meaningful society. It gives birth to new strategic ideas that can be at the helm of both societal and community transformation.

I later landed home and immediately took a bus to Nyagatare-Rukara in Eastern Province for my research interviews. A similar circumstance (with my encounter with the academician) surfaced. A six-year-old boy, who was travelling with his father, sat next to me.

I was overwhelmed by the boy’s concentration and eloquence. I wanted to understand the genealogy of his un-marched confidence and knowledge, for the boy seemed to be well-versed. He later asked me if I had any access to soma umenye books, and when I asked what that was, his response was simple—‘read and understand’.

The young boy’s confidence made me more optimistic that with the right platforms, the reading culture can be taken to a whole new level.

We envision a future with a great reading culture, however, there is need for more efforts if we are to achieve this, and focus needs to be put on the young generation.

Statistics show that Rwanda has the largest number of school enrolment in all levels of learning for basic education and the retention rate is equally good. While we resonate on these successes, it is imperative to understand the quality of our students or graduates. 

Reading is surely a core principle in human cognitive development that without it, our education attainment and the massive enrolment might die a natural death. 

While we may not have been presented with such opportunities at such a young age, parents, guardians and other family members must take it up on themselves to avail such reading materials for their young ones as early as possible to engage them at a tender age.

Eventually this will help in nurturing a comprehensively knowledgeable generation. Schools, especially primary level, must design a purposeful reading model whereby students are given ample time to boost their reading culture.

Reading and debating competitions must be highly emphasised. Singapore has done this and they have scored so highly that they have recently become educational vanguards across the world, we can do this as well.

The writer is a PhD student at Beijing Normal University


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