April 23rd is World Book Day—a day supported by UNESCO with the purpose of “paying a world-wide tribute to books and authors, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading.”
However, Rwanda is a country without a reading culture: It is not the norm for parents or teachers to read to children, or for children to read by themselves. In story-telling, the culture in Rwanda has been oral story telling, rather than reading. However, a major part of a child’s education is their ability to read well—without this, they are unable to learn other things.
Current data suggests that children’s literacy levels in Kinyarwanda and in English are quite low, which affects their performance at school. To encourage children to read, it is important that they have access to books that are fun to read – that they don’t associate reading purely with academic study.
Encouraging reading among young children is actually a very simple and inexpensive activity, which would have a major positive impact on children’s literacy levels and their learning throughout school and beyond. There are many ways to achieve this – one is to provide schools with books that teachers can read aloud to students. It’s important that these books are fun, that the story is one that is familiar to the context of children, and, particularly for young children, that the books are written in their mother tongue – Kinyarwanda.
Why Kinyarwanda is important
As demonstrated by the recent decision of the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) to use Kinyarwanda as the language of instruction in the early years of primary school (P1 to P3), a good foundation in Kinyarwanda is essential for children to build their understanding. There is plenty of evidence from countries around the world that children who have a solid foundation in their mother tongue learn other languages such as English much better than those who have to struggle as soon as they start school with an unfamiliar language.
Recently, VSO Rwanda carried out an advocacy event to demonstrate just how easy it is to encourage reading in schools. With Kinyarwanda reading books from Bakame Editions and from Macmillan, VSO volunteers demonstrated to teachers around Rwanda – in Muhanga, Ngororero, Ngoma, Musanze, Kirehe and Burera – how to read aloud to pupils, and engage them in stories. The results were quite remarkable, as demonstrated below:
At Groupe Scolaire Shyogwe, in Muhanga District in the Northern Province of Rwanda, what was especially gratifying for Juliet, the teacher, was the spontaneous applause at the end, and the fact that the children ignored the end of morning bell for lunchtime. They (all 130 of them) simply wanted to stay on and not miss a word of the re-run of the story!
Emmanuel Ndayishimiye, a teacher with four years experience, at Groupe Scolaire Nyakarambi, Kirehe District in the eastern province of Rwanda, uses stories to develop the learners’ knowledge as well as to encourage them to find reading books enjoyable.
While learners respond with enthusiasm to his gentle questioning after the reading and show how well they retain the details of the story. Following his example the learners are confident to read aloud to their classmates.
“Children in P3A always look forward to their daily story each day,” Ndayishimiye said.
Louise Lamborn, VSO’s methodology trainer in Ngoma District showed teachers how to make their own story book, using rice sacks with pictures and text.
“We discussed many important elements of the text (title, author, characters) and the simple story structure enabled children to make predictions about what might happen next which is another key reading skill. We also discussed the message (moral) of the story - that everyone is important and we can achieve more if we all work together,” Lamborn said.
When children from Buliba Primary School, Ngoma District in Eastern Rwanda were asked what they thought of the reading aloud, they were enthusiastic in their response.
“I like it very much. I did not think that a mouse could be a character in a story!” said 12-year-old David Dusabimana, a student in Primary six.
Chantal Uwamariya aged 12 in P.6 was equally excited about her reading experience.
“I like the big book because we can all read the story together and see the pictures,” Uwamariya said.
Their teacher, Mary Keza says, “The pupils enjoyed the story very much. Sharing a book together is a good way of helping them to read confidently.”
Of course, finding time for teachers to read to students can be challenging. This is why VSO Rwanda is asking the Government to consider mandating some time in the timetable for each primary school in Rwanda for teachers to read to students.
If 30 minutes was allocated to teachers reading to students each week, it would have a massive impact on children’s enthusiasm to read and would likely increase literacy levels in Kinyarwanda as well.
The Ministry of Education has already recognised the value of reading. The Quality Implementation Working Group, which is made up of heads of MINEDUC agencies and units as well as development partners is launching a campaign entitled ‘Rwanda Reads’ to encourage public-private partnerships for reading as well as investment in reading books and work at community level to encourage reading in school and at home.
Dr. Mathias Harebamungu, the Minister of State in Charge of Primary and Secondary Education stated in the Joint Review of Education on April 11th, 2011, that “developing a reading culture is critical and we should put books in the hands of children.”
In addition, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) has developed a list of approved additional materials for schools, which include reading books in Kinyarwanda and English.
VSO is not the only organisation seeking to improve reading and access to books for children: UNICEF, USAID and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are also keen. There are many publishers already working in Rwanda, including Bakame Editions, Macmillan, Longman and Collins.
Therefore, more books should be printed in Kinyarwanda to ensure that books are graded so that they are accessible and useful for children of all ages.
Tips for Teachers on reading aloud to children
•Practise the story before you read to the children, so that you are familiar with it.
•Make sure that all the pupils can see the book.
•The children could sit in a semi circle on the floor near you or outside on the grass.
•Before reading, ask the children what the title of the book is and what they think the story will be about. Ask them to predict the story based on the pictures on the front cover.
•During reading, make sure you speak slowly and clearly. Point to and explain the pictures to help them understand. Ask them questions about what they think will happen next. You can act out parts of the story. Ask them about the characters – which ones do they like or not like?
•After reading, talk about the ending. Was it a happy or sad ending? Ask them if they liked the story or not, and why. Relate the story to their lives and experiences.
•The children can also draw a picture of the story and write some words on their pictures. They can also act out the story, perhaps for their own class or another class.