Recently, a programme on Literacy, Language and Learning (L3) was launched by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with USAID (United States Aid for International Development)to enhance reading and mathematical skills from grade one to grade four.
The programme will be rolled out over the next 5 years in conjunction with a non-governmental organisation Education Development Center.
According to Said Yasin, Chief of Party of EDC, the idea of the project is aimed at improving the reading and numeracy skills of early students.
“Worldwide research shows that if you invest resources at an early education stage (grade one to four), then the benefits outnumber anything else. If a child becomes a proficient reader at an early age then the benefits are incredible whether they stay in or drop out of school later,” Yasin said, adding that, the factors that contribute to the enhancement of a student’s learning outcome involve punctuality, access to reading resources and his or her attendance at school.
“In order to develop the criteria of literacy and numeracy, you train teachers on how to teach reading and writing. We are going to work with teachers in pre-service at Teacher College institutions and those already in the teaching profession,” Yasin explains.
He further adds that standards will be established to determine if a teacher has the required teaching skills.Teaching skills will be reinforced through interactive audio programmes—both teachers and students will be equipped to learn within the shortest time possible.
“We have to develop material to support early grade reading, therefore the students will also be taught to write stories,” Yasin said, “this is necessary if you want to improve the reading capacity of both Rwanda’s teachers and students.”
Through the L3 programme activities, an improvement in the quality of teaching, availability of teaching and learning materials and support for the English language will strengthen the Education ministry’s capacity and improved equity in education.
Norman Evans,Technical Director of EDC, said that a gap has always existed between students that excel in class and those that are struggling.
“If nothing is done, this gap keeps increasing each year,” she said, adding that, “the struggling student ends up at bottom of the class with high likelihood of such a student eventually dropping out of school.”
To avoid this scenario, Evans suggested that carefully monitoring the performance of children, from grade one to four, is essential.
“We will try to help students where they seem to be weak because these are the most critical years for building reading, writing and numeracy skills,” Evans emphasised.
She also said that they will have to focus on, teaching children on how to read and write Kinyarwanda.”
“In order to quicken the transition to English as a language of instruction, the best foundation is having strong mother tongue literacy skills. Therefore, a student who can write and read well Kinyarwanda will find it easier to transition to the English language because they will easily transit the language learning skills they already have,” Evans explained.
By the end of grade three, students will have received at least 80 hours of English audio supported instructions and 27 hours of bilingual programming to prepare them for the transition to English in grade four.
“If you want to develop a reading culture, you have to give children more than text books; you have to give them story books to read too. They have to have story books that they can carry home and read with their parents, and these can be written in both English and Kinyarwanda,” Evans emphasized.
The EDC experts say that the uniqueness of the L3 project is that audio stories will especially be aired on several radio stations so that both children and parents can listen to the stories learnt in classrooms, hence promoting a reading culture.
The L3 project will start testing its material in January 2012 when the school academic year re-opens.
Steven Mugisha, an author and lecturer at the Kigali Institute of Education (K.I.E) acknowledged the fact that a reading and writing culture within the Rwandan society is still lagging behind.
“If we don’t write in this generation, we are losing our culture to civilization and technology.Children no longer meet with their parents or grandparents to talk about our ancient culture, neither do they listen to stories or even learn traditional rhymes and riddles,” said Mugisha.
“Due to the above factors, we are keen on promoting the writing of story books about the Rwandan culture so that the future generations can have something to read about,” he explained.
In other words, if reading material is available, in both English and Kinyarawnda, then a vibrant reading culture cannot be avoided.
As Rwanda marches towards a knowledge-based-economy as cited in its Vision 2020, it becomes of utter importance that early learners in grade one to four, are fluent in both Kinyarwanda and English literacy—something only achieved through reading and writing.