It is widely accepted that Rwandans do not have a culture of reading. Teachers at different levels and students themselves accept that they do not have any interest in sitting down to read.
Why not? Why is reading not a bigger part of our lives?
I asked around but answers weren’t forthcoming.
But one Mugabo Eugide a student at the Universite Libre de Kigali, had this to say: “I also fail to understand why I do not like reading. I only read class notes to pass exams and some newspaper headlines, and that is all.
Do not ask me to read a whole page of newspaper. But ironically I am the best reader in my community. So you can imagine how poor we are in general. And no body will tell you why he/she does not read”.
A survey done among scholars in the country reveals complaints that there is not enough to read. They complain of a scarcity of libraries. But one wonders how genuine the complaint is. While we do not yet have a public library (its coming!), the libraries we do have in Kigali for example, are poorly attended.
Matters worsen when you move up country, the learned, the semi-learned students and parents do not touch books or newspapers. If they do it so dip into books that directly or indirectly refer to their profession and thus keeping up them to date for the purpose of their career.
Reading is not just for the learned who are practiced in French and English. There are a number of interesting books and newspapers written in Kinyarwanda. But how many are read? But a hand full.
This draws us to another simple survey carried out in Kigali City and other towns up country. The highest numbers of newspaper and novel readers are amongst the unemployed. And there reading too is conditional; they read newspapers (the pages of advertisements) to look for jobs, so and two, they read novels to cater for boredom. Reading is abandoned once they get jobs. It is as serious as that!
The situation above has raised a number of concerns for the majority Rwandans and a number of possible remedies have been suggested.
If we do not read as children there is little hope that we will become avid readers as adults.
Children have to develop the culture of reading from a tender age. Parents wrongly expose their children to reading only when they start school.
It’s never too soon to start your child on the path to reading. Simply reading to your toddler helps to develop the vocabulary they will need as the child begins school and starts to read alone. As you point to and name objects, they will begin to understand the meaning of words, and will eventually begin to incorporate those words into their own vocabulary.
When reading a book with large print, point at each word as you read it. Your child will understand that the word being spoken is the word she sees. Read a favorite book over and over again, read stories with rhyming words and lines that repeat, and have your child join in and read from a variety of children’s books, including fairy tales, poems, and non-fiction.
The more strategies you can incorporate into your child’s reading experience, the more likely you are to help your child develop into a strong reader. And remember it’s meant to be fun and not a chore.
Is it too late for adults?
The answer is no. Newspapers are a good place to start. Much less daunting than books, newspapers are cheap, easily available and require only a little effort. But please, go beyond the headlines.
If we can just ensure that we read a little every day, it won’t be long before we are consuming great volumes of literature.
Reading books, journals and newspapers keeps one up to date with current affairs and avoids the danger rumor dependency.
Though it may not be part of our history, reading could be a crucial part of our development, if we could let it.
Next week we shall be assessing whether the Rwandan culture is “oral” and whether culture is dynamic or static.