If a child can read, they have the best chance to complete school, go on to further education and get a job. They have the chance to be the best they can be in life and this can only happen if they have the culture of reading.
However, in Rwanda, the absence of a culture of reading is a major concern that needs to be addressed. With a handful of libraries mostly located in schools and universities, accessing reading materials by the general public is a difficult task.
In fact, if someone could decide to pass by a bookstore to buy a good book, they would be crippled by a price tag that is way too expensive.
This leaves chance for natural selection to occur- only the good earners with a culture of reading become book buyers.
Given the relatively high standard of living in Rwanda, where expenses are channeled to the minimum needs of survival like food, transport and shelter, having limited access to libraries and expensive book prices do not help Rwanda’s situation of a poor reading culture.
Like the saying, “It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks,” the same is with reading. The older one gets, the harder it becomes to love reading.
Children on the other hand, if groomed to read at an early age, will grow up loving it, treasuring books and will be more open minded and independent to make reasonably good choices in life.
In line with this, the Rwanda Book Development Initiative (RBDI), organised and celebrated the International Children’s Book Day last week on June 28th.
This day was designated by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and is normally celebrated internationally on April 2nd.
However, according to Steven Mugisha, the President of RBDI, “April to June is a period of mourning in Rwanda and we can’t begin to celebrate.”
Without overlooking the significance of the International Children’s Book Day, Mugisha said that under this year’s theme, ‘Reading for Life,’ children were involved as they creatively seek to improve the country’s reading and writing culture at an early age.
“People need to know that reading is part of us,” Mugisha said, “Reading makes people knowledgeable and promotes self esteem among children as it creates social networking outside the school mainstream.”
Mugisha besides being the President of RBDI is also an English Language lecturer at Kigali Institute of Education as well as the proud author of the Children’s book, ‘Ineza Marries The Princess.’
According to the young author, “writing is what preserves a culture because it stands the test of time for future generations to read.”
“Our culture needs to be well documented. A society that does not write and read, perishes,” he said.
Though developing a reading culture among Rwanda’s young generation comes at a high price, the benefits are enormous. With positive reading at an early age, possibilities are broadened, visions and dreams manifest into reality and people become solution focused.
The result is a fast developing society where; businesses start to thrive because people know and can see what they need, organizations and community groups are able to give something back to their local communities for development and also people are more knowledgeable and less illiterate and ignorant on issues that directly affect their livelihoods.
In Remera, located next to Alpha Palace Nyandungu, is Kigali Parents School (KPS) which is known for producing some of the best performing primary school students in the country.
The success is believed to be deep rooted in the schools emphasis on reading and writing. The school has a library that is accessible for children to borrow and take home a variety of books to read.
Thereafter, children are required to make a summary of what they have read in their summary books.
Charles Mutazihana, the Headmaster of KPS during an interview said that, as far as reading is concerned, parents have a big role to play.
“There is a need for parents to avail books at home for children to read by creating a small book library where they can read from.”
Mutazihana agreed that the limitation of libraries in most of Rwanda’s primary schools reduces access to books and hence slows the development of a strong reading culture.
Despite this, he said that teachers need not wait for libraries to get built before children can start reading books.
“Teachers have to become innovative and write their own books for children to read. This is our role as elders if we want to instill the reading culture in this young generation,” Mutazihana said.
As Rwandans come to terms with the fact that reading is one of the basic building blocks of learning, creating a young generation of skilled and flexible readers will enhance children’s chances of success at school and beyond.
Reading is not just for school, it is for life. Reading, in all its variety, is vital if we want to become better informed, have a better understanding of ourselves and others as we develop our thoughts and become positive contributors towards an independent and organised society.
This calls for an urgent need to seriously invest into improving access to books through building libraries in schools. In this way reading a book will not be a luxury but a matter of absolute necessity.
Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, an acclaimed African historian, academic and writer underlined the urgency of such a need when he wrote; “Clearly, books and libraries are not a developmental luxury but are essential, especially in our so-called information age where knowledge and information have acquired the materiality of capital and commodities, whose uneven accumulation dictates the wealth and poverty of countries, communities and classes.”
Rwanda as a country is still in the transition phase of adopting English language as a medium of education. This was after doing away with the francophone system that did not promote much the culture of reading among children.
As a result of this education system transformation, more of Rwanda’s children are encouraged to read the few story books they can come across in order to speak and learn faster in the English Language.
In a way this is quickly improving their reading culture and is definitely a milestone towards reducing the illiteracy levels in Rwanda.
Hence, children are essential when it comes to achieving economic growth and development through improving Rwanda’s reading culture.