Promoting a Culture of Reading in Rwanda
On July 19, 2012, Dr. Jolly Mazimpaka, a representative of the Rotary Club of Kigali told an audience of students, teachers, development partners and Ministry of Education officials about a dream she had to promote a reading culture in Rwanda and build the first ever public library in the country – two dreams, which have both come true.
She was the first speaker at a colorful event to promote a culture of reading in Rwanda, which was inaugurated by the Minister of Education, Dr. Vincent Biruta.
According to him: “Today marks a great day in our history. We recognize that reading is key not only for improving educational outcomes for our children, but also for achieving the objectives of our Vision 2020. Indeed, reading is a foundational skill upon which the rapidity and sustainability of our national development will depend.”
Rwanda Reads, as the initiative is known, is a four year campaign, led by the Ministry of Education to improve literacy and language outcomes amongst students, while also raising people's awareness about the importance of reading. Bringing together a wide array of partners, from publishers to religious leaders, the Rwanda Reads partnership also hopes that through this initiative, reading materials, including mobile and community libraries, will become readily available throughout the country; that schools, communities and homes will institute reading time and reading activities and that the capacity of local publishers, booksellers and librarians to produce and disseminate books will be strengthened.
“I grew up in a family that knew the value of reading,” recounted Rina Ntagozera, a young Rwandan student who was won a scholarship to study at Haverford College in the United States. “My father, being in the tourism business, had a big collection of books on birds and geography. For entertainment, he read a lot of John Steinbeck novels. My mother always had a devotional and a Bible next to her. My big sister enjoyed the likes of the Sweet Valley series when she was growing up and I believe my brothers loved the encyclopedia. They say, children will not always do what you tell them, but they will always imitate what you do for sure. I wanted to be more like my elders, so when I was not breaking tables and causing havoc in the house, I was imitating. The good thing is, reading ended up becoming a habit.”
And this is what makes Rwanda Reads special – the fact that it will promote a culture of reading across the nation, involve families and schools and include everyone, especially poor and vulnerable families.
According to Noala Skinner, UNICEF’s Representative to Rwanda, promoting reading during the early years, and within the family and vulnerable groups is imperative because the foundation for learning and especially reading begins in the earliest years, until the age of three, when 80% of a child's brain functions are developed.
“Reading is one of the most important skills we will ever learn. It is the foundation of lifelong learning, and where better to start this love of reading, than within the family. I believe children always have time for a story. And great children’s books contain important messages and values that children can carry with them. As parents, our task is to make time for reading to and with our children”, she said.
Although Rwanda has one of the highest rates of primary net enrollment in Africa (over 96%), a much smaller percentage of children are currently enrolled in secondary education. Drop out and repetition rates continue to be a cause for concern, as is the fact that children in third grade are not proficient in reading in their mother tongue.
With the launch of Rwanda Reads, the Government hopes to create school graduates that develop a love of reading and learning, so they can become the techno savvy citizens the country needs to build its future knowledge based middle income economy.
According to Dr. Biruta: “Reading plays an undeniable role in enabling each of us to fulfill our true potential and become the best people we can be, for ourselves, our community and our nation. This is our Vision 2020, and this is why, together, we must work hand in hand to promote of reading a culture throughout Rwanda.”