Whether you are checking a text, inspecting the ingredients on the back of a cereal box or scanning the morning newspaper, you are reading. If you are reading this now, you are doing something that approximately 775 million adults worldwide cannot do.
Being able to read, write and communicate is essential. Those of us who can are in danger of taking it for granted, rarely realising how much of the world is closed to those who cannot. Beyond the language learning reading nurtures cultural and social skills. It teaches us how to research, solve problems and think creatively. Through reading we develop a strong sense of well-being and citizenship. It stimulates our imagination, expands our understanding of the world and helps us explore our place within it. A strong culture of reading helps societies thrive and prosper.
Literacy in Rwanda: building a stronger future
There has been much discussion in Rwanda recently about the importance of developing a culture of reading. Reading is a gateway to future learning and success both in school and in later life. Having a strong, educated workforce is key to achieving Rwanda’s ambitious economic goals such as becoming a middle income country as articulated in Vision 2020.
Rwanda has made strong and steady progress towards increasing literacy rates by not only achieving near universal access to primary education, but also, crucially, by focusing on the quality of education children receive. Initiatives such as Rwanda Reads (a four year programme to build a culture of reading), Andike Rwanda (a national story writing and poetry competition) and the introduction of a new curriculum from 2016 with a strong emphasis on research skills, creativity and critical thinking highlight the importance placed on the role of literacy in Rwanda’s future.
A Partner in Education and Umubano Primary School
Working in partnership with Umubano Primary School in Rwanda, APIE is supporting teachers to create a rich literacy environment and engage students in their reading. Teachers regularly use books from the library in lessons to engage the students’ interests and bring lessons alive with meaning and excitement. Teachers stimulate the students’ imaginations by asking questions throughout the reading such as, “What do you think will happen next? How do you think that little girl feels? What would you do in this situation?”
Kathy Newman, APIE’s Lead Practitioner at Umubano Primary School said: “With this method, everyone is active and engaged in the lesson”. It builds understanding of comprehension, literary techniques and language structures so the students can apply them to their own writing.
Umubano Primary School also has dedicated library lessons, made possible through the books donated from schools in the UK. Deo, a teacher in P6 told us “Having the library has planted a culture of reading in the childrens’ minds” and the students themselves commented on how they enjoyed using the library and how it helped them in their learning. A student in P5 told us: “I like using the library because I read books about people who did wonderful things.” Fabiola in P6 says: “The library helps us when we read books to know about history and events.”
This year, the students have had dedicated story writing sessions in which they learned to structure their stories and form characters. When Lucy Newmark, our Chair and an artist, visited in March, they learned to use storyboards to draw out the most important elements of a story, map out their own stories and illustrate them with drawings and paint. On World Book Day the students picked their favourite books from the library and explained why they liked them and what they had learned from reading them. The school also runs holiday clubs where reading stories is a core and fun part of the day.
Teaching literacy is about making reading fun and enjoyable and giving children the opportunity to access books and enjoy the world it opens up for them. At Umubano Primary School students are enthusiastic to learn about the world beyond the classroom and beyond Rwanda. Reading is starting them on the path to becoming global citizens.
Whilst we cannot predict what the future will look like, reading and being able to communicate well will be crucial in a global world. To thrive, young people will need to be creative and critical thinkers able to deal with the amount of information available to them, and make productive use of it. Literacy, and reading, is at the heart of this.