At the beginning of March, schools all over the world celebrated World Book Day. However, in amongst all the dressing up and fun that certainly happens in the UK lies the reminder that literacy is not something that people the world over take for granted. According to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report, the provision of books for children in the early grades should be the ‘highest priority’, with textbooks now ‘recognised as core for the new Sustainable Development Goal on education’ (to find out more, see here). Literacy, as a fundamental human right, is necessary for success in our quickly modernising world, and for those of us who take our ability to read – along with the doors it opens – for granted, it can be impossible to image the difficulties faced by those 757 million people who cannot read.
Illiteracy in 2016?
The Alphabet of Illiteracy is a campaign run by Project Literacy that uses the alphabet to highlight the issues more likely to be faced by those without an education, from G for Gender Inequality and P for Poverty to Z for Zero Options. In a country such as Rwanda, 22 years post-genocide, the importance of literacy and education for the youth is paramount. Education and literacy for all expand the opportunities for a successful and equitable economy, and increase understanding of what constitutes a prosperous and peaceful society. Rwanda is already one of the more literate countries in Africa, with an adult reading rate of 68% (as recorded in 2012). We are building on this rapidly through our work at APIE; leveraging international partnerships to accelerate the quality of education in Rwanda – and this starts with a strong focus on language and literacy.
Last year, thanks to the generosity of the students at Brunswick School in Hove, we stocked the library at our pilot school, Umubano Primary in Kigali, with books on every topic under the sun, creating a fantastic resource from which the students can draw, learn and whet their appetites for creativity. In February of this year, once again Brunswick School did an incredible job of collecting donations for Umubano. After lots of strategic packing and careful suitcase weighing (!) our CEO Angie Kotler and Trustee Keith Ajegbo made their way to Kigali, adding even more variety to the library shelves.
A fully stocked library makes an enormous difference to the learning and engagement of Umubano’s students. This year, a new student joined the school in P4 (Year 4). When he arrived, he had never before seen a story book; Though he struggled initially to catch up with his peers, this student has managed to significantly increase his reading ability in a very short time, with the support of his teachers, access to the level of books he needed and of course, his own motivation, which was clearly sparked by the wide variety of stories now available to him. He said about the library: ‘There are some good stories here. Stories that give us messages like how to respect people but other fun stories too. I like reading stories now and think that one day I can write stories that are even better than this.’ This student’s favourite stories are those about gorillas, books about which he has been able to search out in the library in both Kinyarwanda and English.
The school operates bilingually, understanding that children will learn better in the early years when taught in their mother tongue, but with a strong focus on English as the language of the curriculum and of modern international business and trade. Working bilingually from the early years eases the transition to English as the medium of instruction in upper primary school – in fact at UPS this is seamless. The importance of this is reflected in the books in the library, with options for English, Kinyarwanda and increasingly also French available to support literacy in each language.
Literacy and ICT – welcome to e-reading!
Though there will always be the argument that nothing beats the feel and smell of a new (or old!) book, technology is moving us forward, and we are wholeheartedly getting on board! The recent addition to the resources of Umubano Primary School of 30 tablets means that so many more resources and methods of learning are now within reach of Umubano’s students, including e-reading. The excitement of the children when getting to use the tablets, links with their enthusiasm for the library – reading through multiple media will strengthen both their reading and IT skills, broaden their understanding of the world around them and hopefully set their minds ablaze with the freedom, learning and creativity found in a good book! The future is bright for these children due to the start they are receiving in early literacy, and with further advances, research and partnerships, we intend to go from strength to strength.