How Far Behind is Rwanda in Achieving its Literacy Goals?

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By Daniel Sabiiti

Content inside locally published children reading books has steadily improved after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi but the need to more children accessing reading books remains a major challenge for communities.

Literacy organisations says that collections like those of renowned Rwandan author Alexis Kagame end up in violence- however even while many Rwandans have read the books, they are not appropriate for children in the current century.

Caroline Dusabe, the early childhood development specialist at Save the Children- Rwanda says that there is need to change the writing culture to support early childhood literacy through telling stories which enable a child to develop positively using positive energy books contrary to those of tragedy in tales.

Journalists briefed on National Literacy Month Preps

For Example, in Rwandan tale story book of the hare and hyena- the story ends with the hyena killing the hare. Now we are encouraging writers to instead tell a same story but without any death tragedy in the climax of the story.

“There is shortage of books for children but our focus has been on giving positive stories about Rwanda which will encourage children to read. And if the children read variety of books which are interesting with the help of parents the country will also read” Dusabe said.

To revert this trend of literature, Save the Children Rwanda has since 2016 set up a Community Literacy fund worth $200.000 to ensure that at least 200 new book titles are generated from every community across the country.

The fund has also catered for training of local publishers and illustrators on variety of illustrated books, fun books, in addition to graphic designers, and book sellers to reduce cost of books and reach many places.

Alex Alubisia, the Chief of Party School-Community Partnerships for Education (SCOPE) project- a literacy program under Save the Children Rwanda, said that the fund has added value in literature for children and so far over 200 titles children books have been generated with help of local publishers.

“Most of the children stories were violent and ‘negative energy’ and that was not inspiring but creating fear. We asked authors to start focusing on creative adventure stories which public authors have taken up” Alubisia said.

From depending on publications from neighboring countries, Rwanda has, since the initiation of the Rwanda Reads Project in the last five years, seen an increase in local publishing houses (ten) and various authors who have competed at the international scene and won literacy awards.

Literacy month underway

The fund is part of the backbone for promotion of literacy in Rwanda, ahead of this year’s National Literacy Month which will kick off on September 8 at Kigali Convention Centre, as the rest of the world celebrates the international literacy day.

“Instead of one ministry, this year’s event will see all four ministries- local government, education, Gender and family promotion, Sports and Culture putting all efforts to promote reading culture through formal education, book development policy and access to books since it’s a crosscutting aspect in all ministries” said Louise Keyworth, an official at Rwanda Reads Project secretariat.

The month will also host press tours to different countrywide projects, spelling, reading aloud competitions, a reading culture week with a number of activities including competitions and award ceremony

Umuganda literacy day- where all publishers and families bring books to community to look through and acquaint themselves with local publications

Even with a government budget of close to Rwf6billion allocated to publications, researchers have previously recommend increased funding for supplementary reading materials to become competitive in producing better quality children’s storybooks in Kinyarwanda.

Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Media High Council said the initial move should be to carry out a profound research to show the reasons as to why most Rwandans don’t read, and to find possible solutions to promoting literacy at the grass roots but media has a role in educating the community.

“Literacy projects should not have media on board. This is part of our responsibility and literacy in Rwanda specifically in youth, will be a source of readership and a way of attaining sustainable development” Mbungiramihigo said.

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