Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Enhancing the Culture of Reading in Rwanda: Reflections by Students in Tertiary Institutions

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Enhancing the Culture of Reading in Rwanda: Reflections by Students in Tertiary Institutions

Article excerpt

Abstract

Following a growing concern about the lack of a reading culture among Rwandans in general and university students in particular, this study investigates students' reflections on their previous reading experiences and discusses ways to develop literacy and a reading culture in Rwanda. It is widely known that the cultivation of a reading culture among the youth in tertiary institutions not only boosts their academic excellence, but it also contributes to their country's growth prospects. This study based on students from one university answers the following research question: What do students claim are the reasons for a poor reading culture in Rwanda? The data was collected via an open questionnaire. Major findings indicate that the lack of a reading culture is attributed to the colonial and post-colonial education system, reliance on verbal communication, limited access to reading materials, and ultimately the mother tongue status of Kinyarwanda, within the sociolinguistic configuration of Rwanda.

Keywords: Reading culture; oral tradition; language of instruction; adult literacy; functional literacy.

Introduction

"If you want to hide something to Rwandans, you will only put it in a book. But if you want something to be known, just whisper it to one person", an adage in Rwanda goes.

Voices from various media, academic and political authorities in Rwanda unanimously speak out about the lack of a reading culture among Rwandans in general, and students in tertiary education in particular, which impacts not only on the educational standards, but also the entire nation's welfare. Yet the possession of this culture is a sine qua non for a successful educational system. This rhymes with Keechi's statement (2010) that a poor reading culture stunts a country's national growth. He notes that the cultivation of a reading culture especially among the youth in tertiary institutions will boost their academic excellence and ultimately their countries' growth prospects. This concern about the lack of a reading culture in Rwanda is felt by many other scholars in many African countries, viz. eastern, southern and western Africa (Rosenberg, 2003; Magara & Batambuze, 2005; Commeyras & Mazile, 2011). Hence, the main motivation for conducting the present research sprang from my own reading experience, my observations of reading habits and environments in Rwanda, students' performance on in-class written or oral presentations, and home assignments that demonstrate little reading experience. Also, as Weller (2010) notes, a reading culture is at the heart of learning at higher education level and allows students to capably interpret and draw conclusions from their reading. This implies that a reading culture within tertiary education would enable students to read, write, and think more critically.

Data from the general census (Ministry of Finance, 2007), indicate that almost half of the population above 15 years of age (47.6%) is illiterate, i.e. they cannot write and read. There is another category made of tens of thousands of Rwandans who are aliterate, i.e., they are able to read but they are uninterested in doing so or can barely do it. In its effort to curb the spread of illiteracy, the Government of Rwanda (Ministry of Finance, 2007), through its Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) is convinced that the economic, social, intellectual and cultural health of Rwandans will depend on building a literate nation, able and willing to read widely for practical purposes, and for pleasure. Hence, the Government eyes the functional literacy of the population as a way for people to acquire knowledge, information, skills, values and attitudes necessary for personal, family, community and national awareness and development. They suggest that functional literacy also enables the population to learn how to survive, develop their full capacities, live and work in dignity, participate fully in development, improve the quality of life, make informed decisions, develop critical and autonomous thinking, and to continue learning (Ministry of Finance, 2007, p. …

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