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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reading: kids need role models

“Books are valuable record of our heritage and history. Yes, we have the internet, but even with the vast amount of information stored in the internet not everything is there. Books are still here to give us information, entertain us and inspire us, books give us so many things, books are knowledge and with knowledge comes wisdom,” anonymous. 

Last week on Friday, October 5, Rwanda registered another milestone by officially launching the first ever public library in the life history of the country.

This mega project was initiated by Rotarians of Kigali Rotary Club-Virunga ten or so years ago.  The occasion was graced by the first lady Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, underscoring the value the first family attaches to books and reading.

The official launch of the public library, among other activities, was preceded by reading festivals across the country held by Imbuto Foundation and the climax of this festival was awarding prizes to the best participants.

This initiative of promoting reading by the Imbuto foundation is a step in the right direction and should be highly applauded and supplemented.

This will help us to offset the old saying that if you want to hide anything from an African put it in a book which seems to fit perfectly well with the majority of Rwandans today.

As the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Edward Kalisa, pointed out, one of the underlying causes of our poor reading habits is perhaps entrenched in our cultural mores because we are an oral society.

Although this explanation is not convincing enough because, if we have evolved to embrace other values which were not part of our culture, why haven’t we embraced the culture of reading as well?

This rhetoric question might prove a hard nut to crack, but we can find a clue in why a reading culture has remained elusive to the majority of Rwandans as Steven Pinker’s put it.

He said thus, “Babies are born with the instinct to speak, the way spiders are born with the instinct to spin webs.”

You don’t need to train babies to speak; they just do. But reading is different.  “Reading is different indeed! It’s different because it is a value/habit that is formed overtime, right away from childhood through adult life. It is a lifelong learning activity. The words of Emilie Buchwald, the award-winning children’s author, confirms that a reading culture is a long life experience as she puts it “children are made readers on laps of their parents”. From this quotation by the literacy expert it’s apparent that parents have a unique opportunity to provide a nurturing and motivating atmosphere that fosters their children’s intrinsic desires to read and write in an informal setting.

Consequently, parents have the primary responsibility to facilitate their children’s growth as readers and writers, in order to increase their opportunity to become productive and informed citizens of the world.

In addition, research shows that as children’s first teachers, parents also play an important and primary role in showing to their children that reading and writing are important and worthwhile activities.

Also what is unknown to most of us as parents is the fact that we should be co-teachers. Therefore, as co-teachers, we are supposed to track and follow up closely academic progress of our children beyond providing scholastic materials. So, between “business” and giving quality and solid education foundation, parents have a choice. As earlier mentioned already, parents should lay the solid groundwork for their children, especially when it comes to developing reading and love for books.

Current research work shows that children benefit from their parents reading them stories which make them good listeners and good readers.

When parents read a story, their “accompanying verbal and nonverbal behaviors convey important instructional and affective messages about reading” (Baker & Mackler, 1997).

When parents read expressing enthusiasm and enjoyment while reading or discussing literature, their children build positive attitudes about reading. In fact, the motivation children have towards reading is strongly affected by the beliefs, values, attitudes, and expectations their parents have about literacy and books.

I will conclude this article by, once again, congratulating the first family, particularly the First Lady Mrs. Jeanette Kagame, through Imbuto Foundation, for coming in to support and help in this noble cause of promoting and developing a reading culture amongst Rwandan children.

However, given our poor reading habits which stem from our oral nature, there is a strong need for vigorous campaigns to promote reading involving parents, teachers and other players in our education sector.

Books are pearls of wisdom, let’s read them! Abraham Lincoln once said, “the things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I haven’t read.” As parents, we can also find good counsel from Anna’s words of wisdom that “I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves”.

The writer, Stephen Mugisha, is an educationist, author and publisher.

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