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Rwanda: “Telling stories opens children’s minds”

By Lia Mollvik, Save the Children, Rwanda


Children learning in Rubaya, Gicumbi District, during Rwanda Literacy Week (William Hirtle/Save the Children)

On 10 September, around 40 preschoolers and their parents were in Rugasari ECCD centre in Ruhango district, Rwanda, discovering new ways to enjoy reading.

There was singing and playing; a session facilitator read aloud from a big book in Kinyarwanda (the local language).

The children commented frequently on the story, which was about a man who loses his hat.

When the facilitator read how the hat was finally returned to the man by a dog, one child wisely pointed out, to the amusement of the parents, that dogs do not wear hats.


The benefits of storytelling

After the session, 5-year-old Emmeline said she was happy to hear the story about the man whose hat had blown away, but her favourite story is the one her mother usually tells her.

With a smile, Emmeline’s mother said: “Telling stories opens children’s minds.”

Emmeline’s mother highlighted an important truth: that reading is a route into other people’s experiences.

It’s a spark for imagination, a tool for dreaming and creating – and a way to promote compassion for others in the very young. These are just a few of the benefits of literacy.


Focusing on the quality of education

In Rwanda, many children who complete primary school lack the ability to read and write proficiently but the country has made real efforts to improve children’s literacy.

In 2013, researchers from Stanford University, in partnership with Save the Children and the Rwanda Education Board, conducted an assessment of reading levels among first graders in Gicumbi district.

The study revealed that many children had a poor grasp of basic skills such as letter identification. On average, students at the end of first grade could only identify 8 out of 24 letters of the alphabet, with a mere 4% being able to identify all the letters.


Rwanda Literacy Week

Rwanda’s Ministry of Education is trying to improve children’s literacy skills is through the Rwanda Reads Initiative, through which the Rwanda Education Board and various international and national organisations aim to nurture a culture of reading in Rwanda.

This year, the Ministry of Education extended International Literacy Day: those pre-schoolers were learning about reading right in the middle of Rwanda Literacy Week.

Other activities during the week included reading contests, storytelling events, book fairs and visits to mobile libraries, hosted by various international and local organisations.


Raising awareness on literacy

The Rwanda Education Board also held a two-hour TV and radio live call-in conference to discuss the importance of literacy and how everyone can actively engage in literacy promotion.

Rwanda Literacy Week is a good example of ways in which governments and development partners can work together to raise awareness of the importance of literacy.

The hope is that a culture of reading will spread across the whole nation, and adults as well as children will reap the benefits.

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