“For the first time, we are getting story books to read at home. We have never had anything like this before. My favorite book is “The Clever Little Hare,”” said Martha Tusimire, a primary seven pupil of Ngoma primary school in Ruhiira Millennium Village. Martha and her fellow students are the first beneficiaries of the “My Book Buddy” program in Ruhiira, implemented in partnership with the Millennium Villages Project.
In most parts of rural Africa, children like Martha do not have access to story books, which are frequently unavailable and unaffordable. This has far reaching implications for learning outcomes, reading proficiency and numeracy rates, which continue to limit a child’s prospects and opportunities way into adulthood.
“Low levels of literacy and numeracy are one of the challenges children in rural schools face, and this is attributed to lack of sufficient books for the learners to read especially story books that can motivate them to read,” says Ms Peninah Tumusiime, the MVP’s Education Facilitator in Ruhiira. “There is a lack of reading culture amongst students, lack of support for children to read regularly, and absence of a systematic way children can improve their reading skills,” she explains.
The My Book Buddy program has opened a window to the world for over 22,500 children to date. Started in 2010, the My Book Buddy foundation started the first children’s library at a primary school in the slums of Nairobi in Kenya. Not a children’s library in the traditional sense of the word, but an evidence based concept which is already embraced by 18 countries. The program works with disadvantaged schools in creating and maintaining physical spaces where children’s books are available and can be read.
To lay the foundation for reading development, the program focuses on early childhood and primary education, where the learning process begins and the culture of reading can be inculcated at an early age.
“Every child receives a water proof bag for carrying a book daily to read at home. In addition to that, the Buddy program provides the school with book lockers, a program guide for teachers, book marks, borrowing record cards, the buddy stamp and flag that flies once a week on the school playground. The weekly ceremony consists of children raising the flag and singing a song composed by them, followed by an introduction by the school head teacher about the importance of reading. A new book is chosen on the day,” explained Betty Ahereza, Headmistress of Ngoma Primary School (see image below).
The Millennium Development Goals commit to achieving universal access to primary education by 2015, and this should go beyond building schools and class rooms. By stimulating children’s reading, the My Book Buddy supports regular language and reading instruction which are compulsory subjects in primary schools in all countries. To read texts fluently and to interpret them forms the basis for all other subjects.
“Literacy unlocks the door to learning. Throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship,” stated Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General.
To implement the program in Ruhiira, 42 teachers and head teachers from 21 primary schools supported by the MVP and 2 schools from neighboring villages were trained; in addition 12 Community Education workers were trained to support the schools and the community.
Other schools in the area have also started the program, and invited parents and community members to witness progress and discuss how the program is work in other schools. The roads in Ruhiira are now decorated with students with book bags on their back as they walk to and from school.