Editor’s Note: Parts of this blog post originally appeared as a longer feature story from Education Development Center (EDC).
The tale “Old Woman and a Hyena” tells the story of a Rwandan mother and her four sons who live in terror of a marauding hyena. Each day, while the sons are away hunting, the hyena comes to the family’s hut and steals their food. The boys are hungry but too scared to confront the creature. One day, the sons finally muster up the courage to fight the beast—and it is the youngest who finally kills it. He is then richly rewarded by his mother, for though he had been the most scared, he was the one to show the most bravery.
In a land with an oral history as rich and beautiful as the hills that roll across it, this tale is special—it was written by an 11-year-old boy named Francois Hakizimana.
Hakizimana was one of the winners of Andika Rwanda (Rwanda Writes), a national writing competition that captured the minds (and pens) of young and old storytellers alike. Three thousand entries of original children’s stories and poems poured in;12 winners were honored at an awards ceremony last fall. Their entries have been professionally illustrated and published in a book that will be distributed to every primary school in the country.
The competition was organized by Education Development Center’s USAID-funded Literacy, Language and Learning project in partnership with the Rwanda Educational Board and the Rwanda-based book distributor Drakkar Limited. Since 2011, the project has worked to improve literacy education in Rwanda through development of instructional materials, teacher training, policy development, and delivery of education materials directly to Rwandan communities.
According to Jackie Lewis at Education Development Center, Andika Rwanda was so popular because it presented a nationwide opportunity to improve reading and writing in a way that was culturally relevant and important.
“Rwanda prides itself on homegrown solutions,” she says. “Many schools have a shortage of storybooks, especially for younger children, and especially ones written by Rwandans in the local language of Kinyarwanda. The competition was meant to generate locally authored stories for primary school children, as well as contribute to a culture of reading and writing.”
A Global Effort
Rwanda is a success story and representative of the education work being done in dozens of other countries around the world. In addition to the Andika Rwanda competition, USAID supports many other innovative teaching and learning tools that target basic literacy and numeracy skills at the primary level. These efforts are focused on improving school quality now that Rwanda has increased access to education – in 2012, 96.5 percent of children were enrolled in primary school, and girls were enrolled at a slightly higher rate than boys.
Literacy isn’t just about kids, either–it’s about the economy, too. The Government of Rwanda has laid out ambitious plans to create a knowledge-based economy built on a skilled workforce that will allow Rwanda to compete both regionally and internationally. A literate population is the foundation of these efforts.
Improving literacy can also play a critical role in addressing other issues faced by developing countries, including gender equality, economic growth, environmental sustainability, health and food security. Unfortunately, illiteracy is still widespread, with disadvantaged groups – including girls, minorities and people living with disabilities – suffering the most.
This is why, for decades, USAID has been a global leader in improving reading for developing countries. The Agency’s strong focus on reading is in itself an innovative practice. Driving and supporting a strong focus on reading puts us in the forefront of educational development.
On this Leaders for Literacy Day, we must remember the importance of policies that advocate for quality and equality in learning for all children and youth, so that stories like Hakizimana’s turn from extraordinary to commonplace.