A library on a bus – Rwanda Bookmobile Initiative is a great idea, but its argument against digital is flawed and unnecessary

Targetting remote primary schools, and carrying books in Kinyarwanda, French, and English, NGO Rwanda Bookmobile Initiative is a mobile library taking books to parts of the country where books are hard to come by.

There’s little to fault and much to praise in this initiative, launched last week.

Pacifique Mahirwe, Director of Rwanda Bookmobile Initiative, explained:

We will tour the country with a mobile library on a bus across schools. We will be reading for them and giving away books. The books target early primary pupils.”

The point is made that many school libraries are inaccessible and most of the books are textbooks, not noted for inspiring young children to read for pleasure.

Reporting on the mobile library Rwanda’s New Times notes,

A 2018 joint baseline survey by the United State Agency International Developments (USAID) and Save the Children- Rwanda, showed that most children do not have access to storybooks outside the school premises.

Only five percent of children have access to Kinyarwanda storybooks at home, the survey revealed, adding that only six percent have access to a library or somewhere in their community where they can read or borrow books.

The report goes on,

According to Mureke Dusome, a project by Save the Children, there are over 1,400 reading clubs equipped with 100 different storybooks each, in 18 districts that are working with nearby primary schools. Over 317,000 children have joined the reading clubs.

All of which is great for the kids, great for society and great for the country.

Yet as reported by the New Times there was an element of defensiveness about the bus library project.

Reading physical books is a more “effective and genuine” of learning than using digital platforms because it has fewer destructions, (Rwanda Bookmobile Initiative Director Pacifique) Mahirwe said, making the case for a mobile library.

Assuming that should have read “distractions”, not “destructions”, let’s end this piece by addressing the issues here.

First and foremost this should not be seen as an either/or debate. Educators should be looking to give children the best of both worlds.

The idea that reading digitally is “not genuine” is rather like saying receiving an email as opposed to a handwritten letter by post is not genuine.

It’s a different experience, and both have their pros and cons, but both are genuine and both have their place.

The distractions argument is – or rather, can be – a valid one.

Any of us who use internet-connected tablets, smartphones or laptops regularly will know it takes a lot of self-discipline to keep at a given task and not let the mind and fingers slide into something else.

And no question reading digitally is as susceptible to such distractions as any other device-based activity.

But for schools, and especially for primary and nursery education where tablets are used to deliver books or learning materials, the solution is simple.

Don’t have the devices connected during lesson time or assigned reading time, and for devices that are school property, use the parental controls effectively.

We saw an example of that in Cambodia, in a video rounding off a TNPS post on a new reading initiative in Myanmar.

Asia Foundation launches Let’s Read Project in Myanmar

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