What you need to know:
The initiative dubbed Books on Bike aims at building and promoting a strong reading culture among children aged between three and 15.
By early 2019, Patience Kisakye could hardly pick any material and read. She could spend most of the time playing child fun games with friends in the neighbourhood.
But today, the 10-year-old is among the budding booklovers at Mpumu Village, Mukono District, thanks to the “Books on Bike” or “mobile library” which was introduced in the area during the first wave of Covid-19 when learners were confined to their homes.
“In the past, I couldn’t imagine sitting in one place for hours and reading a book, but it has become part of my life and I enjoy it,” Kisaakye, a Primary Three pupil at Mpumu Primary School, reminisces.
This initiative [Books on Bike] is a brainchild of Youth Rising, a non–governmental organisation operating in Mukono District. It aims at building and promoting a strong reading culture among children aged between three and 15.
Mr Richard Wafula, the manager of Mpumu Village Community Library, says after identifying the gap, they decided to help the learners to access reading materials to enrich their vocabulary and academic grades.
“We started this mobile library to aid learners in the community to access learning materials, which could make them busy and save them from engaging in risky behaviours that may destroy their future just like many who conceived during the Covid-19 period,” he says.
After launching the project, Mr Wafula says they identified community connectors in 2020 who help in registering and distributing study learning materials to children at their homes such that they keep them busy at home during holidays and weekends instead of loitering in villages.
He adds that the Books on the Bike project which started in one village, has since expanded and currently covers seven other villages of Kisoga, Luuga, Salama, Piida, Terere, Kibanga, and Bunankanda.
“When the lockdown was lifted and children were allowed to go back to school, we approached school heads and initiated a cordial working relationship with them to keep supplying learners with reading materials,” he notes.
The partnering schools include St Consolata Nursery and Primary School, Mpumu Primary School, Bright Angel Primary School, Bunankanda Primary School, Tendo Infant School, Alpha View Primary School, and St Jude Primary School.
Mr Wafula says more than 1,000 learners have since been enrolled in the programme in the last three years.
“Our target is to reach out to a bigger community, but we are only limited by the mode of transport since bicycles cannot traverse to distant areas,” Mr Wafula adds.
To make the project a success, he says they have partnered with different organisations, which promote literacy in rural communities.
The Rotary Club of Sonde is the latest partner that supplies reading materials to the community library under their basic education and literacy enhancement project dubbed: ‘Drop Everything And Read (DEAR)’.
The project is aimed at enhancing reading, writing, and comprehension in schools so as to improve the quality of education in the country.
Ms Connie Magomu Masaba, the president of the Rotary Club of Sonde, says reducing illiteracy levels is a battle that requires concerted efforts.
“We are doing our part as Rotary, but we need everyone in the community to get on board so that we can nurture the reading culture of our children, especially those in less privileged communities,” she says. The Rotary District Governor of Uganda, Mr Mike Kennedy Sebalu, says improving literacy levels across the country has been at the core of their programmes and more funds will be available to promote the project.
Mr Sebalu adds that parents and teachers should serve as role models by supporting the campaign of reading materials.
“Once you get the mindset of children and parents to change towards education, then you know that the next generation is going to be better. Youth Rising has introduced a unique project of Books on Bike and the community in Mukono will not remain the same. So, we urge other areas to borrow a leaf,” Mr Sebalu says.
Ms Caroline Kavuma, an educationist and the coordinator of the Basic Education Enhancement Programme (BELEP) in the Ministry of Education, says equipping children with basic knowledge and reading skills at a tender age builds a reading culture and opens for other opportunities.
“As a ministry, we commit to supporting community libraries as one way of reducing illiteracy levels in the country. We plan to give parents different short-term courses to encourage them to appreciate the value of education. I am happy to learn that some parents in Mukono are engaging their children into productive work, which shapes their future,” Ms Kavuma says.
The deputy head teacher of Mpumu Primary School, Ms Joyce Namukasa, welcomed the Books on Bike programme to the school after realising it benefits the learners.
“Our learners are so active when it comes to reading time and we’re optimistic that as time goes on, the reading culture will gradually improve in the entire school,’’ she says.
Ms Namukasa further explains that with close supervision from her team, the learners have become so active during class hours.
“Our children passed mostly in second grade and only three were ungraded out of the 33 candidates that sat PLE last year. We see this as an improvement compared to the previous years and we hope this year we’ll perform better,” she adds.
Ms Veronica Draru, a guardian of Kisaakye, says the reading materials have aroused children’s passion for reading.
“The books given to them [children] have interesting topics, simple grammar and vocabulary which drives a reading culture. When I see my grandchildren reading books at home, it makes me happy and their grades have improved over time. Thanks to Youth Rising which introduced this idea,” she says.
According to Uwezo, Uganda 6th Learning Assessment Report 2016 for example, some of the major findings were the scanty numbers of children who could ably read. The report indicated that three out of 10 pupils (between Primary Three and Primary Seven), could read an English story and do revision.
In Primary Three and Seven, only two out of 10 could read and understand an English story, and things did not get any better.
Between Primary Three and
Primary Seven, 56 out of 100 could read and understand a Primary Two level English story in urban areas whereas 35 out of 100 living in rural areas could read and understand a Primary Two level English story.
Statistics from the National Library of Uganda indicate that 49 public libraries and 150 community libraries have so far been established in various parts of the country, but very few learners visit these libraries to read books.