By Jean Pierre Bucyensenge
This article originally appeared in The New Times.
Gerardine Nyiramabindo’s experience is a bitter-sweet story. Despite her will and devotion to study, she never got a chance to go to school at a tender age. And, unfortunately, those who were supposed to take Nyiramabindo, now 35, to school were the ones who violated her right to education. As she remembers how she missed the chance to go to school 25 years ago, her heart is engulfed in grief.
“My parents are the ones who prevented me from attending school. They told me that going to school would prevent me from getting time to help my grandmother,” she laments.
The first day Nyiramabindo entered class was her last one as well. “When I went to school for the first time, my father was very angry that he even beat me,” she bitterly recalls. “I was very sad but could not do anything against the will of my parents. So, I dropped out,” Nyiramabindo reminisces.
Nyiramabindo grew up in the rural Ruramba sector of Nyaruguru district. She was born to illiterate parents- who ironically wanted her to follow in their foot steps of illiteracy. “They did not understand the value of enrolling us in school,” she says.
The ‘forced drop-out’ from school affected her life and, in the long run, she lost interest in education. “Even when I got children, I was adamant to take them to school. But I later changed my mind,” she adds.
Back to school
The nature of her job compelled the mother of five to take literacy lessons to cope with the situation. In fact, Nyiramabindo, who operates a retail store in her village, says she got energised to enrol when she realised that she was losing money due to illiteracy and that she could not access certain services.
“Some dishonest clients used to cheat me because of my poor counting skills,” she regrets.
Therefore, Nyiramabindo thought it wise to acquire writing skills and she ultimately joined an adult literacy programme in her home area. Six months later, Nyiramabindo is now able to read, write and count.
The woman is one of the 614 adults, drawn from various parts of Nyaruguru district, who successfully completed a six month literacy programme. The programme came to an end last Wednesday with the awards of certificates to the graduates.The course was spearheaded by the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda (ADEPR) with financial support from CHF International, an international non-governmental organisation.
Like Nyiramabindo, many of the graduates felt that a little education could help improve their lifestyles, and they enrolled to the programme. For them, knowing how to read, write and do basic calculations is essential in doing business and other income generating activities.
Damascene Nyirimana, 20, dropped out in primary two due to lack of discipline and commitment. “Parents used to send me to school, but instead I could go to a nearby business centre and spend the whole day loitering,” he remembers with regret. “It is when I grew up that I realised that education is important in life.”
A few months ago, Nyirimana remembers that he could not use a mobile phone due to lack of reading skills. “I could not type names or phone numbers,” he says. “It was really deplorable.”
He adds, “Today, I know how to write and can easily change settings in a phone. I also have the ability to read letters, newspapers and books. I believe this is important in my life in this era.”
Research into adult education shows that although adults who choose to go to school passed their 50s or even 70s have justified reasons. Some adults may join classes, not because they want to use their new literacy skills but because they want to join the literacy set.
Such reasons relate to social status. They feel that other people (especially the literate group) regard them with scorn because they cannot engage in the dominant textual communications. Others want to learn literacy skills because they want to accomplish some literacy task. Several aspire to read the Bible or the Quran. Others join adult literacy classes, not to learn literacy skills for use but for the opportunities the course will subsequently provide.
In a study done in Botswana, some adults said they had joined because literacy is a pre-requisite to getting a driving licence. In some contexts, obtaining a loan is dependant on being able to read and write. In Nepal, some adults came to classes because with the certificate of literacy they obtained at the end of the course, they could become Community Health Volunteers.
Through adult literacy programme ran by the Pentacostal church, over 400 000 individuals from across Rwanda have now gained literacy skills since 1999, according to Rev. Jean Sibomana, the church’s legal representative.
Sibomana says the programme is part of the broad efforts to eradicate illiteracy, a major barrier to people’s development and welfare. “Education is important in shaping people’s minds, changing their behaviours and bringing them to contribute actively to building a strong nation,” he observes.
In August this year, the National Adult Literacy Programme of the Pentecostal Church in Rwanda won the 2012 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize in recognition for their contribution in promoting literacy programmes.