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Tuesday, June 25
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

IU works with schools to teach English literacy

In Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi, students gather with a handful of textbooks written in a language they are only just learning.

Books and Beyond, a student-led IU organization founded in fall 2008, calls the situation a “book famine.”

“Rwanda just got its first national library this year,” Briana Petty, Books and Beyond’s student director, said.

Petty said there are only about 10,000 books in the Rwandan library, but even fewer are shelved in others.

“In the smaller provinces and cities, there are very few books,” she said. “At Kabwende, they didn’t have textbooks for every subject. It was often five to six kids huddling around one textbook.”

Books and Beyond’s solution is a cross-continental collaboration between three schools. It coordinates the creative energies of college students in Bloomington, TEAM charter school students in Newark, N.J., and primary school students in Kinigi, Rwanda.

“The most valuable thing we do is make cross-cultural connections between students of different backgrounds and different languages,” Petty said.

Based in the Global Village Living-Learning Center, Books and Beyond started as a program in which IU students worked with TEAM students to write story anthologies to help satisfy the Rwandan school system’s need for books. Now it also acts as a cultural exchange program in which IU students travel to Newark to mentor charter students preparing for college, and to Kinigi to tutor Rwandan students learning English.

The IU team currently boasts around 40 students. In summer 2013 the group delivered its 10,000th book to Kabwende Primary School.

This also marked the second year of Kabwende Holiday Camp, an on-site project run by IU and TEAM charter students that teaches English literacy.

In Newark, the public school college attendance rate sits at 20 percent. TEAM charter schools admit under-performing students and charge nothing to attend.

By the time they leave the system, 80 percent of these students will be accepted to college.

But the Rwandan school system faces a big obstacle: a lack of English-speaking instructors.

Petty said as a consequence of switching its language of education from French to English in 2008, few teachers understand English well enough to teach it.

“We noticed the students at Kabwende understood maybe five percent of the words in the books we delivered,” Petty said.

Petty said Books and Beyond often delivers the first books Kabwende students own.
Students learn how to read them at the summer Kabwende Holiday Camp.

“By the end of the Holiday Camp, they were performing them as a play, and their pronunciation was a lot better,” Petty said. “But when we came back to the United States, we realized we needed to simplify the books.”

The anthologies have changed over time, and will continue to evolve, said Abigail Hamilton, leader of Books and Beyond’s logistics team.

“In the 2011-2012 school year, we started having the Rwandan primary school students write a story in their native language,” Hamilton said. “Their teachers translate them to English, pick the best and send them here. Starting last year, we had side-by-side translations of Kinyarwanda and English.”

Petty said that in 2014, Books and Beyond hopes to expand on campus and find sustainable funding.

The group is also looking for outside evaluation groups to come track the progress made at Kabwende Primary School.

But in the end, Petty said, Books and Beyond is about the connections between far-flung places.

“It’s getting students to have a bigger worldview and encounter situations that they didn’t know existed,” she said.  “We get together from different backgrounds to solve a common goal.”

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Steven Johnson on Twitter

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