Tuesday, August 5, 2014

We All Become Literate Story by Story

“We all become literate story by story.” I heard Carole Bloch from Nal’ibali mention this at the recent launch of the African Storybook Project (ASP). What a wonderful thought and it resonates so well with the ethos of Pratham Books and all the new platforms that we are trying to build.
Saide’s African Storybook Project is an initiative to stimulate the provision and use of openly licensed stories in local African languages for early reading. They launched the website with hundreds of stories across English and 25 African languages.

Our conversations with the team started last year when they chanced upon our books released under the creative commons licences. They wanted to use our books for their upcoming website. Ofcourse, you can we said. And months of engagement led to us being invited by the SAIDE team for the launch of their website.

Our chairperson, Ms. Suzanne Singh was the keynote speaker at the 2-day symposium and she spoke about Pratham Books' integrated approach and the alternative models to get a book in every child's hand. As expected there was a lot of interest around our model and it was very inspiring to see other people be in awe of our work and come and want to know more. We had a display table and everyone wanted to buy our books in bulk. Needless to say all the display books were lapped up.

It was very interesting to hear Judith Baker talk about how the idea of such a project came about. Judith is the founding member of 'The African Storybook 'project and also their Literacy Consultant. She said many years ago she had raised $1000 in the US to start a library in South Africa but when she went to the book shops she could not spend the money as there were no books in Zulu. So even though she had the money she could not start a library. That is when she started these conversations with like-minded people on creating a website which could create local language content for African children.

It was quite shocking to hear that a good children's book in Africa costs about Rand 100 which is approximately Rs. 700 and books are largely available only in English. This problem arises because the overall population numbers in Africa are so small that publishing in local languages is not a profitable endeavour– infact because there are fewer people talking a single dialect/ language, the local entertainment – television programming / news channels are also not available in most African languages. So the whole joy of conversing and reading in local languages is completely lost.

A large selection of books in English
Not a large variety of books in the local languages

The conference was a good mix of people from various education departments, people leading the pilot sites in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa and partners like us. If you haven't already visited their their lovely website, please do and try a shot at reading Pratham Books' very popular title, 'Where is my Bat' in Sepedi, Lumasaaba, Kiswahili, Sesotho and many more African languages. 

Since we were going such a long way we took an extra day off to visit some of the pilot sites that the African Storybook Project team had enabled. We visited a primary school in Atteridgeville. The pilot sites are focussed on training the on-ground teachers at the sites on use of the website and training them on how to conduct the storytelling sessions with the children.They equip each pilot site with a laptop, projector and wifi. This enables the teachers to use the laptop for the translations and the projector is then used for sharing the revised local language story in a classroom. We had the good fortune of seeing the teachers in action and they were such an enthusiastic bunch when it came to narrating the stories to the class. The children as expected were a delight to watch and super excited to have visitors.
A grade 1 child holding a print out of the story translated by his teacher on the African Storybook Project website

We wish our friends at the African Storybook Project all the best with their initiative and hope thousands of African children get access to lovely stories in languages that they can read and relate to. 

Closer home, Pratham Books has also been working on a similar collaborative Story Publishing Platform. Its most amazing how similar ideas are surfacing parallelely in different parts of the world. Seems like this is the need of the hour! Watch out for this space to know more about our foray into the world of digital books and platforms.

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