Saide’s African Storybook

Finalist category: Tech4Good for Africa Award

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Finalist, Tech4Good for Africa Award, 2019

Saide’s African Storybook (ASb) uses an open licence digital publishing model with web-based tools for users to create and translate storybooks in their own languages – free of charge, and without the need to ask permission.

Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are unable to supply local language material to support the effective implementation of their evidence-based mother-tongue education policies for early learning.  In addition, storybooks are not available for parents to purchase them at prices they can afford. This is because there are either no books, or no affordable books, available for early reading in most of the 1,500 languages in sub-Saharan Africa. As a consequence the majority of African children do not learn to read in their own languages. This impacts on their ultimate employability and meaningful participation in the society.

The major reason for the shortage of books is the conventional publishing model, which depends on economies of scale to be viable. Under-served languages remain under-served because they do not have large enough book-buying markets to be attractive to publishers. Furthermore, the fact that conventional publishing has All Rights Reserved copyright means that translation is expensive – and translation is the easiest way to share the investment in high quality picture storybooks with less well-resourced languages.

To address both problems (availability and costs), as well as to make the storybooks easily accessible, Saide’s African Storybook (ASb) was created. Technological web-based tools enable users to create or translate local language picture storybooks,  not only to read storybooks, but also translate, adapt and even create their own local language picture storybooks. In addition, these tools allow for each story to be published in multiple formats, including PDFs, ePubs and on mobile device apps.

The website is responsive and designed for contexts with intermittent connectivity and countries where data is expensive. People can read storybooks online, download to read offline or print.  Those who register on the website can also make their own storybooks – translating or adapting storybooks on the website, thus re-using the illustrations without incurring costs. Translation can be done offline, through working in a translation template before uploading when connectivity is restored. Users can create and illustrate new storybooks, either by selecting from thousands of illustrations in the image bank, or uploading their own. If their language is not in the list of 180 already on the website, users can add a new language.

Saide’s African Storybook has the largest collection of open licence local language picture storybooks for early reading in Africa –  deliberately targeting the marginalised 80% of African children whose languages are not provided for adequately in their countries. They have a large partner network: active agreements with 54 literacy development organisations, and large scale reading programmes. These include governments and parastatals in South Africa and Kenya. Their storybooks are also re-published in numbers by 18 other platforms – including World Reader.

This alternative open licence publishing model has been successful in producing local language storybooks in the quantities needed for learning to read. The website launched with 120 stories in June 2014, and has grown to over 1,000 storybooks and nearly 6,000 translations, with storybooks in 180 of the languages of Africa. From 2014 to the end of 2018, African Storybook had reached 48,303 educators and 1,145,226 children.

Going forward, the main areas of focus are: making it easier for people to use the website; finding funded opportunities for scaling book development and delivery to a whole province or country; doing longer term studies of impact on literacy practices of teachers and children; and developing and offering services across the continent. The next big step is to get support to work in whole provinces or whole countries with government and other key national players to eliminate the shortage of local language books for early reading as a contributing factor to low literacy achievement.

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