eKitabu: bringing accessible digital content, inclusive innovations

eKitabu has brought accessible digital content, inclusive innovations, and programs to engage, recognize and build evidence with children, teachers, people with disabilities, families, and communities, in more than 2,500 schools across 14 countries of Africa.

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Mercy Kirui leads eKitabu’s work in content distribution and relationships with publishers and engagement partners across the continent and globally. eKitabu works with more than 100 publishers, and Mercy has directed the digitization of over 5,000 titles from African publishers including books in Chichewa, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, Kikuyu, Somali, Citumbuka, Rwandan Sign Language, Malawian Sign Language, Kenyan Sign Language, Braille, Arabic, English, French and more to meet and exceed global standards for accessibility. Mercy represents eKitabu in the Kenya Publishers Association and has collaborated with publishers in multiple countries to develop digital content with tools in eKitabu’s open source Accessible EPUB Toolkit. Before joining eKitabu, Mercy led an editorial team and published children’s books for Queenex Publishers in Kenya.

Here, Mercy Kirui shares more about eKitabu….

On eKitabu…

“We are a Kenyan, Rwandan, Malawian, and US company headquartered in Nairobi, delivering accessible digital content and innovative programs for inclusive and equitable quality education. The educational impact of learning materials is our foundation and on that proven foundation, we innovate, designing with users and collaborators from the public and private sectors. eKitabu works to build a sustainable ecosystem with people and organizations: government ministries, international development actors such as the IPA, APIF, Dubai Cares, Open Development and Education, Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the French Embassy in Kenya. We also work extensively with technology firms and local as well as global publishers,” shares Mercy.

The achievements…

Since founding in 2012, eKitabu has brought accessible digital content, inclusive innovations, and programs to engage, recognize and build evidence with children, teachers, people with disabilities, families, and communities, in more than 2,500 schools across 14 countries of Africa. “We have achieved this through many initiatives, such as the Digital Essay Competition in Kenya, the Kigali Public Library Annual competition in Rwanda, and the Content Development Challenge, just to name a few. As part of our commitment to improving the accessibility of and inclusive educational materials for all, free content is also available at open.ekitabu.com. The open-source platform provides an enhanced learning experience and the chance to track analytics. It is key for us to deliver data that demonstrate tangibly the impact that our initiatives have – for example by measuring changes in educational attainment,” she adds.

Publishers and authors network…

“Since our inception, eKitabu has worked to build up a vast and engaged network of over 100 local and international publishers to source, aggregate, digitize, and distribute over 5000 accessible titles. We also work closely with the Libraries and Schools Network in Africa, a key network organisation that greatly amplifies our reach,” she adds.

“We deliver licensed content as well as Open Educational Resources, partnering with African publishers and authors in the countries where we work. For example, we partnered with local Malawian organizations supporting persons with disabilities (OPDs). With the Malawi National Association of the Deaf (MANAD) and Malawi Union of the Blind, we built, adapted and digitized teaching and learning materials and developed Malawian Sign Language (MSL) and braille reading and writing skills of teachers, parents and learners with disabilities,” tells Mercy.

For special needs…

Teachers of learners with disabilities or special educational needs in Kenya consistently cite the lack of accessible learning materials as the main challenge. “eKitabu is making digital curriculum materials accessible for deaf learners through embedding Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) video in digital storybooks for language acquisition and literacy at the early grade level,” tells Mercy.

Publishing scenario in Africa…

“This year, I had the opportunity to attend The London Book Fair, the UK’s largest publishing and book trade fair, where I was delighted to join a panel discussion on ‘Journey of African Publishing,’ The panel also comprised Lawrence Njagi,Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, and Gbadega Adedapo and it was fascinating to compare perspectives on this topic with them. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf said that when she founded Cassava Republic 17 years ago, she was interested in seeing books not only written by African people, but also published by African people. “Taking on production was important, and today it’s exciting to see more trade publishers being established,” she said, and I agree. The real challenge to getting more books to readers, she pointed out, is price. “The question is not whether people want to read but how to make books affordable for more people. We need more Africans owning the means of production,” she said,” tells Mercy.

Challenges and the opportunities in African publishing industry…

“One of the major challenges is accessibility: books and other resources need to be made available at affordable prices for all. I believe this is where eKitabu has a vital role to play, in building connections across the continent, and working with African partners to help own our own means of production within the continent and showcasing the huge variety of African publishing to the global industry,” tells Mercy.

Technology in publishing…

“Publishers are using technology to widen distribution, and an increasing number of platforms are being created to provide access to information. During our LBF seminar discussion, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf’s comment, “Technology is a prosthetic,” really made me think, especially as it touches on our work with and for people with disabilities. Bibi is right. In relation to books, technology is an artificial means to do things we might not do, or might not be able to do, with a traditional printed book. But as helpful as technology is in packaging and distribution, reading and writing and publishing is about the content —the stories, the voices, the ideas, and knowledge. Let’s focus on how to make books more affordable and accessible for all readers,” shares Mercy.

On enhancing trade relations…

“One way is to strengthen relationships between organisations between the two countries, for example, publishing beyond the border, promoting buying and selling of rights between the two territories. Digitization of materials and digital distribution is also a growing area and has no boundaries, and can be achieved by using the available platforms such as eKitabu to promote content from India across the continent of Africa,” opines Mercy.

“Let us work together to create opportunities to access both print and digital content in a simpler, affordable and efficient way. If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together,” concludes Mercy.

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