Let children read in their mother tongue

How an open source platform is creating storybooks for children in hundreds of languages.

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Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver (www.storyweaver.org.in), an open repository of high-quality children’s storybooks in multiple languages, was created in response to a massive challenge: accelerating the creation of children’s books in languages where they were needed the most.

The storybooks are all-digital, and completely free to use, download, or print under the CC BY 4.0 open license. Open licensing of original content from publishers ensures a very high quality of source material for translations, while a rigorous system of peer review and a collaborative approach of working with other organisations as translation partners, maintains a consistently high standard of translation.

The need for books in mother tongues

The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, February 2016 tells us that 40% of the global population — over 2 billion people — do not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. The report also highlights the fact that speaking a language that is not used in the classroom holds back a child’s learning.

The widespread availability of more reading resources in mother tongue languages could go a long way. In fact, research suggests that they could improve learning outcomes by as much as 40%. The challenges, however, are scale and speed.

StoryWeaver is addressing this problem and serving the needs of every child – and the educators, organisations, and publishers who work with them – across the world.

The role of languages in development

Today, there is a growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, and in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. With only a few hundred languages having a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred used in the digital world, there are thousands of languages fading into extinction, and StoryWeaver is working to keep more of these alive — so that more children can read in their mother tongue.

A cross-section of underserved languages in India and the world

Take Pawari, a tribal language spoken in parts of Maharashtra, India, and championed by a StoryWeaver translator, Amit Dudave, who created Pawari books to serve children like his students, who often struggled to express themselves in the language they were taught in. Or an organisation called Suchana in West Bengal, India, which set out to address the problem of low learning levels among many Adivasi primary school-going children. They discovered that these children, whose mother tongues are Kora and Santali, were unable to understand much in school due to all teaching materials being in Bengali. Since then, they have been creating storybooks in Kora and Santali on StoryWeaver.

To address the scarcity of Serbian storybooks among children, Ana Jovic, a language teacher, has created over a hundred digital storybooks in Serbian on StoryWeaver. Similarly, REHMA, an organisation working with children belonging to South Asian communities, has used StoryWeaver to create English-Urdu bilingual storybooks, to serve readers in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and the Middle East.

Chinyanja is a Bantu language, widely spoken in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. StoryWeaver translator, Agnes NS Nyendwa is, both, translating books into Chinyanja, as well as raising funds for them to be made available to a wider audience of children.

As children grow up all across Africa, they communicate primarily in their mother tongue. African Library Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) believes that engaging, high-quality material in their mother tongue will help children build a reading habit. On StoryWeaver, librarians from five countries have translated dozens of storybooks into Igbo, Hausa, Fante, Ewe, Yoruba, Kikuyu, Luganda, Swahili, and Zulu. In Afghanistan, too, the Darakht-e Danesh Library has partnered with StoryWeaver to translate and adapt books into Farsi and Pashto for their digital repository of open educational resources (OERs) for teachers and students in Afghanistan. These books were later also printed and distributed.

Supporting educators across the world

From enhancing listening and reading skills, to helping learners expand their vocabulary to enabling educators to add cultural nuances, StoryWeaver serves as a good teacher resource and lends itself to multiple uses in classrooms and learning centres. Educators also use books from StoryWeaver to expose children to joyful reading material — featuring characters and settings they can actually relate to.

With new stories being added every day, StoryWeaver is virtually a never-ending library of stories which provides teachers and librarians with a growing pool of contextual resources that can be easily integrated into lesson plans and workbooks. Educator-focused features like professionally-produced ReadAlongs, curated Lists, and a themed Reading Programme across 4 levels of fluency, help the platform work even harder on-ground — as do revolutionary features like Offline Library, that provide the platform experience, even in the absence of the internet.

What next for StoryWeaver?

The StoryWeaver platform has over two million users from 150 countries worldwide. It powers the content for several digital literacy programs like Worldreader, and Google’s Bolo App, as well as other online repositories like Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read, Global Digital Library, and the African Storybook Project – each of which serve even more users, dramatically multiplying StoryWeaver’s reach, and making it one of the largest repositories of open source, multilingual stories for children in the world today.

Its role is to inspire and empower everyone from first-time writers, to professional translators, to illustrators, to other book publishers to join the open licensing movement.

In the last four years, StoryWeaver has scaled from 800 stories in 24 languages to over 16,000 stories in 205 languages of the world. This creates a problem of plenty, and the platform is working hard to deliver curated gateways for partners to access the content they need easily, while continuing to improve translation and layout tools for them to adapt StoryWeaver content to their contexts.

The platform leverages the collective power of technology, collaboration, and open licensing to weave a future where the entire publishing ecosystem can come together to address the global book drought for children – and create a world where every child has a book that he or she can read, understand, and enjoy.

For more info, visit: www.storyweaver.org or email at contact@storyweaver.org.in

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