I recently had the enjoyable task of compiling a selection of fifty storybook titles published by African Storybook during the first three years of the ASb website. The purpose of this collection is to support ASb partners in translation work, and the aim was a representative selection of engaging storybooks from the website’s first three years of existence (June 2014 to May 2017).
The fifty titles reflect some of the best of ASb publishing from original stories, written by contributors in Africa specifically for ASb (in Uganda, Kenya, Lesotho, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria). The storybooks also reflect the variety and range of very good illustration work by ASb-commissioned artists in African countries.
I included some popular titles that already have many translations and adaptations, and less known titles that are waiting quietly for more attention. I focused on the English versions, but all except a few of these titles are available in two or more indigenous African languages. The purpose of choosing 50 storybooks in English is so that they can then be translated into other languages in Africa, and so the fifty storybooks will be multiplied by new languages.
The stories were mostly developed and written by educators in story development workshops in ASb pilot sites and selected by in-country ASb staff. There are also some story donations (manuscripts) from ASb Friends in pilot sites and other African countries (including titles adapted from other open licence sources); and some independently-created online storybooks that have been edited and re-published by ASb staff.
Although to an extent the selection reflects my subjectivities as ASb publisher, I did make a point of including storybooks popular with members of the ASb team, with our partners, and with participants in ASb workshops. And I applied these criteria to guide my selection:
• A good story or an interesting story – (for more about what we’ve learned about “a good story” see the ASb Guide for Making and Using Stories on the website).
• A story that reflects its context of creation and use – reflects something about the place, the time, and the people and animals where that story was created and written. A story that tells us something about ourselves and about living in Africa.
• A well-illustrated storybook, and appropriately illustrated for our contexts and children.
• The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation and writing style should be an acceptable example for young literacy learners.
Overall, the aim was a collection that:
• Is representative of the remarkable wealth of stories that the ASb central office has been sent by contributors from ASb pilot sites, hubs and partners over the past four years of the initiative.
• Includes a variety of stories and illustration styles, so as to appeal to a variety of readers, educators and parents.
• Includes a mix of both fiction and non-fiction stories for a range of storybooks that can be linked to curriculum content. And includes stories that reflect both rural and urban contexts.
• Has more emphasis on early reading (Level 1 and Level 2), but also including longer and more complex stories for more advanced readers.
Finally, each one of these storybooks has its own story, whether about the creation of the narrative or in the digital production process, or in the intertwining of both. Every storybook has a history and seems to travel a journey, some moving through many communities, countries and languages (even continents), and others less expansive and more specific in their travels. I hope you will enjoy this selection, and that it inspires you to make your own collections for different needs, interests and imaginations!
If stories have not been subjected to project quality assurance processes, will they hinder or enable the achievement of project objectives?
Stories not subjected to project quality assurance processes enabling the achievement of project objectives
Based on the results so far, I would argue that even if stories have not been subjected to African Storybook quality assurance processes, they still enable the achievement of project objectives. Some of the concepts that African Storybook has successfully demonstrated are that open license digital publishing makes it possible cost effectively to create a surprising large number of storybooks in a surprisingly short period of time particularly through translation, and increasingly through independent contribution. At the start of the project, it was crucial to have a critical mass of stories. Through creation, translations and adaptations, this was achieved although mostly by a centrally managed process of commissioning. However, with time, individuals, communities, schools and libraries began doing this on their own to answer the needs of their audiences. Some realised that they could write and were excited to create or translate stories to use. They were not discouraged by the fact that their stories had not been quality assured by any ASb staff. They managed quality of the storybooks they created, translated or adapted. Some of the discussions held by local language participants led to refining stories in those languages without the involvement of ASb. A good example is the LLA in Uganda. Many people learnt by using the ones that were quality assured by ASb.
The objectives of the African Storybook is for young readers to have access to a plentiful supply of African storybooks in a familiar language on which to practise reading so that they are reading fluently with enjoyment and imagination within a year of starting formal school. Plentiful supply of African storybooks, practising reading in a familiar language and learning to enjoy reading in a familiar environment before starting school are very important. Not one initiative can accomplish this without active participation of diverse stakeholders invested in early literacy development. It would also be unachievable if there were no paradigm shift in attitude and belief about the role and place of home languages, OERs and about digital publishing in enhancing early literacy development.
ASb is aware of this and that is why one of the its expected outcome related to storybook production is about ASb literacy development partners and independent users growing their skills to create, translate and adapt storybooks using ASb guidance and tools, thereby adding to the number of languages, types of storybooks, and number of storybooks on the website available for use. It is believed that experts in those languages will also take on the role of ensuring quality of storybooks developed in those languages. Through storybook development and website training workshops, ASb is equipping various partners with relevant skills to ensure this happens independent of ASb staff.
This is already happening with OLE Ghana, Imagine1Day in Ethiopia and CAPOLSA in Zambia. What remains is for these partners to take control of the storybook production and publication without ASb intervention. By working to link its partners within countries where the project is, it will enable skill sharing and strong in-country partnerships. As ASb goes forward, it is shifting its emphasis from testing the website tools while understanding what helped and hindered access, and testing how the alternative method of publishing increased availability of storybooks in local languages, to focusing on enabling people to become independent publishing partners – with ownership of the website for their own needs. Partners who embrace this, are also ensuring quality of the storybooks produced in various languages by drawing in experts in those languages.
ASb cannot expect to achieve a plentiful supply of African storybooks in familiar languages on which children can practise reading; to assist partners to become proficient and productive in the use of the website and its tools for creation, translation and adaptation and; to support partners who use the website for their own publishing purposes without reducing their role of centrally ensuring the quality assurance process of the storybooks. In the next grant, ASb’s role in this process will need to gradually lessen as they build the capacity of its partners to drive the process.
One of ASb’s assumptions is that with the growing recognition that openly licensed storybooks available for versioning for particular contexts and languages and for use in both digital and print formats, have a significant role to play in supporting early literacy development, the communities in Africa will want to own the process of storybook production and to ensure that their children are exposed to quality reading materials. This is why ASb is encouraging production of storybooks by communities for communities’ own literacy needs without always looking for solutions from outside.
Hindering the achievement of project objectives
Content quality of OERs has been cited as one of the challenges that mostly hinder their use as discussed by Atkins, Brown and Hammond (https://www.hewlett.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/ReviewoftheOERMovement.pdf). As the authors rightly point out, materials available as open resources are of “various quality levels” making them raise the question of how to point readers to the materials that are considered quality. The issue of quality assurance in OERs may not completely be eliminated unless there is a strong and consistent growth in communities of practice as highlighted by Hoadely (https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/006/677/CHAP12HOADLEY.pdf).
ASb’s pointer to storybooks that have passed through the quality assurance process is the ASb approval mark. This mark helps to identify storybooks that have not been commissioned by ASb or that have not been subjected to ASb editorial processes. The editing process does not only look at grammar and level of language used, it also addresses issues of content suitability for the initiative’s target age as well as the ASb values that the team members are wanting to see reflected in the storybooks developed and published on the website. It is believed hoped that once people read the ASb approved storybooks, they get to know that standard of work we are looking for. This should encourage them to produce their own books that match those standards.
The question of quality of the ASb storybooks has come up at conferences and during engagements with education departments and other literacy development organisations interested in using ASb storybooks. For example, one of the first questions that KICD asked was how ASb ensures that the storybooks are of acceptable quality. The insistence that storybooks must meet certain criteria can hinder or slow down approval, uptake and use. ASb aim is not only to produce but ultimate use is what we want to achieve.
The African Storybook has successfully advocated for alternative digital open licence local language publishing on the African continent and demonstrated that quantity and quality are necessary and that they can be achieved. Going forward, it will need to continue to play this advocacy role as it positions itself as an initiative that is building partnerships with other literacy development organisations to enhance production of quality materials for early reading and equal access.
It is important to provide tools that enable not only text editorials but also editorial of art work in stories created. This will encourage more confident authors to assist others. There are examples of great stories on the website by the community but whose choice of art work is poorly applied. As it is, only the author can edit this but if we want to build communities of practice, we need to enable participants to build each other’s skills. As we continue advocating for the place of open education resources in early literacy development, we need to let our audiences know that issues of quality are part of OER and that we rely on their passion, self-motivation and various expertise in various languages to ensure quality. There is need for nurturing others to improve.
Africa’s rich cultural heritage of stories was established in the various indigenous languages of the continent in oral traditions. Now that educators have started to draw on that heritage for written texts accessible to beginning readers, experts in African languages face a new challenge: how to capture some of the cultural strengths of African story-telling in simple texts that can be widely distributed.
The Centre for Promotion of Literacy in sub-Saharan Africa’s (CAPOLSA’s) strategy for generating narratives to be published in some of the indigenous Zambian languages has been guided by two important principles:
The stories should be intelligible to beginning readers in a familiar language,
The stories should be child-friendly, interesting (engaging) for young minds.
CAPOLSA’s first two editions of Early Grade Readers (published in iciBemba, siLozi, ciNyanja & chiTonga in 2013, and in kiKaonde, Lunda & Luvale in 2015) included stories composed in one of those languages and translated directly from one of the languages to another, building on the well-documented fact that all of these languages have closely similar grammar and phonology as well as some lexical commonalities (belonging to a single language group, the so-called Bantu family, which also includes many other languages indigenous to the southern part of the African continent). The conceptual transitions involved in those translations among different Bantu languages are less dramatic than when translation is attempted from any one of them into a European language such as English or French where the translator’s choice of specific words is strongly affected by considerations of grammar or vocabulary. The power of the African languages is told through stories and is more salient when information is transferred from a given African language to another African language.
Translation has more often than not been misconstrued as a mirror image of the original text. In many cases some disciplinarians have not hesitated to show its superlative nature by deeming it as a forgery in which intellectual skills are applied. Many feel that a translation should reflect the original text in all aspects such that back translators are sought after to provide checks and balances on the translated text. Often, back translated texts rarely turn out the same as the original text. This is usually construed as work poorly done. In a free online encyclopedia on translation, Cicero indicates that “Strictly speaking, the concept of metaphrase — of “word-for-word translation” — is an imperfect concept, because a given word in a given language often carries more than one meaning; and because a similar given meaning may often be represented in a given language by more than one word”. Kyzehko (2008) defines translation as “a set of actions performed by the translator while rendering the source (or original) text (ST) into another language. Translation is a means of interlingual communication. The translator makes possible an exchange of information between the users of different languages by producing in the target language (TL or the translating language) a text which has an identical communicative value with the source (or original) text (ST). This target text (TT, that is the translation) is not fully identical with source text in terms of its form or content due to the limitations imposed by the formal and semantic differences between the source language (SL) and target language. Nevertheless, the users of target text identify it, to all intents and purposes, with source text – functionally, structurally and semantically.” This definition is in tandem with Mushengyezi (2013) observation on translation that, “at the heart of translation lies this need to present in the target language the words and ideas expressed in the source language’, ‘while preserving semantic and stylistic equivalences,” (Bell, 1991). An appreciation between the translators and the commissioning bodies/individuals on the matter of translation needs to be built in order to strengthen the linkage (between translator and the commissioning body/individual). The concept of translation has been defined and redefined so many times yet authors, translators and commissioning bodies alike, have not reached consensus about the genres of translation.
CAPOLSA, in its preparatory stages of the translation activity, devised a specific approach to translation. This was a deliberate move owing to the many misconceptions surrounding the art of translation. The approach used by CAPOLSA borrowed heavily from Nida et al (1984) model of translation. “A careful analysis of exactly what goes on in the process of translating, especially in the case of source and receptor languages having quite different grammatical and semantic structures, has shown that, instead of going directly from one set of surface structures to another, the competent translator actually goes through a seemingly roundabout process of analysis, transfer, and restructuring. That is to say, the translator first analyses the message of the language into its simplest and structurally clearest forms, transfers it at this level, and then restructures it to the level in the receptor language which is most appropriate for the audience which he intends to reach. Such a set of related procedures may be compared to the experience of the hiker who finds that a stream he must cross is so deep and current so swift that he cannot risk crossing over directly from one point to another. Therefore, he goes down-stream to a ford, at which point the transfer from one side to another can be made with the least possible danger to himself and his equipment. He can then go back upstream to a point which best suits him”.
The process of Translation and Outcomes
The first meeting held in the Psychology Department brought together the expert translators, four of whom are based in the Department of Literature and Languages at the University of Zambia while two others are graduate students in the same department with a teaching career in literary studies at Chalimbana Teacher Education University and secondary school teacher respectively. The expert translators deliberated upon the ideas presented by Nida in the excerpt. Mushrooming in these discussions, were a number of issues but taking precedence was that a translation sometimes requires that one keeps certain words as they are in the original story by finding suitable words in the receptor language that are synonymous to the words in the original story. It was learnt that some words in the original story, tend to make the piece stand out as these clearly tell that which the author intended to bring out. The combination of the two types of translation (one described by Nida and one for maintaining some of the words in the original text by finding an equivalent in the receptor language) were therefore agreed to as what would make a good piece.
CAPOLSA being a unit set to promote early literacy acquisition, endeavours to provide materials to young readers that are appropriate in a holistic sense. In addition to discussing the ideal approach to translation, the agenda also included the following: Orthography, Content, Style, Grammar and Vocabulary:
Orthography: As some of the team members have a long standing working relationship with the Centre, they were already familiar with the harmonized and simplified orthography that CAPOLSA has advocated for since 2012. At this meeting, a reminder was given as to the orthography that is appropriate for young readers.
Zambian languages bear the characteristic of mutual intelligibility thus making it possible to have text spelled in a similar way across the languages. However, the Centre realized that most books produced in local languages have an orthography that is different across these languages. Further defying the feature of mutuality is the fact that the books are spelled inconsistently within the languages. To this effect, CAPOLSA sought guidance from a team of expert Linguists at a consultative meeting on Harmonisation of Bantu languages in August 2012. This workshop was held by CAPOLSA, chaired by Professor Mubanga Kashoki, a leading linguist of Zambia. The key-note speakers were Professors Felix Banda and Lazarous Miti of CASAS (the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, Cape Town). The Ministry of Education was represented by Curriculum Development Officers. The University of Zambia was represented by individuals from several departments including Literature and languages and Psychology. Recommendations of this consultative meeting have since guided the orthography used by CAPOLSA. The text is written in a manner that the language is spoken. This is meant to help the young minds to connect the letters and sounds easily as a resource to easy acquisition of reading. These rules of spelling were the ones that were emphasized at the meeting with translators. Each translator was given a guide on which the rules for spelling the specific languages were written.
Content, Style, Grammar and Vocabulary: The meeting could not overemphasize the need to have content that is appropriate for young minds, the style of writing and vocabulary suitable for the developing minds. The need to ascertain that the work is free of grammatical errors was discussed as, if overlooked, it would be detrimental to children in their novice stages of reading.
Mode of translation: There were several stages set for completing the translations. The first stage involved giving each translator between 5 to 8 stories to translate from the English version to their language of expertise. This activity was to be completed in one week by each individual during their own independent time. In order to ensure quality and to reduce the error of distortion by having one specific language expert/team translate all 30 stories into one language, the team chose to utilize this method. Meaning is highly likely to be retained as only 5 to 8 stories are carefully translated from the source language to the receptor language and at a later stage, to 2 other receptor languages. The other stages were completed during the workshop that commenced on Monday 26th September 2016. The first day of the workshop was attended by Professor Robert Serpell whose expert advice the translators really benefited from. The first day of the workshop started out by encouraging each individual translator to share any views they had about the first few translations they translated from the English language.
One major issue was about whether or not to maintain the names that were in the original language in the translated stories. It was agreed that it would be ideal to keep the names that the original authors used. It was however felt that for those names that the young readers might encounter problems with due to their lack of transparency in their way of spelling such as ‘Bontle,’ we could find an equivalent in our local languages or any other meaningful name. Maintaining the names of characters used by the original authors retains the sense of originality of the story. It would also make easier the recognition of the stories by children if they came across them (stories) in the other languages.
It was also noticed that the stories in the English version might appear shorter than the translated ones as translating the stories as they were in the source language would have made the stories in the target languages appear disjointed. In order for a story to make sense and carry the intended message in the Zambian languages, there is usually the need to add some connecting words or phrases. This also qualified the fact that the translators needed to read, understand the story and write it in a way that was fitting and meaningful to the Zambian audience.
Quality was further ensured in this translation activity by making reference to the illustration described below.
Observations: The translators observed that some stories were too long for some grade levels. For example, the story of friends is simple and easy to see through but words are seemingly too many for a beginner. The young learners might forget a few details by the time they complete the story. The translators also reported that some stories lacked coherence. They would therefore add a few words to make them more meaningful for the Zambian children. Issues about whether or not the title and the story theme matched also arose. In some cases, there was no consensus among the translators as to whether or not the story themes and the title matched. Searching for the spirit of spring is an example of one such story. The stories were in general however, very interesting and the team felt that the young readership would have a great time reading them and were hopeful that many children develop reading skills through this medium.
The translation activity was interesting and quite engaging. The translators shared ideas and challenges on each new working day. They appreciated CAPOLSA’s method of translation (translating only a few from the English language into each specific Zambian language and creating a cycle of translating these stories across the other 3 of the Zambian languages). This mode of translating requires that individuals commit to working as a team. Once one individual strays, it in some way disrupts the flow of information in the group.
Bell R., (1991) Translation and Translating: Theory and Practice. London & New York: Longman.
Cicero Marcus Tullius, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation#cite_ref-12
Kuzenko G.M (2008) Translation, Types of Translation: The World of Interpreting and Translating. Black Sea National University: Ukrain
Mushengyezi A. (2013), Oral Litearature for children: Rethinking Orality, Literacy, Performance, and Documentation Practices. Amsterdam-New York.
Nida, E. A & Charles, R. Taber (1984), The Theory and Practice of Translation. 4th Impression: Brill-Leiden: The Netherlands.
 Languages approved for use in schools for initial literacy instruction (ciNyanja, chiTonga, iciBemba, kiKaonde Lunda, Luvale and siLozi
 Lower primary grade children
 Lower primary grade children
I’d like to update my description of our teacher-assistance project in Gugulethu, Cape Town, which has now run for a complete year and has evolved somewhat. The program operates at Mseki primary school, supported by the Canadian NGO Education without Borders.
We began by simply offering A3 copies of ASP and VulaBula stories to the grade 1-3 teachers, along with suggestions as to how to use them, and during the year this idea was extended to grades 4-7, covering 13 classes and 10 teachers. At the same time we were asked by the school administration if we could send our facilitator into the classrooms as a sort of teacher’s aid or assistant, to help them with implementing the suggestions. So our facilitator, Ms Nokuthula Dyonase, began to do that, and together we compiled a short Manual of Skills which we hoped to demonstrate and transfer to the teachers.
This was an important development, as it gives the opportunity to explore ways to energize and re-invigorate the teachers themselves with new ideas, methods, and tricks, particularly when they are faced with large class sizes (40-45), few resources for reading, and even fewer routes to professional development. There is also an important socio-cultural factor, which happened quite by accident, in that Thuli first approached the teachers with a very low-profile offer of help, and by now she has an excellent rapport with the administration, the teachers, and the learners. It is well-known to be a sensitive task to achieve sustainable changes in methodology, and we are waiting this year to see to what extent we are achieving that.
As described in my previous post Notes on Language Use in EwB language program at Mseki primary school, Gugulethu, Cape Town, the program is divided as follows:
- grades 1-2: literacy in isiXhosa, using materials from the ASP and from the VulaBula series of the Molteno Institute
- grade 3: continues literacy in isiXhosa, and begins easy reading in English, using ASP storybooks
- grades 4-5: continue literacy in English
- grades 6-7: Creative English program, using stories from ASP and from live.fundza.mobi
The activities suggested to Foundation and Intermediate Phase teachers range from the use of clapping, dividing into groups, and digraph, trigraph and punctuation practice, to group voice, role-play, rewriting, colouring in, production of class sets, and “Wall Reading.” The latter involves sticking separate pages of one copy of a story on the wall round the room and learners circulating in small groups reading the pages, rather like at an art gallery.
The Manual for Creative English, for teachers of grades 6-8, will include agreement on an English Only policy, small-group discussion and reporting, literary terms, sensitivity to social issues, rehearsed and improv drama, writing of skits and continuations, follow-up homework with older people, singing, and reading of learners’ own writing. At the end of the school year at Mseki Thuli organized a first-time whole-school celebration involving singing, dancing, and acting, and the grade 7’s each received a booklet of all the stories they had read during the year, as a graduation gift.
In conclusion I would like to comment on the last thought offered in the Manual of Skills, which is: AND HAVE FUN!! One of the biggest factors in whether the children or the teachers absorb anything is surely whether the whole thing is fun, rather than deathly serious: I love to see a serious and strict teacher pretending to be a rabbit!
In our year-long literacy program at Mseki elementary school in Cape Town, funded by Education without Borders, we are adding “Reading Boxes” to the other activities which teachers are being encouraged to use .
These are plastic kitchen boxes each containing 20-24 different titles from ASP or Vulabula, printed in colour using the new downloadable booklet format, at A5 size, 80lb text gloss, stapled. Cost for the materials has been about 15R per book. There is one Reading Box per grade and they are rotated among the teachers at that grade. Grades 1-2 books are in isiXhosa, grade 3 half isiXhosa, half much easier in English, and grades 4-5 entirely in English. Class sizes are around 40-45.
For a Reading Box lesson, the teacher first groups the books in the box into easy/middling/harder. Then she pairs the learners and hands out the booklets as she sees fit (often easier to the back of room, and harder ones at the front).
The pairs read them together, silently or aloud, pointing and helping each other. The teacher goes round and hears each individual read a few sentences out, unassisted.
When finished, learners can come and swap their book for another from the remainder put out according to levels. Sometimes the teacher advises them which level to pick next.
You need some system for collecting the booklets reliably and counting them at the end, ready to pass on to another teacher, otherwise the Reading Box will gradually empty itself!
Because the books are all different, the Reading Box can be used many times over with the same class, and learners still find novelty in it. Of course if we had the resources to print 40-45 books, we could turn this into individual silent reading, but at the moment we are happy to have enough for pairs, and to cover grades 1-5, thanks to Education without Borders.
A further stage of using Reading Boxes is to make use of Reading Teachers. For this the teacher picks the best 5-7 readers in the class, and asks them if they’d like to play at being reading teachers today.
Then she pairs these ones with learners who are slower or can hardly read, in one corner of the room, and gives each pair a very easy book, often one from a previous grade level, The reading teacher listens to their partner read, and helps them out, pretending to be a teacher, but does not just read it to them.
Meanwhile the teacher sets up the rest of the room to use the Reading Box in the normal way, and then returns to supervise this special corner. The more often this can happen, the better.
We are waiting to see if this technique will help the learners with their literacy, and intercept the cycle of being left badly behind. It also has possible uses as a non-threatening assessment tool: we are looking for practical ways for the learners themselves to keep a record of what they have read, without losing it!
In April this this year, we posted a blog on the approach the African Storybook initiative is pursuing to provide answers to the Learnings questions. As highlighted in that blog, ASb Learnings questions help the project team deepen its understanding of the project and enhance project implementation. At the same time, useful lessons are distilled from the implementation process and shared with like-minded people with an interest in early literacy development. Throughout project implementation, the team has been very systematic in its approach to enriching its understanding of the key dynamics of the project, particularly at pilot sites. Part of the approach entailed identifying issues during implementation and articulating them explicitly enough to allow constant attention. Such key issues were formulated, pursued and reformulated as the project unfolded. The following six key issues finally guided our collection of data and engagement with related matters of the project:
Issue 1: What is a story, an African story, a story for early reading?
Issue 2: What are the issues in translating and versioning stories for early reading in local African languages?
Issue 3: How do we deliver digital stories in contexts where there are power and connectivity issues?
Issue 4: How do we support teachers, parents and communities to use stories effectively for literacy development?
Issue 5: How can open license publishing models facilitate multilingual literacy development in African early reading contexts?
Issue 6: If stories have not been subjected to project quality assurance processes, will they hinder or enable the achievement of project objectives?
We have made deliberate attempts to address our Learnings questions as we sought evidence-based answers to these issues, by deliberately aligning the issues to the Learnings questions. We would like to remind our audience of the five Learnings questions that we are working on and to which answers will be provided by the end of the 2016:
Question 1: How has the ASb open access digital publishing model affected the availability of and access to storybooks in languages familiar to children in a variety of African contexts?
Question 2: In what ways does the African Storybook open access digital publishing model encourage people to create, version and translate stories?
Question 3: What are the success factors for particular delivery methods and what challenges are faced?
Question 4: In what ways are the stories provided through this model encouraging the development of new reading practices in African communities?
Question 5: To what extent are individual countries able to take up the ASb model as a means of ensuring supplementary reading material in local languages in the early years?To date, we have identified sources of evidence for each of the five questions, and assigned project team members to address the Learnings questions using research based approaches. Several source documents have been identified for each Learnings question and these range from reports by country coordinators, papers developed for conferences and for publication, project evaluation reports and project reflections posted in as blogs. For the convenience of writers, guidelines for writing up proof of concept papers have been developed and source documents for each Learnings question have been hyper linked to the relevant question in this guidelines document: Outline plan Learnings Questions . By drawing from the identified source documents, writers will not only be able to substantiate their arguments on each of the questions with evidence, they will also be able to triangulate their evidence.
RTI International. 2015. Survey of Children’s Reading Materials in African Languages in Eleven Countries – Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development.
This useful report provides coverage of the African Storybook initiative, and includes the work of Sam Andema, Policy Advisor of the African Storybook. Very interesting reading!
I participated at the 4th National Literacy conference held on 20th – 21st July 2016 at Silver Springs Hotel, Bugolobi, Kampala Uganda. The conference was organized by the Reading Association of Uganda in collaboration with the National Book Trust of Uganda. The theme of the conference was: “Literacy for sustainable national development.” The theme contributes towards the achievement of the Uganda Vision 2040 which calls for positioning literacy as a key prerequisite for national development. Participants included: literacy specialists, researchers, curriculum experts, teachers, teacher educators and development partners.
The objectives of the conference were: to provide a forum for literacy practitioners for sharing best practices in literacy, take stock of the steps the government is taking to prioritize literacy as a key driver of development, share the latest research on literacy acquisition and impediments, and provide a net-working platform for various stakeholders involved in literacy promotion in Uganda.
The discussion focussed on low literacy achievement and retention among primary school learners, literacy achievement levels with reference to home and schooling experiences, emphasizing mother tongue reading and writing programs in lower grades, and capacity building of teachers to meet the demand.
Of interest to ASb was the paper on the findings of a field survey conducted by RTI & blueTree group in 11 countries in Africa on reading materials were presented in a paper by Pamela Batenga. The research was designed to contribute to the planning for the establishment of an international Global Reading Repository and Global Book Fund. In the 11 countries, materials were found in 200 of the roughly 2000 languages in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, availability is concentrated in a few dominant languages. There are few (or no) titles in many others.
The findings showed that in Uganda, there were significant titles in Ateso, Luganda, Runyankore/Rukiga, Runyoro/Rutoro, Acholi, Rukonzo, Lusoga, Lugbara and Nga’Karimojong. There were very few titles in Ik, Dhophadhola, Alur, Aringa, Kakwa, Rufumbira, Lugungu, Kumam, Kupsabiny, Madi, Lunyole, Lugwere and Samia. For Lugwere and Samia, only SIL International had copies. For Ndrulo, only one copy was inventoried.
The survey further revealed that although there was a steady increase in the production of early reading materials in African languages, most of it was in the last five years. However, very few titles were available online, and only 9% of all titles are openly licensed through creative commons and almost all of these came from the African Storybook project.
In order for Literacy to bring about sustainable national development, one has to consider the fact that early language and literacy development begins in the first three years of life and is closely linked to a child’s earliest experiences with books and stories. As pointed out in the key note address by the CE of New Vision Group, if Uganda is to achieve middle class status, developing a reading culture is critical. But how can this happen without reading materials? The colloquium organised by ASb endeavoured to demonstrate how this can be achieved working with communities and partners at national and local government levels.
Some challenges impeding the development of reading and writing skills were highlighted and discussed. For example, the shifting enrolment data and random transfer of teachers and head teachers greatly affected the implementation of Uganda’s thematic curriculum whose focus is literacy development through use of mother tongue in the early grades. This was observed during the action research I carried out in the Butaleja district whereby teachers who did not speak the language where the school is located are posted to these schools. In addition, there are unreliable head teachers who do not provide curriculum leadership and teachers who refuse to teach reading. For example teachers allocated to teach in lower grades and yet had no mastery of the language. Some schools generally reject the methodology, and instead put emphasis on examination grades, with the belief that local language is backward.
Furthermore, government and communities are preoccupied with visible challenges in education such as inputs, access and provisions. Besides the high pupil-teacher ratio, the lack of appropriate reading materials and inappropriate approaches to the teaching of reading were observed as impediments to literacy development. Teachers, particularly in marginalized communities are inadequately trained in local language-based pedagogies. However, the African storybook, through the Kabubbu pilot site, showed that it was supporting training of teachers on how to teach reading acquisition and how to effectively use the new materials as well as on-school support to facilitate uptake of the knowledge and skills introduced to them during training. John Emongot a teacher from Kabubbu shared his experience on how he was using the material from ASb by teaching a sample lesson based on the story: Why a frog is so ugly?
Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE), based on their work, recommend programmes with parent involvement having a strong literacy component that guides parents and caregivers in providing early literacy experiences at home. On the other hand, storytelling should be encouraged both at home and in the school. Owino Ogot of Pan African Education network Tororo district partners with The African Storybook Initiative shared experience on how he conducts advocacy meetings to introduce the district authorities to the African storybook initiative, its goals, beneficiaries and activities. This way, we believe we shall garner support for the initiative.
Several recommendations were made arising out of the paper presentations. Among these, what might impact as well as direct continued ASb work was the need to foster the development of materials in African languages with particular attention to gaps in book-types, pedagogical components, representation of different categories of people, and reading level. The survey based their reading levels categories roughly based on the categories used by the African Storybook Project. A confirmation to ASb’s work was the recommendation to share and adapt titles within and across languages. Another recommendation that ASb might have to consider was the need to invest in research and development of alternative business models for making open licensing profitable and sustainable.
A number of presentations thus did acknowledge the contribution of ASb in materials production. Clearly the African storybook project has greatly impacted the field of literacy development especially in materials development. Increased use of ICT by teachers can without doubt bridge the literacy gaps since they will access teaching materials online. Integrating the African Story Book into teacher training will encourage the teachers to prioritize reading from an early stage. The African Story Book empowers the parents to easily take their children through early literacy experiences at home.
Since Mseki school are generously allowing Education without Borders to help in their language classrooms from grade 1 to 7, I would like to have a discussion about which language to use in the classroom, and for what purposes, at various levels.
The government policy in SA is to use L1 in grades 1-3 and then change to English as the vehicle of instruction for grades 4-7. In grades 1-3 learners are being given the rudiments of English, and grade 4 is described as being the “transition year” where English takes over. However we know that teachers often continue to explain things in isiXhosa when necessary, all the way to grade 7, and I think this is a realistic balance.
In fact the research evidence is that it is better for learners to continue to have their other subjects taught in their first language, right through primary school, with textbooks and the vehicle of instruction being L1, while English is used and taught as a second language during English classes. Teachers therefore should not hesitate to run bilingual classrooms or to use “sandwiching” techniques to ensure that learners fully grasp the content of their maths, life skills, and other classes. And of course isiXhosa continues to be used in Home Language classes.
For the EwB language program at Mseki, therefore, we are aiming at the following slow change-over of languages:
- Grades 1-2 are fully in isiXhosa, with L1 stories and L1 as the language of instruction, though the teacher may begin to use some common classroom instructions in English. The stories are taken from the African Storybook Project and from the Molteno Institute’s Vulabula literacy series (see links below).
- Grade 3 is bilingual, with stories in both isiXhosa and English being used. The level of the English stories will be much easier than the L1 ones, and the teacher is free to help the learners in isiXhosa as she sees fit. Constant straight translation, however, is better avoided.
- Stories for grades 4-5 are all in English, still from the huge archive of the African Storybook Project, and the language of instruction should be basically English. However the teacher can use the method of “sandwiching,” meaning interspersing isiXhosa versions of phrases when necessary, between basic repetitions in English. Between the pictures in the storybook and the teacher’s skill in bringing the words to life in the telling, the learners quickly grasp the meaning.
- Grades 6-7 are provided with a slightly different type of content, altogether in English. Instead of easy readers with the help of pictures on every page, they have longer texts for listening comprehension, reading, and discussion. Some still come from the African Storybook Project, but others, particularly by grade 7, are excerpts from modern short stories e-published by Fundza. The learners will be talking and writing about the stories in English, though for some sensitive topics the teacher may specifically permit them to use their L1 to each other in their groups and then report to the class in English. We have found that this works quite well, and they do keep to the language rules.
This program is only in its initial year, following a 5-week pilot in 5 classrooms in late 2015. By the end of 2016 I will be interested to hear from the teachers, the administration, the learners and our EwB facilitator, as to how well it is working, and where it could be improved. It is very important in the South African context to find the best way to help teachers implement language policy in their classrooms, and hopefully this project will contribute useful information to that debate.
INFLUENCE OF STORYBOOKS PROVISION ON CLASSROOM LITERACY PRACTICE – SHARING AT THE INTERNATIONAL LITERACY ASSOCIATION 2016 CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITS
I attended and presented a poster session at the International Literacy Association 2016 Conference & Exhibits whose theme was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0”. The conference was organized by the International Literacy Association (ILA) and took place at the Hynes Convention Centre, Boston, Massachusetts, USA from 8th July (Pre-conference Institutes) to 11th July 2016. The conference strands focused on preparing pre-school through adult learners to become capable, confident readers and writers. Thousands of educators representing 50 countries participated. Most of the participants were teachers, reading specialists, literacy coaches, administrators, teacher educators, librarians, psychologists and others concerned with literacy education at all levels. Sessions included ILA’s Global Literacy Projects and a Global Literacy Symposium. Presentations from individual international attendees focused mainly on literacy issues in their countries and regions.
The conference objectives were spread over select sessions from three tracks namely:
21st-Century Literacies: This track took a deep dive into skills and competencies necessary for today’s students to succeed both in and out of the classroom, including information literacy, technology literacy and flexibility, among others. I learnt a lot from presentations on Multi-modal literacy, Digital literacy and Apps for promoting early literacy for all. These sessions provided me with insights into what ASb can do regarding promotion of the use the multi-lingual stories using a variety of technologies.
Literacy Leadership: This strand focused on the question of the fact that reading leadership begins in the classroom…but how do teachers cultivate that leadership in the school, district, or community at large? It offered sessions designed to help increase student literacy gains across the school. I strengthened my understanding of the role of Education Officers and school principal’s role as literacy leaders; how to develop and enrich Professional Literacy Circles and Building leadership teams to ensure equitable literacy instruction.
Literacy Research: Research provides the backbone to effective literacy instruction. This strand featured sessions covering Research on Literacy, Language and Culture: implications for practice; Strategies for Effective Literacy Professional Development; Teaching and Learning Literacy: research, Policy and Everyday Classroom Practice. This strand helped me as an educator who wants to stay on top of today’s cutting-edge research. It increased my understanding of classroom behaviour during literacy classes. Generally speaking, the ASb is now ripe for moving into use and research in the classroom to gauge the implications the use of the stories has for practice in the classroom and its impact on learning outcomes. In some countries such as Kenya for instance, the usage of mother-tongue stories needs to be activated and strengthened for classroom use. Most of the presentations had deep insights into classroom practice and I could compare what happens in Kenyan early grades literacy classes and in other countries. Sharing and hearing from real classroom teachers about their experiences particularly in dealing with multi-lingual settings and using apps in the teaching of literacy was very valuable.
The title of the poster presentation, co-prepared with Ruth K. Odondi and George M. Andima was: Reading Kenya Kajiado Making a Difference: Influence of Storybooks Provision on Classroom Literacy Practice. It was developed from the on-going Reading Kenya Project, which is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) through the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE). It is implemented in Kenya by the National Book Development Council of Kenya (a partner of the African Storybook Project) in conjunction with CODE.
Highlights of the Reading Kenya presentation
- Reading Kenya’s (RKP) goal is to have teachers’ capacity built in teaching basic reading skills and creating thoughtful, life-long and independent readers.
- RKP aims to: (1) improve access to early grade reading for children through offering multi-lingual story books to schools, (2) strengthen the capability of teachers, parents, guardians, to support reading in a multi-lingual setting.
- There was an observed deficiency in reading materials in Kenya primary schools coupled with observed challenges in the teaching of reading skills among teachers.
- This called for training in strategies for teaching reading using a variety of stories
- The Reading Kenya study investigated the value of provision of storybooks and how this impacts literacy.
- Reading Kenya works with 70 public primary schools in Kajiado County to provide local and culturally-relevant and engaging books that pupils would want to read.
- The project promotes instructional strategies to help teachers engage children meaningfully with books to build higher order comprehension and critical thinking skills.
- Reading Kenya teachers are being trained in reading strategies: oral language development, Phonological awareness, Phonics and Phonological awareness, Interactive Read Aloud, Teacher Guided Reading, Language Experience Approach, and Know-Want to know, Learnt, Still want to know, Children’s writing, vocabulary and writing, all with the aim of building Reading Fluency, Reading Comprehension, and writing.
- Library support: Literacy instruction materials were also given to these schools in the form of story books in Kiswahili and English
- Teacher writers’ workshops have been conducted for the RK literacy teachers to write (creating and narrating from oral tradition) stories and informational texts in Maa, copying from the ASb model. Maa language stories were downloaded from the African Storybook website, printed on A4 paper and used in literacy teacher training sessions and teacher writers’ workshops to provide a model for story writing in the mother-tongue. Examples of titles used are: “Olbene Oiro”, “Maape”, “Kainyoo pee eata Anansi inkejek isiet ronkeni”, “Inkera e emanoo”.
- As a result of the workshops, 190 manuscripts of narrative stories and informational texts have been written in the Maa language by the Reading Kenya early grade teachers. These stories also have English translations.
- The National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) has presented 14 manuscripts from these to the publisher and 7 were accepted and are now in print to be used in RK schools.
- NBDCK hopes to share the yet-to-be published repertoire of Maa story manuscripts with ASb so that they can be worked out to be uploaded on the ASb website to enrich bank of resources for Kajiado Reading Kenya teachers.
- 4 existing English Language stories from local publishers have been translated into Maa and are in print to be used in the RK schools to increase availability of Mother-tongue written materials.
- Learning in the project schools has greatly improved.
Sharing with ASb Lessons Learnt from the ILA conference
- It is important to carry out action research with teachers who are using ASb developed stories in early grades to determine what works and inherent challenges.
- Involve the primary school teacher and teacher trainer in developing and using ASb stories in their classes and teacher training.
- Strengthen networks with participating countries’ Curriculum Development bodies (such as the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) in Kenya, from where innovations and change in literacy practices can be mainstreamed.
- It is possible for teachers to create, develop and translate reading materials for children in their familiar language – this is essential in the literacy promotion crusade.
- Children need engaging, relevant, and varied reading materials that will help them develop the habit of reading and grow their language capacity and knowledge of the world even as they inspire their imagination and curiosity. To achieve this there is a need for more accessible and engaging books that are created by local writers and illustrators in large numbers – books that allow children to recognize themselves and their surroundings and feel at home with the practice of reading.
- Teachers’ guides should be written to help teachers on how to use the African languages story books in the classroom. This can be a way of enhancing their effectiveness in the classroom and as a vehicle for spreading good practices for teaching literacy more broadly.
- Stories written in the Maa language for example, the ASb Maa stories can go a long way to support reading and learning with confidence and competence.
- Teacher parent partnering is essential in the literacy crusade.
Reading about events at the 2016 Africa Writes festival http://africawrites.org/tag/africa-writes-2016/, I came across a workshop entitled The Digital Debate: A New Era of Reading & Publishing. During this workshop there was a question from the audience that particularly caught my attention: “How do you pay creators and producers whilst providing free content?” (@nalibaliSA at#AfricaWrites) — put forward by someone from Nal’ibali, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign in South Africa (http://nalibali.org/). The question asked by Nal’ibali is of course germane to ASb, and I think it also poses other questions that are important for publishers to be aware of and discuss, especially publishers committed to open access models. I’d like to unpack the question in relation to my experience of ASb publishing.
The ASb publishing model is premised on publishing books with the most unrestricted license available: the only requirement is that users attribute the source of the storybooks if they re-publish the books or any part of the books. There is no other requirement or obligation for downloading and sharing ASb storybooks. Open educational resources are central to ASb’s goal to address the dearth of reading material available for children in the languages of Africa. The ASb initiative is now at a point where it is making a real difference in this regard, including publishing services for larger scale systemic efforts by departments of education and other NGOs.
The ASb project was fully funded by Comic Relief for four years, and this has enabled it to create and publish storybooks in even the least economically viable African languages (from a commercial perspective). Digital publishing and open access licensing create unprecedented opportunities for making knowledge available to more people than traditional and commercial publishing can. Donor funding and the affordances of digital publishing are how ASb has covered the costs of production and distribution of books without charging for them.
ASb manuscripts are chiefly created and written at ASb story development workshops in the pilot site schools and libraries where ASb staff work with local educators and language practitioners. But manuscripts are also submitted by individual contributors in countries which aren’t ASb pilot countries, particularly by writers who would like to record folktales they know; and some manuscripts are also acquired from other open access publishers. The ASb website relies on these contributions from teachers, librarians, academics and others supporting the initiative.
In collaboration with the ASb country co-ordinators, the story manuscripts are prepared for centralised publishing through the ASb main office in Johannesburg. The ASb country co-ordinators might do additional work on the manuscripts before submitting them to the central publisher and English editor to prepare the storybooks for online publishing. As with all publishing work, some manuscripts require more checking and editing than others.
ASb follows the same production process as traditional publishing, although of course there is no setting in book design software (the website uses a simple page template), and the process ends with a digital PDF.
The outcome is that the contributors have local and familiar stories to use as illustrated storybooks in their classrooms and libraries; and the ASb website has storybooks that can be shared with other educators and those supporting children’s reading. As I see it, the writers of the stories have not been paid for their labour in terms of a capitalist economy, but rather in terms of reciprocity and a contribution to sharing resources through open access. The story writers I have interacted with have also reflected that they perceive considerable symbolic capital in having their stories professionally illustrated and edited, and available in a print-ready format.
Where the capitalist economy is more pressing is around the issue of publishing professionals, especially illustrators, editors, and translators. For the approximately 50 storybooks that ASb produces and publishes in-house, illustrators and translators are contracted at going educational rates. It would be ideal if more of this labour was donated rather than remunerated, but understandably, professionals earn a living from their labour, and illustrations in particular constitute a lot of the value of a storybook. (However, hundreds of hours of translation services have been donated to ASb by Translators without Borders. http://translatorswithoutborders.org/)
Open access publishers need to think laterally about how creators, producers and publishing professionals can be encouraged to contribute to knowledge creation and sharing. Open access models have to include ways outside of a profit-driven paradigm of recognising and rewarding contributions. As we conceptualise a vibrant and diverse future for publishing, we need to ask whether free content is contingent on free labour, and what we mean by “free content” (or “free labour”), apart from the absence of monetary transaction? For example, ASb teacher and librarian writers contribute manuscripts, and in return they get storybooks that are grounded in their teaching and learning contexts. It’s not exactly free for either, but there is valued mutual benefit.
Open access publishers do have to find ways to monetarily remunerate creators and producers in the publishing value chain; but we also have to find ways to engage and reward contributions other than financially, and ways to create communities of practice that contribute to open access publishing sustainably. It’s a different way of thinking about publishing in relation to knowledge creation and sharing, without it being profit driven. We are at an exciting time to explore alternative and parallel political economies for educational publishing.
How do we support teachers, parents and communities to use stories effectively for literacy development?
At the very beginning of its work, the African Storybook understood how important teachers would be for the success of this initiative. There were more schools as pilots in the three countries (South Africa, Kenya and Uganda) than there were community projects at the beginning of our work. To sustain the initiative and move from the pilots, we introduced a concept of systemic implementation where we partnered with government departments and/or institutions of higher learning as well as community libraries.
How does the African Storybook support teachers, parents and communities to use stories effectively for literacy development?
We have continued our relationship with schools through partnering with provincial departments of education in the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa. We support teachers to use stories effectively by encouraging them to create their own stories through story creation workshops and by guiding them on the use of the website. In the Northern Cape, South Africa’s biggest province in square kilometre and the least populated, one of the biggest challenges is the vast distances between towns. Namaqualand and Springbok are closer to Cape Town than the provincial capital Kimberley. How do we continue to support the teachers even in instances like these? Through our partnership with the Northern Cape Department of Education, we facilitate capacity building workshops for Setswana and isiXhosa curriculum advisors, also known as subject specialists, who in turn go to their constituencies and include the training of teachers on story creation and use of the African Storybook website as part of their day to day job. During one of the workshops early in 2016, the teachers created six stories in isiXhosa and Setswana. They stated that they felt empowered when they know that they can write their own stories which in turn they can use in their classrooms to promote literacy. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, we have partnered with the Department of Education’s school libraries directorate and printed three teachers’ guide anthologies and more than a 100 000 story books to be distributed to schools in the province. The African Storybook facilitated story creation and use workshops for some teachers in the province on how to effectively use the stories to develop literacy. We emphasise the fact that our stories are not curriculum based but can be effectively used as supplementary material for effective literacy development. In Mpumalanga we have teamed up with the University of Mpumalanga’s Siyabuswa campus. Third year B.Ed students translate stories into isiNdebele and SiSwati, the dominant languages of the province, as part of their graded assignments. The lecturers will improve the students’ writing before the stories gets published. Upon graduating as teachers, these student teachers will use their knowledge in accessing and using the African Storybook stories for literacy development.
In Kenya we have partnered with Kenyatta University through involvement of pre-service and in-service teachers in story development. Our current plans include getting the in-service teachers who teach in monolingual communities to select stories from the website and get help with printing them for use in their schools. This continues to be challenging because when these report to college during holiday time, they are subjected to a tight schedule that runs even over the weekend.
For teachers in one of our pilot schools, namely, Lolupe in north-western Kenya, we have helped them to set up a school library in order for the school to act as a literacy hub for the nearest schools within the county. To date, seven other schools are borrowing African Storybook print books from Lolupe library for their own literacy development in their schools. There is also a research-based component which will show how authentic Turkana stories gathered by children from their families, re-shaped and illustrated for publication on the African Storybook Project website can be used for literacy development in ECD and lower primary classrooms in Turkana. The indigenous knowledge related to the stories will then be passed on informally from the families to the children.
Parents and communities
We have partnered with the City of Tshwane Libraries through the Saulsville community library to reach the wider communities in and around Saulsville, including parents and children who we could not reach through the pilots. The library staff have been trained to use the African Storybook website in order to help the library users to navigate the website and create their own stories. In these communities, libraries are mostly considered as spaces for intellectualism and elitist, especially by the older generation. They do not see a role for themselves in such spaces. We are changing these mind-sets in Saulsville. There is an active group of parents who tell oral stories in the library every other Saturday to groups of children. They now understand that literacy development is not only a school’s responsibility but starts at home even with parents who are not literate. They are now aware that as much as reading books and writing is an important way of teaching literacy, oral story-telling plays an important role in the development of literacy, more so when it’s done at home by parents and/or caregivers. They have reported that they have the confidence of being a part of their children’s literacy development as they now understand that literacy development comes in all forms and does not need one to be literate to contribute to it.
Children in and around Saulsville are excited to come to the library to access stories on the African Storybook website in their home languages. Some of the schools have limited to no resources to access the stories and this library has a dedicated station for children’s access from 1pm until the library closes at 5pm. Adults are allowed to use the station only when children are not in the library during school hours. The librarians have a dedicated holiday programme during school holidays where children take turns to tell stories they have written or they have read on the website to other children.
In Kenya, we have partnered with the Kibera Public library where children from the Kibera informal settlement and other surrounding schools come to the library to read the books available as well as reading stories from the website through projection. Schools use the library for their library lessons. Over holiday time, children come over to study and complete their homework, especially composition. This is supported by the story writing competitions that we have introduced where children’s best stories get published on the website for use by others.
We are striving to involve all sectors of society in the development of literacy, especially those who have been marginalized. They are the custodians of the languages and the culture in which these children’s primary development begins. Literacy development will only be effective if the very people we are wanting to reach can be a part of the solution and not just as recipients.
How can open licence publishing models facilitate multilingual literacy development in African early reading contexts?
With the availability of openly licenced stories, communities without any written materials can start off to build their own libraries through translation and from that learn to create their own. In this way, communities will contribute towards home-grown solutions for early literacy in their contexts. This is the case with the Ras Abebe Aregay Library and Bookstore in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. Mezemir, the founder of the library and a lecturer at the Debre Birhan University in the Department of English and Literature had to say, “I concluded that English-related weakness I witnessed among the community emanates from lack of authentic reading materials.” Note that Mezemir acknowledges that the lack of authentic reading materials contributes to poor acquisition of English reading skills. Authentic reading materials are those that arise from the community reflecting its aspirations and values. The open licence publishing model facilitates this by giving the community an opportunity to collect, transcribe and illustrate own literacy materials. But before a community can get to the level of writing their own stories, they need to access examples of how others are doing it elsewhere. The African Storybook website and its stories is motivating the children, academics and university students to want to write their own authentic reading materials in local Ethiopian languages as well as in English.
Even though the Ras Abebe Aregay Library and Bookstore is only few months old, its attraction is evident. Children are developing a habit of visiting the library as much as they can. They discuss in the children’s corner and copy extracts, including poems, from books to be read at school in the mornings for school communities. These children are thirsty for reading materials and through the ASb open publishing model, they will do more reading in the languages they are familiar with as well as in English. With story writing competitions that are also organised at the library, local writers will get their materials published for wider reading.
The open licence publishing model allows for teachers, librarians and parents to trans-language as they introduce and sustain reading with young children. For example, Joseph, a class 3 teacher at Lolupe Primary School in Kenya, successfully trans-languages to build his learners’ literacy skills. On one occasion, when we sat in Joseph’s class, we observed him reading a story, Curious baby elephant in three languages, namely, Ng’aturkana, Kiswahili and English. After asking the learners to read the English title of the story projected on the wall, he asked them to identify the title words in Ng’aturkana. He proceeded to ask the learners to tell him the title in Ng’aturkana after which he showed them the Ng’aturkana version of the story in print form. Throughout the lesson, Joseph led the pupils in reading the story in English. The children stammered over some English words but when he showed them the Ng’aturkana print copy, they read without hesitation! As the reading progressed, Joseph moved from Ng’aturkana to Kiswahili to English, not in any particular order. He did this by helping pupils identify and name pictures in all three languages.
By the end of the lesson, we observed that the teacher had enabled children to know that all languages available for them are useful and important for their literacy development. He had used three languages to facilitate children’s literacy acquisition by projecting the story in English, using a print book and using his and the children’s knowledge of Kiswahili. He taught vocabulary in three languages. His comments were that by giving pupils Ng’aturkana stories to read on their own and in class, had created a lot of interest and pupils were very motivated and wanted to read in Ng’aturkana, a language they are familiar with.
This publishing model enables adaptation/translation to meet the needs of children starting off to learn to read at whatever age. Teachers and librarians can re-purpose, re-shape and re-use for different settings, contexts, and audiences. This is a model that helps literacy promoters to answer the needs of early learners anywhere while contributing to the growth of multilingual reading materials.
Research on how literacy is perceived and understood by different communities is very important in finding the most community-appropriate way of addressing their literacy needs. The case of research on story development and use project in Turkana County spearheaded by Dr. John Ng’asike is a very good example of this. Such research will be carried out based on the proposed school-community participation in collection of authentic materials for literacy development in schools in Turkana County. In summary, authentic Turkana stories will be gathered by children from their families, and then re-shaped and illustrated for publication on the African Storybook website so that they can be used for literacy development in ECD and lower primary classrooms in Turkana. In this way, the indigenous knowledge related to the stories will be passed on informally from the families to the children. Teachers will be helped to see the potential in the community stories for teaching a range of concepts, skills, and values. Traditional stories can be used to teach numeracy, teach about the environment, and teach about the science needed for traditional crafts and processes thereby forming the cycle of story development and use.
As different countries advance and embrace digital content across the primary schooling systems, more are also recognising the importance of using home languages to introduce reading to children and as languages of instruction in addition to other languages of wider communication. The open licence publishing model becomes central and crucial in facilitating this multilingual literacy development as one of the realities of globalisation.
In Kenya, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, (KICD), is benefiting from the multilingual resources for its Education Cloud. The African Storybook offered 150 titles in three languages, namely, Kiswahili, Ng’aturkana and English with an introduction about how the same story in three different languages can be used by teachers to build competence in the local language, the national language and the language of wider communication. These stories were, therefore, framed with an introduction about the importance of using trans-languaging to support not only language learning but curriculum learning as well. Guided by where the literacy need is and responding to it, there is a possibility for more local languages to be included in future. This is in recognition and support of what an expert on trans-languaging, Professor Leketi Makalela from the University of the Witwatersrand said in an address at the 2016 CIES conference in Vancouver, where he pointed out that children don’t understand what the teachers are saying, so they don’t identify with education, become outsiders, feel unworthy and their ‘education’ becomes imitative without much access to cognition. That schools can address this by using one language (the familiar one) for ‘input’ and another (a school language) for ‘output’ – that children will learn the material best in a language they understand and can then do increasing amounts of their writing/testing in a school language. That having access to the same stories in the national language, the language of wider communication and the local language can facilitate this. This vital process is best achieved through open licence publishing models.
A similar offer as that made to KICD was extended to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), South Africa. Responding to the DBE’s challenge of promoting literacy and making available engaging resources to promote reading amongst children, anywhere, anytime, 720 ASb approved storybooks in the African Storybook Reading App were offered for uploading onto the DBE Cloud. A curated collection of 210 storybooks (30 titles across four levels in isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, siSwati, Sepedi, Setswana, and English) would be distributed on CDROM and/or uploaded on the DBE website/Cloud by 30 November 2016. Videos showing different ways of using storybooks (digital and print) with South African children to improve literacy development would also be distributed.
During a workshop held in the Northern Cape, teachers were engaged in a discussion about the availability and accessibility of storybooks in African languages in the Northern Cape. All teachers reported that it is a struggle to get books in isiXhosa and Setswana anywhere in the bookshops in the province and the books provided by the department are not enough to stimulate the children’s interest in reading and enjoying the stories for the whole year. They said that it’s a challenge for them to get the children interested in African languages when there are no resources to refer them to, hence the children and parents prefer to learn in English and Afrikaans because of the availability of resources in these languages. Acknowledgement by teachers of the lack of resources in local languages motivated them to participate in developing some stories in isiXhosa and Setswana, and, after editing the stories they wrote in the two languages, they translated them into English to be published as open licenced resources. Teachers will be very happy when they finally get to use these stories in their classrooms to enhance early literacy in several languages.
A great article in the The Wire which documents the impact of the African Storybook beyond Africa – and in India and Nepal particularly. Recognition also for Liam Doherty’s remarkable innovations in the Global African Storybook Project. Exciting!
An excellent open access publication on mother tongue education has been published by SIL, with Barbara Trudell and Catherine Young as co-editors. The title of the 2016 publication is: “Good Answers to Tough Questions in Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education”. Download the book at: http://www.sil.org/literacy-education/good-answers-tough-questions-mother-tongue-based-multilingual-education
What are the issues in translating and versioning stories for early reading in local African languages?
One way that the African Storybook initiative strategizes to achieve a critical mass of stories for early reading in a variety of local languages is through the translation and versioning tools on the website. The overall experience has been that some of our partners in the pilot sites and beyond, have tended to select stories that are already in the local languages spoken by their target audiences. Some have also translated and versioned stories purposely to meet the resource gap that they experience. These two scenarios lead to an important question: is translation and versioning of the stories driven by the need to use them or are they done to increase the number of stories in a particular language? Ideally, the reasons for translating and versioning should be both for use and for increasing the numbers of stories in particular local languages for various levels of learners.
Both reasons are important. Need-driven translation and versioning may point to the fact that literacy developers are aware of the need to use local languages for literacy development and so they do that with a sensitivity to their learners’ contexts, level of literacy skills and cultural background. Whereas translating and versioning for the sake of increasing local language materials is very important in the quest to build up a digital library in those languages, it may lack the aspect of having particular end users in mind. Translating or versioning a story for urban children is not the same as doing so for very rural children. The extent to which a child is exposed to the world other than their home, contributes a lot to how much one needs to adapt a story to suit them.
Most of the stories on the site have been translated or versioned from one language into another. For example, when editing stories in conjunction with the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) for use in schools in Kenya, the guiding principle has always been to use words that are appropriate to children in ECD and in lower primary. It is these children’s ability, their diverse and sometimes complex contexts and backgrounds that guide word choice and sentence structure in the Kiswahili and local language stories. I am certain the same applies across our pilot countries and with our partners beyond these countries.
Closely related to the above are issues of direct translation from English and other languages of wider communication to other African languages. In editing stories translated into Kiswahili (and in other languages that I have some knowledge of), I have come across instances where translators have not paid close attention to word and sentence meaning as they translate into local languages primarily because they follow the English (or other) structure. In translation, how does an independent story developer translate a story that is context-specific if they don’t necessarily want to adapt it? Does translating perhaps go very much hand in hand with versioning? If I translate a story from a different cultural background, I may find it necessary to version in simple ways affecting only names and activities in the story to enhance its meaning in the new language. Sometime, a concept that is acceptable in one community is frowned upon in another. For example, during a translation exercise in Ethiopia, one participant raised an issue about what would not be acceptable among Afan Oromo speakers.
Below is the text he was translating from the English story, Wardit, the mule:
“Oh Wardit, you are the most beautiful mule in the world. Let me stay with you! Let me marry you! Please, be my wife!”
Wardit looked at the horse. He was young, and handsome, and strong. “I will marry him,” she thought.
“Who are your parents?” the horse asked her. “Who is your father? Who is your mother?”
Wardit laughed. “Oh,” she said. “You can see my mother every day. She lives in the palace, and the governor rides her every morning.”
“But your father?” the horse said. “Who is he?”
The translator expressed the fact that it would be offensive to say ‘the governor rides her’ in his language. In this case, he had to change the sentence to read something like ‘the horse transports the governor.’
Other issues in translating and versioning stories for early literacy development include the fact that very often, stories change level. One word in English, could become a phrase and a sentence could become two sentences when translated into a local language and vice versa. For example,
English: I enjoy.
English: My mother gave me shoes.
Kiswahili: Mamangu alinipatia viatu.
English: Seventh Sun.
Kiswahili: Sayari Jua ya Saba
During story development workshops, sometimes participants agonise over what word to use. There are many words in English and other languages that don’t have the equivalent in some local African languages. For example, English words like balloon, kite, excitement and many others don’t have an equivalent in my mother tongue, Lubukusu. So if I am translating a story that has such words, I’ll painstakingly think of a word that is closest in meaning. If more than one person is doing it, they will spend a lot of time arguing about which word best captures the meaning of the original story. Does one translate words, sentences or paragraphs? Is the meaning the same or what is the best approach? This issue was raised during a translation exercise with ECD teachers in Turkana. The fact that a story has words that lack equivalences in the local language that one would like to translate the story into may be a reason for not selecting and translating the story. This may suggest the need to keep the original stories as simple as possible to motivate teachers, librarians and communities to translate and version. My experience is the more complex the story, the harder it is to translate it into a local language.
The other challenge that constantly comes up is issue of dialects and regional preferences. There are language groups that have several dialects, some more prominent than others. Some have established orthographies while others don’t have. For example, the Kiswahili spoken in Tanzania is different from that spoken in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Burundi. Although Tanzania and Kenya are closest in terms of accepted grammar, there are still differences in spellings and vocabulary. There is the spoken and the written. Children growing up are exposed more to the spoken than the written so in translating, the question is which one should be used? Does one go by what experts lay down or by what contemporary children are familiar with? Language is alive, it evolves user needs arise.
More issues that also emerge in translating and versioning include questions such as when I translate a story and at the same time adapt it, what version am I really translating? If I only choose to use illustrations in a story, is what I am creating an adaptation or a new story? So there is the issue of whether I can adapt text and retain the illustrations or could I adapt illustrations and retain the text? At the moment it is not possible to do the latter. How can I adapt actions/events in a story without having to adapt illustrations – illustrations enhance text so if the activities in a story don’t match the context, how can I adapt them and still retain matching between text and illustrations?
The Wikipedia article on African Storybook is finally ready and live. The article presents the project in a nutshell, and is great for giving people an overview and background of the initiative, and as such as good supplement to the main website. We are hoping to expand it with more specific information on use, users, uptake, and partner organizations, but all in due time.
At the beginning of the African Storybook initiative, the project team formulated a number of questions around certain areas of the project. These questions focused our attention on specific aspects of the initiative so we could gain greater clarity on them as the project unrolled. The idea was to try and work systematically towards generating better understanding of the areas in question and share our experiences within and beyond the pilot initiative.
The following are our Learnings questions:
- In what ways does the African Storybook publishing model of open licensing and digital publishing encourage people to create, version and translate stories?
- In what ways has the African Storybook publishing model affected access to stories in a variety of African contexts?
- What are the success factors for particular delivery methods and what challenges are faced?
- In what ways are the stories provided through this model encouraging the development of new reading practices in African communities?
- To what extent are individual countries able to take up the ASb model as a means of ensuring supplementary reading material in local languages in the early years?
In order to deepen our understanding of the initiative, these Learnings questions had to be constantly addressed through blogs, general project reflections and collection and analysis of data that culminated in a number of conference presentations and papers. We also generate insights into the questions through summaries of what we learn generally from experience with implementation of the initiative and design principles emerging in a series of Learnings Briefs that will be developed in 2016.The major goal for the work of the Learnings work stream is to ensure that by the end of 2016, the learning questions have been addressed and the project team has better understanding of aspects relating to the questions. As highlighted above these questions are being addressed through monitoring and evaluation of the work in the pilot sites in 2014 and 2015 and of pilot country systemic implementation in 2016. In particular, we are hoping to generate useful insights into some of the questions through developmental evaluation of systemic implementation in two districts in KZN in South Africa, and in the Butaleja and West Budama districts of Uganda to be conducted in 2016.
We are also interrogating the questions through research papers and case studies that contribute to proofs of concept. To date a number of papers have been developed by various people involved in the project. To facilitate sharing of our rich experiences with pilot sites, some of these papers have since been submitted to international journals for publication and more are being refined for the same purpose. The table below shows papers that have been developed to date and the questions they speak to:Learnings Question Paper developed 1. In what ways does the African Storybook publishing model of open licensing and digital publishing encourage people to create, version and translate stories?
Teachers using the digital publishing model in creating learning materials in a multilingual context: a case of Kabubbu development project in Uganda (Juliet Tembe)
Open affords critical: An example of how the African Storybook Project’s open licence publishing model enables a critical literacy approach to redesigning stories for children (Lisa Treffry-Goatley)
Digital Storytelling, Early Reading, and the African Storybook Project (Espen Stranger-Johannessen and Bonny Norton)
Addressing a literacy gap: student teachers as translators and evaluators of stories in Siswati and IsiNdebele for Foundation Phase learners (William Jiyana & Cynthia Ndlovu) 2. In what ways has the African Storybook publishing model affected access to stories in a variety of African contexts? Using a digital multilingual story publishing model in enhancing reading skills and attitudes in a developing context: the case of Kenya (Ephraim Mhlanga, Dorcas N Wepukhulu and Abel Mote)
Promoting multilingual literacy in urban as well as rural contexts: does the digital open publishing model of the African Storybook project make a difference? (Dorcas Wepukhulu and Juliet Tembe) 3. In what ways are the stories provided through this model encouraging the development of new reading practices in African communities?
Languaging in and about Lunyole: African Storybook materials as a catalyst for re-imagining literacy teaching and learning in two Ugandan primary schools (Juliet Tembe & Yvonne Reed)
Increasing teacher agency through use of openly licensed digital stories for early literacy development (Tessa Welch)
Promoting Teacher Agency in Rural Literacy Development through Digital Publishing: The Case of Lolupe Primary School in Kenya. (Ephraim Mhlanga & Dorcas N Wepukhulu)
As can be noted from the table two of the questions still have no papers developed on them and we encourage the team to consider doing papers on the following:
- What are the success factors for particular delivery methods and what challenges are faced?
- To what extent are individual countries able to take up the ASb model as a means of ensuring supplementary reading material in local languages in the early years?
Our methodology for answering the questions is multi-fold. Firstly, we track access to and use of the website and stories and reflect on the data on a regular basis. These web analytics yield important information that tells us how stories on the website are used and by who. We also foster ongoing debates on key issues through our blogging system. We engage in systematic research on selected aspects of the project and develop papers on them. Developmental evaluation of systemic implementation initiatives to be conducted in 2016 will also generate useful information towards answering some of these Learnings questions. Finally, we will develop Learnings Briefs on each of the five Learnings questions.
The above strategies will help us answer the questions within the context in which the ASb is being implemented. We are however aware that there are like-minded organisations that have experienced similar experiences elsewhere and we invite their input through our blogs. Also, if you are interested in any of the papers mentioned in the table above, post your request in the comments section of this blog and we will happily respond to you.
The Global Partnership for Education and all its many pieces and related activities – the Global Book Fund, a global book repository, the Sustainable Development Goals partners and NGOs and funders meeting periodically to map out the details of strengthening education systems in developing countries and conflict areas are dominating much of the developed world’s international education conferences and thinking.
It is crucial that many of us take a critical stance regarding this work and become advocates for what we have found, in our own experience and research, to matter when it comes to improving educational ‘outcomes’ for children in Africa.
I raise some of these questions, and there are many more that I hope others will raise. One is, ‘How important is local agency in improving early education for the ‘80%’ in Africa?’ We know that African children are too often taught by rote recitation of material in languages they do not fully understand and that their teachers are poorly paid adults with little access themselves to modern methods, reading materials or advanced tertiary degrees.
But should we dispense altogether with the idea of creating distinctive national public education? For example, this article in the Mail and Guardian Africa shocks by stating that Liberia plans to contract ALL its public schools to US-based Bridge International Academies, a private company that describes itself this way: “Bridge International Academies is a chain of nursery and primary schools delivering high-quality education for just $5 a month (on average).”
Bridge has schools ‘in a box’ with whole plastic structures ready to pop up, entire scripts ready for adults to read and orchestrate, evaluation instruments and so on. One need not be a teacher to lead a Bridge classroom since Bridge teaches people in 5 week trainings all they will need to operate the script and work learners do.
Is this a good thing? Well, Bridge learners seem to score higher on EGRA exams than many others and it has won important backing and awards. But is this the society one hopes to build across Africa? Is there value in local curriculum, language or skilled teachers?
Another question is, ‘What is the trade-off between getting textbooks for all children with generic, ‘global’ content and losing local control over both content and pedagogy?’ Again, the lack of reading materials is so undermining to African education that one might welcome ANY attempt to make sure all children have textbooks. But before we jump into that fast-rushing stream, we need to think very carefully about what might be lost OR what might a better way to do this might be.
I can’t, of course, answer these challenges in a blog. But I do suggest that a good place to start is to swim against the stream for a while. What do we know that must not be left out of the conversation? What past injustices, damage or losses have we suffered that we know to guard against? What advances have we made that are taking us in quite different and perhaps conflicting directions do we need to fight to preserve and strengthen?
The annual Comparative and International Education Society held its 60th conference in Vancouver this month (March 6–10), and drew 3000 participants from all over the world. While the topics vary greatly, African issues were well represented, and global literacy was a key area. ASb was present through a panel with Bonny Norton, Ingrid Schechter, Maida Mckenna, and I, with Judith Baker from the floor. The presentations spurred a lot of questions – and excitement – about ASb, such as the question of quality assurance and experience with printing booklets. Liam Doherty’s separate presentation on the Global ASP equally enthused the audience about the potential of African stories outside the continent, particularly audio-recordings and bilingual stories.
Praising ASb in this forum is preaching to the choir, so let me instead focus on the Global Book Fund (GBF), which is slowly starting to take form (no website, but read this blog post). A triple session (4.5 hours!) dedicated to the GBF speaks of it’s role, and, perhaps, the high stakes. It’s hard to get a good sense of what the GBF really is, or rather, what it will do (not very much at the moment). But since this is looking to a very major project within global literacy development and intersects with ASb, it’s worthwhile making an effort to learn about it. In short, some of the world’s largest development agencies and NGOs have gotten together to explore how to dramatically boost the provision of books to underserved children, including developing content (titles), publishing (and a repository), procurement, and supply chain management; aspects that enable organizations and governments to produce quality books at a lower cost.
The first two are most immediately related to the work of ASb, as well as that of Pratham Books. The GBF commissioned a report on a global reading repository, which outlined three scenarios: (1) build on an existing one. This was dismissed since there is no dominant one out there. (2) develop a new one. This was critiqued on the basis of the risk of not getting support, among other challenges. (3) The model that the report proposed was to tap into existing repositories (ASb, Pratham Books’ Storyweaver, and perhaps Bloom) through syndication, which means other repositories will channel their stories, or perhaps just metadata, to the Global Reading Repository. The focus appeared to be on governments, which might even have their own local sites, connected to other repositories through syndication. From what I understand this is just an idea, but it does seem to make a lot of sense, . I think there are many questions, though, about the place of commercial and copyrighted materials (which the speaker endorsed), interface and, possibly, the need to establish other, regional repositories (Latin America, South-East Asia). It’s an open question what different stakeholders (pupils, teachers, parents, government officials etc.) think about stories that (obviously) originate in a different culture, perhaps especially with regards to images, which tend to be more conspicuous than text in that regard, or at least harder to adapt.
All of this is still a bit vague, and certainly open. Many governments like to have control and rubber-stamp books to be used in schools, and commercial publishers want a piece of the pie and are worried about Creative Commons licences marginalizing them. But it’s exciting that the big players are taking storybooks seriously, and that the goal of a book in every child’s hand is coming a little bit closer.