Celebrating 2020 International Literacy Day with African Storybook

On this year’s International Literacy Day, the United Nation urges the global community to reflect on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” focusing on the entire community - children, youth and adults. 

This year’s events come against the backdrop of the stark reality that “773 million adults and young people lack basic literacy skills” and that “617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.” Needless to say that the bulk of these populations are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

A contributing cause is the acute shortage of contextually appropriate literacy resources in the languages that the larger Sub-Saharan African communities understand. This hinders the achievement of UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its literacy targets which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” 

As we celebrate International Literacy Day this year, we share three examples of how our partners and champions are using Saide’s African Storybook digital platform and its apps to help children, youth and adults in under-resourced settings practise their literacy. 

In Kibera, one of the five largest slums in the world, a dedicated senior librarian in charge Mary Kinyanjui of the Kibera Kenya National Library Service branch together with Yusuf Ganyana the Library’s IT Officer are harnessing technology to engage the slum communities and keep them reading and staying safe during COVID-19. 

Personally motivated, she says, “As a librarian, I believe every child deserves the chance to learn. Our focus as a community library in the midst of school and library lockdown, is on digital access and inclusion for the remote, socio-economically deprived families living within the informal settlement.” 

Using smartphones donated from friends and well-wishers preloaded with the African Storybook Reader, children and their families access hundreds of storybooks offline. This way, they “are able to reach children aged between six and 13 years and secondary school youths” thus keep them productively busy and away from activities that could easily increase their COVID-19 infection chances. 

Since they shifted their attention to this, they have enabled children in about 22 households with an average of six children to have access to storybooks, educational games and curriculum-aligned subject content. 

The phones which are loaned out to the children in the company of the parent, are returned to the librarian after one month to assess, monitor and evaluate usage. If a family utilizes the device well the lending period is extended. 

Preliminary feedback shows that usage is extended to neighbours and that one device might be used by up to 20 children. For those that can’t use technology, they receive printed storybooks to read.

In another different set up, the Meru Kenya National Library Service branch, over 220km from Nairobi, reaches out to female inmates in a local prison. Sharing on what they do, the IT Officer says, “The library staff have been working closely with female inmates at Meru Women Prison who have never been to school. 

The programme was useful as it helped them access storybooks that are easy to read and translate. Twenty six (26) women joined the class in order to learn how to read using the African Storybooks projected on the wall. They also translated them into their local languages.”

Across Africa, children bear the brunt of conflict, war and natural disasters and many have had to live in camps of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). For such children, COVID-19 makes their marginalisation even more acute. 

These, as well as those not privileged to use the languages of wider communication in their environments, are most in need of literacy resources in their own language to help affirm the validity of their social status and to confidently learn to read and enjoy doing so. 

Mr Terkule Aorabee, one of two African Storybook champions in Taraba State, Nigeria, is making use of the African Storybook Maker, an offline app, to support his Tiv community to write and illustrate their own storybooks in Tiv language. 

Mr Aorabee has partnered with Accelerating Tiv Language among the Vulnerable (ATLAV), a five-year project aimed at promoting greater access to basic education, especially for girls and out-of-school children and to improve the reading outcomes for school-age children and youth. 

The partnership has already produced two storybooks, Atii ta Aji (L1) and Atii ta Aji (L3) which were the first available reading materials used by the project on their launch on August 14, 2020. ATLAV had been battling with how to publish their story to undertake the reading campaign among the vulnerable children in IDPs in Makurdi and other camps.