Learning from Implementation: Key Issues for the African Storybook Project

The African Storybook Project creates immense opportunities for learning as the project unfolds. The initial plans provided broad guidelines, but the situation on the ground shapes the real practice. In implementing the project, the team is collecting information in a multiplicity of ways and analysing it systematically to deepen our understanding of key issues. Ephraim Mhlanga, who is leading the project Learnings Stream, outlines the issues.

At the moment there are seven key issues with which we are grappling:

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 licence 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?
Issue 7: How can we understand better the change required by project participants and Saide staff, and how can we support them to make these changes?

The team is posting blogs on these issues. Most of our blogs are based on our experiences with the project, and therefore generate grounded insights regarding the project. The insights so gained test our assumptions about the project, for example:

  • We knew from the beginning that we wanted to produce many African stories for early reading in local languages. We realized later that it was by no means obvious what made for an African story, or a story suitable for early reading. For example, does a story have to be written in Africa for it to be African? Is it OK to have stories with very violent endings if children are going to read them? These are examples of issues we need to grapple with as the project unfolds.
  • We also knew that we were going to get stories adapted and translated, but there were challenges. How much of a story can be changed before it becomes a completely new story? Is a free translation of a story an adaptation or a translation? So we seek to gain better understanding of the processes of story adaptation and story translation.
  • The project is being piloted in sites of which some are typically rural with no grid power and no Internet facilities. At the same time that is where the greatest need for reading resources is. We are keen to know how the constraints of power and technology can be overcome in order for the project to achieve its objective of providing enough stories in local languages for children in those contexts. What alternative sources of power can be used in rural set ups? Can rural sites access the Internet by using modems from local cellphone providers? How can stories be projected for children to read? We therefore made this an issue to pursue as the project progresses. We engage with people in pilot sites, we experiment with various alternative sources of power and means of accessing the Internet, even for limited periods of time, and we collect data on usage. We analyse all the data collected in order to learn from emerging patterns on how well the digital publishing model works in these contexts.

Blogging on the issues provides us an opportunity to continually reflect on the key issues and share new insights amongst ourselves and with others. Information gained through these reflective processes also feeds back into project implementation.

If you have any comments on these key issues, please post a blog! We’d love to hear from you.