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Profiling Saide’s African Storybook Initiative

Open access to picture storybooks in the languages of Africa for children’s literacy, enjoyment, and imagination

Saide’s African Storybook initiative, launched in 2014, responds to the shortage of local language early reading materials in sub-Saharan Africa through a digital open license publishing model. Saide is a non-governmental organization in South Africa and the legal body managing the African Storybook initiative. It is an organization whose mission is “Enabling successful open learning for all.”

Through enabling translation and re-use, and providing web tools for communities to create local language picture storybooks, Saide has demonstrated that it is possible to quickly produce storybooks in quantities needed for learning to read. The model empowers educators and engages learners. On a continent with wide variation in connectivity, the initiative has demonstrated that through off- or online digital projection, and print methods of delivery, it can reach large numbers of children cost-effectively.

The African Storybook open-source digital platform, with openly licensed content (CC BY), establishes a new publishing model which provides an accessible space where storybooks can be created, translated into multiple languages, stored, downloaded, printed at minimal cost and used. Unlike traditional publishing models, this model allows translations without permission or payment of a fee, so that investment in illustrations is shared across countless versions, and the translations are immediately accessible to all. It empowers speakers of any language to create a large number of storybooks and publish them. Furthermore, the website is responsive, and displays appropriately on any device, from mobile phone to desktop computer. An App has been developed and is available for free from Google Play and the iStore.

The initiative seeks to address the challenges of learning to read faced by a huge proportion of African children. The importance of learning to read in a familiar language is widely accepted. Moreover, learning a second language is enhanced if literacy is firmly established in a more familiar language. However, in most of the 2,000 languages in sub-Saharan Africa, there are no reading materials for children learning to read. African Storybook responds to this challenge with a model that is producing growing numbers of contextually appropriate picture storybooks in increasing numbers of languages. As of May 2018, the website has 916 unique storybooks and 4,125 translations in 140 languages spoken in Africa. In addition, research finds that African Storybooks have positive outcomes on teacher pedagogy and child literacy. Availability of local language storybooks, combined with efforts to encourage use, result in literacy improvement.

Building on 14 pilots in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, African Storybook has established firm relationships with over 30 literacy development partners. In terms of geographic reach in Africa, the storybooks are being read in local languages by educators and children in the following countries: Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

To learn more, visit the African Storybook website.

Africa Storybook