Multilingual Literacy through Stories
I have written before about the importance of educating children in their first language. In Peru, I worked with schools that promote Intercultural Bilingual Education for indigenous children, teaching them literacy skills in their first language and then transitioning to Spanish, as well as guaranteeing the children’s right to maintain their cultural heritage while developing the skills necessary for wider society. One of the greatest challenges in the communities I visited was access to culturally relevant learning materials in the children’s first language. This problem is one that the African Storybook Project is attempting to rectify in similar contexts across Africa.
What is it and who is it for?
The African Storybook Project is an online platform for parents, teachers, librarians, and others who work with children in African contexts to find, create, or adapt stories in languages that are familiar to those children. There are thousands of languages spoken across Africa but, like Latin America, there are not enough resources in those languages that are relevant to children and this is a major barrier to developing children’s literacy skills. The African Storybook Project is an attempt to address this issue, allowing users to access free stories in their mother tongue, as well as create or adapt versions of existing stories for other languages and contexts. The project currently has 120 stories translated into 18 different languages, which can be searched by level, type, language, or author. They can be viewed online or downloaded for printing, and efforts are underway to distribute small projectors that connect to cellphones for use in homes or classrooms without regular access to computers.
I think that many of the resources on the website would be great learning tools outside of their original contexts as well; teachers and parents can use the stories to teach children about diverse worldviews, or they can have students of all ages work on translating the stories as a language learning exercise. One project coordinator explains that the goal is to increase “meaningful access to quality education for people in the pursuit of social justice”. Bonny Norton, the project’s research advisor, explains more about the initiative in this video:
Why I love it
All children have the right to develop literacy skills so that they can succeed both inside and outside of school, and there is no better way than to provide them with interesting and relevant stories in the language they already know. Having recently witnessed the shortage of learning materials in Quechua-speaking communities in rural Peru, I understand the importance of initiatives like the African Storybook Project. This initiative is particularly relevant in that it encourages people working in different contexts to develop stories that will be most relevant for the children they work with. Finally, I love that the African Storybook Project website is free and very easy to use.