Putting Communities into the Early Literacy Frame: Learning from ‘A children’s Storybook Writing Project in Ethiopian Community Libraries’
Studies of literacy levels in Africa highlight the number of children with no prospect of experiencing quality education: too many early school graders simply do not learn to read. This calamitous situation is largely due to lack of children’s storybooks across the estimated 1,500-2,000 African languages. National budgets barely touch the need for children to learn to read in a language familiar to them.
An overview of the many donor-funded early literacy projects shows that while these differ greatly in scale and strategy, innovations are targeted chiefly at the root of the problem, namely storybook production across multiple languages. But of course, donor-funded projects are constituted by their own terms of reference. These tend to be but segments of a broader, very African problem: “How do we develop reading for enjoyment and reading for choice in low income, low-literate schools and communities?” (Hoadley, 2018).
In addressing this question, our paper highlights the potential of a 2017/8 Community Library (CL) storybook writing project in Ethiopia (Harley, 2018). This project showed how CLs, with the support of CODE Ethiopia, successfully authored, produced and shared high-quality digital storybooks in local languages. In the current second cycle of the project, CLs are exploring ways of producing and using stories to nurture love of reading in their own contexts. The unique asset of the CL model lies in its promise of straddling community and school synergies in advancing literacy. Community, government officials, and school representatives work together – by mandate – in producing storybooks. These are invaluable resources for promoting a love of reading as well as for the formal teaching of reading. Not only are stories in a language familiar to children, their authenticity, the first layer of community quality assurance, enables children to locate themselves in the familiar microcosm of family and community. // Paper ID 205