Stories in your mother tongue

Digital ‘hyperlocal libraries’ offer books in underserved languages

Published - February 20, 2019 10:04 pm IST

StoryWeaver from Pratham Books offers over 18 lakh reads in 148 languages.

StoryWeaver from Pratham Books offers over 18 lakh reads in 148 languages.

Imagine a library with books for children in languages ranging from Kannada, Tamil and Marathi to Marwari, Siberian and Bundelkhandi.

In an attempt to bring in diversity into the reading habits of children, encourage reading in their mother tongue, and aid learning in formal classrooms, digital ‘hyperlocal libraries’ are offering content that is free, downloadable, and reusable.

One such open source digital platform is StoryWeaver from Pratham Books that offers over 18 lakh reads in 148 languages. Under its ‘Freedom to Read 2019’ campaign, 11 organisations and eight individuals were chosen to help build hyperlocal digital libraries in 30 languages, including 14 ‘underserved languages’ such as Korku, Marwari, Pawari and Santaki. Launch of the gateway to this material coincides with International Mother Language Day on Thursday.

Speaking to The Hindu , Suzanne Singh, Chairperson, Pratham Books cited a new UNESCO report on mother tongue literacy, which states that around 40% of the global population has no access to education in a language they speak or understand, and the 2016 Global Education Monitoring report, which mentions that imposing a dominant language through a school system in multi-ethnic societies is a ‘source of grievance linked to wider issues of social and cultural inequality’.

“In India and other parts of the world, there is a yawning gap between the language spoken at home and the medium of instruction at school. This can lead to children feeling alienated and reading at lower grade levels. This disengagement with the learning process can even cause children to drop out of school altogether,” she said, adding that the digital storybooks provide a link between the language spoken at home and the medium of instruction in school.

Sharad Prakash Suryawanshi, programme manager, Unnati ISEC, which has been working in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region with children from the Korku tribal community, said the material readied in Korku has helped children ease into the formal education system after the first one or two levels.

“Very few students would manage to progress to the higher classes as the Marathi-medium was very difficult for them to catch up with. There were no books in Korku until we started at the end of 2017. We readied material in Korku for different levels: songs, stories and reading for the first level and writing for the second level. We integrate aspects such as village experiences, animals and gender equality into the material. Till now, we have translated around 140 books, and are trying to get community volunteers to write original stories,” she said.

But how can a digital platform reach its intended audience?

Purvi Shah, Head - Digital Initiatives, Pratham Books said StoryWeaver serves as a resource for teachers, educators, and literacy organisations. “Educators are able to integrate books from StoryWeaver into lesson plans and expose children to reading material with an Indian context featuring characters and settings they can actually relate to, narrated in their mother tongue. To give you an example, Suchana, an education support group for children from Santhali and Kora villages around Shantiniketan, has created a mix of translations and original stories in Santali and Kora, written in the Bengali script. As of now, 200-odd titles have been translated into the two tribal languages and some have even been printed into books,” she said.

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