Books, Projects | February 21, 2019

Leveraging Digital Reading to Help Children Learn in Their Mother Tongue


Reading Together

How do you say ‘education for all’ in your mother language?

Today, on Mother Language Day, we celebrate the invaluable role that mother-tongue language plays in ensuring that everyone across the globe has access to quality learning.

Worldreader’s LOCAL project, which will bring local-language books to 20 libraries across Uganda and Zambia, aims to contribute towards creating an environment in which more children can learn in their mother-tongue language.

Children learn best in their mother-tongue language

Four in ten children do not have access to education in a language they speak or understand. Unsurprisingly, these children struggle more educationally than their peers who learn in their mother tongues. This is especially the case in linguistically diverse countries and regions, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, of the 25 countries with the highest index of linguistic diversity, 20 are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Digital reading can help spread the availability of local-language books

Despite this obvious need for more local-language books in sub-Saharan Africa, finding the right content can be a challenge. This is largely due to a lack of publishing in certain African languages. UNESCO has outlined many barriers that African publishers face including low  revenue, insufficient promotion of books in African languages, the rarity of reading habits in some communities and the scarcity of books in African languages in the local libraries.

Digital reading has already begun to chip away at these barriers. Digital technology eliminates costs associated with printing physical books and dramatically reduces shipping and logistics costs. By lowering these barriers, digital publishers are able to create the conditions needed for the emergence of a publishing sector that can provide effective support for local-language education.

52 languages available via Worldreader’s library

Worldreader has been supporting local publishers through digital reading since 2008 and currently has a library with titles in 52 languages. By making content available to children, adults, schools and libraries in such a wide array of languages, we work to ensure that language is no longer a barrier when it comes to giving people access to the content they need.

Worldreader’s LOCAL Project

In order to reach the hundreds of millions of Africans currently held back by lack of access to mother-tongue language we need to see a transformation in the content that public institutions like libraries provide. That’s why we’ve partnered with AfLIA, the Ghana Library Authority (GhLA), Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ), the National Library of Uganda (NLU), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the Local Content for African Libraries (LOCAL) project.

This project aims to address the demand for local-language books in 20 libraries in Uganda and Zambia through partnerships with local publishers. We will also partner with the library systems to provide hardware, training, and additional skills to librarians so they can distribute this content in the most impactful way.

In January 2018, we began the content acquisition phase for the LOCAL project. With a target to acquire 120 local language titles – 60 for Uganda, and 60 for Zambia. The project kicked-off with landscape surveys in both countries. Using the analysis of these surveys as a base, we were able to assess the local content health upon which we initiated partnership discussions, negotiated and signed contracts, and ultimately acquired the relevant content. We’re pleased to announce that we were able to acquire all 120 titles and have signed 5 new publishing partners.

Stay tuned to learn more about the progress of this project as we work towards creating a reading culture in mother tongue language in communities across Uganda and Zambia.

The LOCAL project further solidifies our work assisting libraries to be reading champions in their communities across sub-Saharan Africa.