Preserving languages, boosting literacy: B'luru NGO Pratham Books wins $50,000 prize

The NGO's Storyweaver platform has 4500 children's stories in 84 languages.
Preserving languages, boosting literacy: B'luru NGO Pratham Books wins $50,000 prize
Preserving languages, boosting literacy: B'luru NGO Pratham Books wins $50,000 prize
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‘A book in every child’s hand’- this is the humble but ambitious motto of Bengaluru-based non-profit children’s publishing house Pratham Books. The publishing house recently won the prestigious Library of Congress Literacy Award 2017, an international prize worth $50,000, for its contribution to raising literacy levels. 

The award was for Pratham Books’ digital platform StoryWeaver, which provides free access to a large repository of children’s storybooks in multiple languages.

4500 stories in 84 languages

“Users can read all the stories either online, offline or even by downloading and printing the storybooks. But more than that, StoryWeaver is a collaborative platform that has enabled the creation and localisation of content at scale,” said a media release by Pratham Books. “While the content is created online, the dissemination can be taken completely offline too,” a Pratham Books spokesperson said.  

While it began in 2015 with 800 stories in 24 languages, now the community has grown to include 4500 stories in 84 languages. These stories are not only in mainstream languages like English, Hindi, Kannada and Bengali but also minority languages like Konkani and Kurdish. There are also stories in classical languages like Sanskrit and tribal languages like Kora and Santali.

The spokesperson explained to TNM how StoryWeaver works. “All the content on the platform is under CC BY 4.0 of the Creative Commons which is one of the least restrictive licenses out there. You can essentially download the content in either digital, print or Epub formats, republish them and even distribute them commercially. The idea is for the stories to reach really remote places,” she said.

How does it work?

While there are stories by Pratham Books and some foreign publishers such as the African Storybook Project, a person who is proficient in a language can also upload original stories onto StoryWeaver. The story will appear on the platform after going through a screening and edit.

Additionally, if a language already exists on the platform, anyone who is proficient in the language can create an account and start translating existing stories into their language.

To ensure that the quality of stories in such community driven exercises is maintained, there are two mechanisms in place. The first is a flagging system. The second one is a community review process, where volunteers take time to go through the stories in the language they are proficient in and make edits, clean up the content in terms of better flow, punctuation and so on.

“One of the best parts about the project is that most of the new additions in terms of languages have come based on user requests,” the spokesperson told TNM.

Reaching remote areas

She also provides examples for how StoryWeaver has been used by NGOs and teachers to bring books to children across India and around the world.

The Azad India Foundation (AIF) for instance, has 73 learning centres with 3500 children in Kishanganj, Bihar. According to the press release, Yuman Hussain, Founder of AIF said, “The children that we engage with at the learning centres have never seen a story book in their mother tongue, which is a language called Surjapuri. Even my teachers haven’t read books in Surjapuri.” 

With StoryWeaver, AIF has been able to translate stories into Surjapuri and also get access to a vast library of reading resources.

Another NGO, Suchana in Kolkata, translates the stories on StoryWeaver to Kora and Santali, which are tribal languages spoken across West Bengal and Odisha. These stories are then added to Suchana’s Mobile Library which travels in two vehicles that cover 25 villages.

“Some education technology initiatives are also gamifying our stories and using them for mobile literacy apps,” the StoryWeave spokesperson shared.

Another platform, Bookshare, by US-based non-profit Bentech, is sourcing its multilingual content for children though StoryWeave to provide books for print-impaired children. It does so by downloading the Epub formats of the stories and converting them into DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format.

A StoryWeaver blog quotes Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, Disability Expert, Program Management [India], Benetech to explain how DAISY works.

“Daisy is the most accessible format, for persons with print disability as a Daisy Book can be in various forms. Bookshare offers its members the opportunity to download content in either daisy text only, daisy with images, audio or BrF formats (embosser-ready electronic braille files). A reader can either download the book and read it on his own device, such as laptop, desktop, Android or IOS device, or use a dedicated Daisy player. Users can also read our content online using our web based reader,” he said.

The award and prize funds will help StoryWeave and Pratham Books reach more children, especially by introducing more audio formats, the Pratham Books spokesperson told TNM.

Suzanne Singh, Chairperson of Pratham Books, said, “We are honoured to receive this award from the Library of Congress. We believe that every child should have equitable access to good quality reading resources in her own language. With StoryWeaver, we have demonstrated a new model that provides open access to a large repository of storybooks in multiple languages, to nurture the next generation of readers and learners.”

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