A New Digital Platform in India Wants to Provide Books to Every Child

With more than 800 languages spoken in the country, access to written stories in every native tongue is limited.
(Photo: Pratham Books StoryWeaver)
Dec 25, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Priti Salian is a Bengaluru, India–based journalist who has written for The Guardian, CNN.com, The Christian Science Monitor, and many others.

In the Northern India state of Himachal Pradesh, about 45 miles from the Dalai Lama’s residence, lies a village called Suja, where Tibetan Children’s Villages is located. While the school’s library has enough books for teens in their native language, contemporary, entertaining material for younger readers is completely missing. “Books for primary grades have hardly been written in Tibetan,” says Tenzin Dhargyal, a senior English teacher at TCV School.

Six months ago, Dhargyal discovered StoryWeaver, a digital storehouse of multilingual books for kids where users can read, write, translate, modify, and even download books. He fell in love with it. “It has so many relatable stories for children,” he says. Dhargyal requested Tibetan script be added to the platform, and in no time he had translated the first story and was using it with his students.

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Seeing his work, a few more Tibetan educators jumped onto the bandwagon. Today, StoryWeaver has 52 stories in Tibetan, of which Dhargyal will soon be printing three into books for his library. And this month, his secondary school students will be introduced to StoryWeaver so they can translate at least one book as part of their winter break homework.

Tibetan-language speakers are not the only ones benefiting from this first-of-its-kind open-source publishing platform.

Suchana, a community group that focuses on education and health, is translating stories on StoryWeaver in Santali and Kora, two tribal languages that lack written stories.

India has more than 800 spoken languages and dialects, many of which don’t have their own script. Typically, most children’s content is produced either in Hindi or English. Very few publishers cater to other languages, so access to stories in a child’s native tongue is limited, causing a decrease in learning opportunities.

(Photo: Bookshare)

UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report estimates that “40% of the global population does not access education in a language they understand,” which can be especially detrimental to poor children, as their already limited educational opportunities become less available.

StoryWeaver is the brainchild of Pratham Books, an Indian publisher working with the aim of “putting a book in every child’s hand.” To address the critical shortage of reading material for children, Pratham Books has published affordable books for kids in 18 languages in the last 12 years. Suzanne Singh, chairperson at Pratham Books, says that StoryWeaver was born to extend its reach to all 300 million children in India. “We felt the need to be innovative and decided to pursue a digital strategy,” she notes.

(Photo: Pratham Books StoryWeaver)

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StoryWeaver has 2,500 books in 53 languages on its platform. “The ease of our embedded story creator and translator tool is something our users love,” says Singh.

Reaching kids in cities has been easy, thanks to internet accessibility. “But it’s important that all children have equitable access to joyful reading material in their own languages to build a reading habit,” Singh says.

With its outreach partners, StoryWeaver has been able to influence children in underserved rural communities, where the digital infrastructure and connectivity can create a roadblock for reading and learning. Educators and storytellers are downloading stories and using them as wall projections, flash cards, reading comprehension modules, and activity books, as well as in local language apps and in Braille books.

In the last 14 months, the number of languages on StoryWeaver has doubled, and almost all new ones added have been at the request of users. The organization is working with passionate Indian linguists to add languages that are at risk of dying out. “We hope we can play a small role in their preservation,” Singh says.