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Pratham Books, Room to Read and Book Dash are among the international winners of the USA’s Library of Congress’ Literacy Awards Program

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

These non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have innovatively adopted open licensing publishing and distribution models and that specialize in solving early literacy challenges in developing nations, were selected along with a list of other initiatives, ‘for their exemplary work in ensuring that children continue to build critical literacy skills.’

Since 2013, the Library of Congress (LoC0 Literacy Awards Program has awarded $2,247,250 million in prizes to 136 institutions in 36 countries. By recognizing current achievements, the awards seek to enable any organization or program that does not operate on a for-profit basis to strengthen its involvement in literacy and reading promotion and to encourage collaboration with like-minded organizations.

Even though it was not LoC’s intent, both StoryWeaver and Book Dash employ open licensing. They use a CC BY licence, which permits users to download, print, distribute, and adapt their resources. Room to Read is also beginning to employ an open licence for its Literacy Cloud content

India’s Pratham Books (StoryWeaver) and US-based Room to Read were each awarded a Special Response Award, worth $50,000, while best practice honouree, Book Dash – based in South Africa – received a prize of $5,000.

According to the press release published on their website, Pratham Books are thrilled by the recognition of ‘our responsiveness to the unique needs faced by children during the current unprecedented times, and our efforts over the past few months to spread the joy of reading to children everywhere through the Covid-19 pandemic’.

They go on to explain:  

As demand surged during the pandemic for digital learning resources, Pratham Books created programs that could be used in low-resource environments, including a Learn at Home program in Hindi and English, thematic reading lists, audio-visual books in multiple languages and a phone-based dial-a-story program called Missed Call Do, Kahaani Suno! that allowed a child to locate a story in a chosen language by dialing a toll-free number. This campaign reached children who did not have access to the Internet or smartphones, and was a resounding success as schools closed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic in early March.

In addition, in just four months, translators on StoryWeaver translated 3,000 books into 28 new languages, including books about the coronavirus, health and hygiene and social and emotional issues. UNESCO and the World Bank have listed StoryWeaver as a resource for the homebound child during the pandemic.

Equally proud of their Special Response Award, Room to Read state in a press release on their website, that this recognition is in response to how they have ‘met the needs of children and their families by quickly adapting its programs in literacy and girls’ education for remote learning’.

The organization utilized both online and offline methods — cognizant of the deep digital divide that exists in low-income communities — harnessing community radio, television, text messaging and mobile phone apps, video chats, interactive voice response (IVR), digitizing high-quality and culturally diverse storybooks appropriate for an international audience, video read-alouds, government-run distance learning platforms, and virtual training sessions for teachers and children’s book creators.

Room to Read’s digital platform – Literacy Cloud – originally developed for educators and book creators in Indonesia, was expanded exponentially in response to COVID-19. It now includes over 1,000 original Room to Read children’s book titles in 19 languages. The titles are available as a free resource for students, parents and teachers in the U.S. and around the world.

Although they’re the only African initiative to win a prize this year, Book Dash is in good company, as past South African honourees include Nal’bali (2019) and the FunDza Literacy Trust (2013), as well as Rwanda’s Ready for Reading (2019) and Umuhuza (2018), Uganda’s Mango Tree Literacy Lab (2018), Ethiopia Reads (2016) and Ghana’s Osu Children's Library Fund (2013).

The Book Dash team are obviously excited by the accolade, stating on Facebook: It is affirming to know that our fast-paced approach to publishing open-licensed African children’s books and distributing hundreds of thousands of physical copies freely to children is considered to represent best practice, internationally. As a best practice honouree, Book Dash receives a prize of $5,000, which according to their social media, they intend to put towards printing more books and furthering their research into how books make a difference.

Read more about how Book Dash created and published three new books during South Africa’s lockdown.

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