2020 awards and milestones moving early literacy forward and celebrating a culture of reading

09 December 2020

2020 awards and milestones moving early literacy forward and celebrating a culture of reading

By Leanne Rencken


It’s been an eventful year. In spite of the Pandemic, we have much to celebrate in the promotion of early literacy and a culture of reading in the global South. The awards and milestones achieved by the institutions and people listed below should be applauded, given the many challenges they faced in 2020.

So, we’ve put together a list of all the excellent happenings that we’ve noted; if anything is missing, please let us know in the comments section below.

  • In November, the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy in South Africa and Tanzania’s Ubongo were named as the joint recipients of the 2020 Al-Sumait Prize for African Development in the field of Education. The prize, worth US$500,000 for each organization, was administered by Dr Adnan Shihab-Eldin, Director General of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), who said: ‘The two awarded organizations, Ubongo Learning and the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy, have shown far-reaching positive impact and innovative programs whose implementation can carry over to many African counties. Both organizations responded creatively to educational issues and challenges, including those that are faced by disadvantaged children.’ Read more here.
  • Ubongo has also recently embraced open licensing, making its learning materials even more accessible to African children. In March of 2020, Ubongo launched its Toolkits Platform, an Internet-based, self-service portal that houses its openly licensed educational content. These resources, covering a wide array of subjects, have been made available to registered users under a CC BY-NC-ND licence, which in simple terms means that a user can download, print, and share them for non-commercial use, but cannot adapt them, and must attribute Ubongo when they do make use of them. Read more about Ubongo’s milestone achievement here.
  • In addition to these fantastic awards and achievements, Ubongo has also been given one third of the The Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize, sharing it with  and PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools). This prize recognizes the outstanding commitment of these organizations in advancing child and youth development around the world, and in 2020 has a special focus on contributions made in response to COVID-19. According to the Jacobs Foundation, this year there won't be a prize ceremony, but rather an increase in support for the recipients with an endowment of 500 thousand Swiss francs for each of the winners.
  • Book Dash achieved its enormous milestone of printing and distributing its one millionth book. To date, the non-profit organization (NPO) has created and published 146 unique African storybooks and printed and distributed one million copies of those for free to children to own. We had a fantastic conversation with Book Dash Director, Julia Norrish, earlier this year, following their remarkable effort to create, publish and distribute three new books during South Africa’s national lockdown in May. Take a look at that conversation here.

Video: This video, produced and edited by Richard Gregory of GOOD WORK pictures, compiles archive footage, television interviews, Book Dash event clips, printing footage and video feedback from partners

  • Pratham Books, Room to Read and Book Dash were among the international winners of the USA’s Library of Congress’ Literacy Awards Program in 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.’ 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.
  • Award-winning South African author and translator, Lorato Trok’s translation of The Best Meal Ever has been included on the the IBBY Honour List and will be on display in libraries across seven continents in 2020. IBBY is the International Board on Books for Young People and their honour list is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries. In November, we chatted to Lorato Trok who shared her thoughts about the significance of translation in African languages. Read the interview here.
  • For South Africa’s national reading-for-enjoyment advocates, Nal’ibali, 2020 was the year for making their content even more accessible, with their website having been zero-rated, meaning their multilingual stories can now be accessed online by users at no data cost. These stories are also available on WhatsApp and via SABC radio.
  • The Soma Book Café in Tanzania celebrated the publication of four new openly licensed books, written by children! The four children, whose stories were selected by judges consisting of other children and adults, worked with published authors, illustrators, designers, and other book professionals to turn their ideas and words into a professional product in print and online. Read more about the exciting process here.
  • Mango Tree Literacy Lab in Lira, Uganda is collaborating with EdTech Hub on a sandbox project to explore the following question: What is the most fit-for-purpose model for radio instruction for out-of-school children? This question is particularly appropriate now when so many children do not attend school because of the coronavirus. Mango Tree’s work on early literacy is discussed on the ELRN platform:
  • Bellavista S.H.A.R.E. engaged Curious Learning, based in the USA to localise the Feed the Monster early literacy app in all 11 official South African languages, ensuring access to guided early grade reading for all. The app is freely available, can be played offline and has no advertising. It also supports indigenous and marginalised languages as well as those dominantly spoken in urban centres. Although the app, built on existing open-source software, launched in South Africa in June 2019, it has been particularly relevant in 2020.