Fri | Apr 19, 2024

Letter of the Day | Open-source e-books can enhance literacy

Published:Tuesday | February 27, 2024 | 12:06 AM


According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), literacy is the means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world. Literacy is a continuum of learning and proficiency in reading, writing and using numbers throughout life and is part of a larger set of skills, which includes digital skills, media literacy, education for sustainable development and global citizenship, as well as job-specific skills. Literacy skills themselves are expanding and evolving as people engage more and more with information and learning through digital technology.

UNESCO further adds that worldwide, at least 763 million adults still cannot read and write – two-thirds of them women – and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the worst disruption to education in a century, 617 million children and teenagers had not reached minimum reading levels.

As a result, we need to identify more creative and appealing ways to inculcate a reading culture among the youth. The reality is, books are expensive and undoubtedly, this serves as one of many barriers to literacy. How can we discount the fact that boys learn differently from girls? Unfortunately, this fact is not taken into account regarding how to address literacy, and this also is another barrier to literacy.

The World Bank has identified five practical ways regarding access to open-source educational materials, especially books for young readers. The World Bank adds that there are several global digital ‘libraries’ that include books in hundreds of languages on a variety of topics. For instance Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver contains 25,000 titles in 261 languages; the African Storybook Initiative contains nearly 1,500 books in 210 languages; the Bloom library contains 6,250 titles in 410 languages. The Global Digital Library has more than 5,000 titles in 72 languages; Book Dash, Room to Read’s LiteracyCloud, and others all house many open-source children’s books produced by local and international non-governmental organisation, as well as development projects. For step two, it is recommended that the teacher/instructor check the copyright agreement of the selected books. The titles in the global digital libraries listed are registered under the Creative Commons 4.0 International Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. In these cases, it is recommended that Read@Home Copyright Guide is referred to. Third, it is recommended that technical advice be sought if large-scale printing is required (more than a few thousand copies). The Read@Home programme is developing guidance on how to do this. Fourth, creating or versioning new books using software is suggested. Some of the global platforms mentioned above include software to easily modify books. If the books are produced with government or donor funding, the World Bank recommends that they be CC-licensed and shared on one of the global platforms.

The final step surrounds transparency and effective mechanisms to procure book printing and distribution. Getting affordable, well-designed books into children’s hands on time requires the effective, transparent procurement of printing and distribution.