British Council Director of Schools Education and Society, Mr. Mohammed Ahmed (left); Publisher, African Storybook, Ms. Lisa Treffry-Goatley; Project Development Coordinator, Mrs. Dorcas Wepukhulu and British Council Director of Programmes, Ms. Louisa Waddingham at the workshop on story making West Africa held in Abuja
British Council, in partnership with African Storybook Initiative, just concluded the maiden edition of the Story Making West Africa project. The project brought together writers and illustrators in a weeklong residential workshop that resulted in the production of mother-tongue based multilingual storybooks.
The goal of the project, according to the organisers, was to make reading materials available at affordable prices for West African students in languages they are familiar with.
The programme that drew participants from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana, organisers said they were impressed with the outcome. Facilitated by trainers from African Storybook Initiative, about 15 short storybooks were written and translated into different African languages including, Nigerian pidgin English, fulfulde and French.
Beyond the interesting titles, each of the books came with beautiful illustrations to make reading more appealing to the target audience. Some of the titles include, The Magical Rainbow River by Mimi Werna and translated into Pidgin English; Aku The Sun Maker by Aisha Nelson from Ghana and was translated into a Ghanaian indigenous language, while Mohammed Sale’s The Drought And The River Of Blessings was translated into Fulfulde and French languages.
In her remarks, Director of Programmes, British Council, Nigeria, Ms Louisa Weddingham, described the project as an excellent opportunity to facilitate connections and collaboration across the African sub-region.She said: “In our education work, we strive to create opportunities and build trust internationally and with our local communities. This peace of work also contributes to our agenda to help improve learning outcomes for students by creating accessible, low cost reading materials in languages that they are most familiar with. We are also helping to build foundation literacy skills.”
She added that African Storybook Initiative, led by Lisa and Dorcas Foundation demonstrated the organizers’ commitment to promote the arts and mother-tongue based multilingual education in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am pleased to see representatives from so many languages across Nigeria and Sierra Leone, where I had the pleasure of living in, from Ghana to Senegal. I am pleased to see that within such a short time and after a very tasking week, we have about 15 stories developed at this workshop,” she noted.
Assuring that the project would be sustained, Weddingham promised to follow up with authors of shortlisted books to ascertain the acceptability of the materials in their local communities.
She said: “At the British Council, we take the sustainability of our projects and interventions very seriously, and over the next months, we will be connecting with all the writers and illustrators, following their progress through interviews, photos and short videos and assessing how participants are using the ideas, skills and knowledge gained from the workshop in their own communities.”
Speaking on the urgent need to revive indigenous languages, Director, Schools Education and Societies, Mohammed Ahmed, felt the failure of most children to speak local languages should be blamed majorly on parents. He further extended the blame to the education system that lacked the enabling environment to teach.
“Education authorities are expected to create, not just the policies, but also the enabling environment for Nigerian languages to be used in schools. I am aware that the Ministry of Education is convening a meeting to see how languages could be used more effectively to support learning outcome for us.
“We also have to refer to the activities of development partners in Nigeria. They are working with relevant stakeholders in providing infrastructure in schools and working with State Universal Basic Education Board as well UBEC at the national level to provide reading materials for schools in indigenous languages”, Ahmed stated.
He, however, hoped that the collaborative efforts between government and development partners were signs of a beginning of awareness that learning, especially for the younger generations were best in languages they were familiar with.
“This is a pilot project and we are working with writers and illustrators to see how the books can spread.For the Kenyan Dorcas Wepukhulu of Lisa and Dorcas Foundation and Development Coordinator, Africa Storybook Initiative, research has shown that if children learn to read in languages they are familiar with, they are able to acquire literacy in English and other languages for inter-communication.
“So, for students whose first language is mother tongue, the best way is to give them materials in the languages they are familiar with so that they can practice their reading skills in those languages they are familiar with. The authors incredibly came down to the level children can understand. They came with their ideas. All we did was to guide them in ensuring that the ideas were transformed into reality. Yet, the emphasis was on quality writing, while making the diction simple for children”, Wepukhulu stated.
The British Council had pledged that upon publication of the works, several channels, including the authors, would be deployed to ensure the books get to the target audience. It was also agreed that the books would be on African Storybook website where they could be accessed at no cost.