Avoiding the danger of a single story

Avoiding the danger of a single story

Library For All works to ensure that children around the world have access to books they can identify with

Check out the original story at Global Partnership for Education

On April 2nd, International Children’s Book Day, the world celebrates the extraordinary gift of adventure and imagination that stories bring to children’s lives. It’s a humbling reality though that many children in the developing world are not able to experience the joy of a bedtime story, or their favorite characters in an adventure series.

Millions of children do not have access to books at all, and when they do, these books are often printed in languages they don’t understand, with storylines and characters that children cannot identify with, critically limiting imagination, national pride and self-expression.

Making books available to all children

At Library For All, our mission is to provide the tools for children to learn, dream and aspire to lift themselves out of poverty.

Our vision is a world where every person on the planet has access to knowledge.

Our digital library is specially designed for low-bandwidth environments, offering a highly customizable, user-friendly platform delivering e-books to existing, low-cost devices (phones, PCs and tablets) in a range of international languages – for $3 or less per user annually.

One of my favorite TED talks of all time is by Chimamanda Andichie, the great Nigerian author, who speaks about the ‘danger of a single story’. Growing up in Nigeria, she explains that all of the children in the stories she read as a child featured characters that were totally foreign.

Children in all countries need characters that inspire them

Her discovery of the rich African literature much later was key to her uncovering her own unique voice. As she describes: “I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature.”

At Library For All, we believe that technology is key to sharing diverse and indigenous stories with children who, like Chimananda, can be inspired to dream and imagine a new future with themselves as the main protagonists.

Where books are scarce but mobile networks are growing, Library For All’s cloud-based digital library delivers culturally and linguistically appropriate educational content to those who need it most, both students and educators.

Children learn to read best in their mother tongue

This International Children’s Book Day, it’s important to remember that mother tongue books are key to avoiding the danger of a single story. So many children are shut out of school when reading materials are not available in their native tongue: 50% of the world’s out-of-school children live in communities where the language of instruction used at school is rarely or never used at home.[i]

Fortunately there has been a wave of new support for mother tongue books and instruction, supported by strong research that illustrates that primary education in one’s mother tongue is a key to successful early learning outcomes.[ii] Moreover, many powerful and diverse stories are only available in mother tongue languages and these works are key to forming a personal and national cultural identity.

Stories can empower children

At Library For All we are proud to have curated some of the largest digital collections of content available in local languages, from Kinyarwanda to Haitian Creole and Khmer. Much of this content consists of stories for children who are just learning to read. We pay to license this content, supporting nascent local publishing industries. We invite all publishers and authors to submit their content through our website.

This International Children’s Book Day, let’s heed Chimamanda’s call and ensure that every child has access to stories that not only improve their literacy and learning outcomes, but also inspire them to lead lives of dignity and pride, and to write the next chapter of their own powerful and unique stories.

[i] Perlman Robinson, J. “A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries.” Center for Universal Education Report (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2011), p. 27.

[ii] Winthrop, R. and Smith, M. “A New Face of Education: Bringing Technology into the Classroom in the Developing World.” Brooke Shearer Working Paper Series at Brookings (January 2012), p. 11.