ACR GCD awardee SIL LEAD releases a new collection of accessible, digital books in local underserved languages for Malian children

The collection includes 428 books in local languages

ACR GCD awardee SIL LEAD releases a new collection of accessible, digital books in local underserved languages for Malian children
A group of children holding up printed copies of digital books at a school.

Field testing of Soninke story books and picture word books.

SIL LEAD has released a new set of accessible, digital books in underserved languages. The collection includes 428 books in Soninke, Mamara and Sign Language for Malian Schools.  

The Mali collection was funded by ACR GCD under the Begin With Books Prize to create cost-effective, accessible titles in underserved spoken and signed languages. 

Research has proven that children experience better reading outcomes when learning in their local spoken or signed languages. According to USAID’s 2016 Survey of Children’s Reading Materials in African Languages in Eleven Countries, there were only 21 books available in Mamara, 10 in Soninke and zero in Malian Sign Language. Through the support of  the Begin with Books prize, the number of books available in these three underserved languages has increased by over 1,350%.

The books can be read online for free using Bloom Library or downloaded for on-the-go use with the Bloom Reader app. Each title also has a Creative Commons license, for global re-use, adaptation or translation, enabling the growth of more books in languages children use and understand at no cost. 

SIL LEAD collaborated with local authors, translators, illustrators and the Malian government through SIL LEAD’s in-country partner, SIL Mali, to create this extensive library of supplementary learning materials for early grade readers. 

two cell phones with screenshots of booksTwenty-five of these stories are new, decodable books, created specifically for both Soninke and Mamara speakers. French versions of the books were first reviewed by the Direction Nationale de la Pédagogie (DNP), representing the Ministry of Education of Mali. AMALAN (Malian Academy of Languages) reviewed the books in Soninke and Mamara.  

The DNP provided essential feedback through comments and observations related to the incorporation of Malian cultural aspects. They also suggested adaptations of the text and illustrations to better reflect the daily life of Malian children. Once these issues were addressed, the Malian Ministry of Education provided final approval, authorizing them for supplementary use to the curriculum to further the development of a reading culture in which children read for pleasure. 

SIL Mali worked with native speakers to record the audio of the localized texts, providing a soundproof audio recording room at the SIL Mali offices to record audio for the books. The team used Audacity, a free and open-source digital audio editor and recording application, to record and edit the audio as well as Bloom’s built-in feature that allows content creators to record and add audio directly into the books.

Another feature that SIL LEAD included in one of their decodable books is the inclusion of sound effects that reflect nature.

“All content created under the Begin with Books prize is required to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), one of which is the inclusion of image descriptions (alt text) for children with print disabilities,” said Erin Williams, Program Manager for the ACR GCD Begin with Books prize. “SIL LEAD did something extraordinary in their adaptation of the book ‘Black Bird, Red Bird, White Bird,’ by enhancing their image descriptions to also include the song of each of the featured birds of Mali, so children could recognize sounds from the natural world around them and further associate it with the description they are hearing about each specific bird.”

Books like these that are inclusive, accessible and reflective of a child’s culture create a more supportive environment for learning. Digital books and EdTech offer solutions to challenges around access, equity, quality and inclusion, so that all children have an opportunity to learn to read. 

If all students left school with basic reading skills, there would be a 12% reduction in world poverty. By beginning with books, ACR GCD empowers children in Mali on their path to literacy.

By Jamie Brian. All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.