SIL International wins ‘Enabling Writers’ prize for software solution to children’s book shortage

Imagine going to the library as a young child–eager to learn about caterpillars, soccer or the color red–and finding no storybooks in the language you speak at home.  Or, imagine if the books you do find are written at a much higher level than someone your age can understand.  This is the scenario facing many children around the world—a lack of early grade reading materials written in their mother tongue and appropriate to their culture and reading level.  

Without a supply of interesting materials, it is difficult to get girls and boys excited about reading, provide them with the opportunity to practice reading, or have books read to them by family members.  This contributes to the fact that, around the world, at least 250 million children are not learning basic reading skills.  

To address this gap, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development held the Enabling Bloom logo.  Let's grow a library Writers competition seeking software solutions that allow authors to easily create and export texts in mother tongue languages. All Children Reading is pleased to announce that SIL International’s Bloom software has been awarded the $100,000 grand prize following comprehensive field-testing in four countries.  

A key feature of the winning software is its simplicity–Bloom is designed for users with basic computer skills.  “In too many places the technology becomes a barrier rather than an enabler,” said Paul Frank, Executive Director of SIL LEAD, the winner’s partner organization. Often people most familiar with a local language and culture must turn over their writing to a few skilled technicians.  

Bloom’s breakthrough is in making bookmaking easy for many more people. The result is the ability to easily create mother tongue books that get children reading. “Children don’t need complicated books,” said Frank. “They need pictures and text that are appropriate to their culture, age, and reading ability. Bloom helps people write this kind of book by taking the focus off the technology and its bells and whistles and letting people concentrate on what they want to communicate to children.”

Young girls hold books created with Bloom softwareBloom users can create an original text or select a template, called a “shell book,” and insert culturally appropriate pictures and local translations of text.  The books created can then be saved as a PDF and printed, copied and distributed to readers.

Achieving Bloom’s success has been a complex undertaking, with SIL developing and using the program around the world since 2011.  For the All Children Reading Enabling Writers competition, SIL added features to let Bloom users create decodable texts and leveled readers.  ‘Decodable’ refers to text that only contains letters and sounds a student has already learned. This introduces children systematically to reading. ‘Leveled readers’ are books or stories of increasing difficulty, so children advance their vocabulary, build comprehension skills, and increase reading fluency.

All Children Reading is supporting further enhancement of Bloom based on field-testing and plans to roll out an updated, Beta version in the coming months, which will be freely available.

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