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India’s first open source, digital repository of multilingual children’s stories.

Imagine a country with 122 major languages and 1599 ‘other’ languages. Majority languages, minority languages and dialects that subtly change every so many kilometers. Imagine trying to create joyful reading material for children who speak, think and dream in these languages?

Reading is many things, but it always begins with access to text. In India, there are critical supply shortages for joyful reading resources for children – not enough books, in not enough languages, compounded by poor access and issues of affordability. As most publishers cater to middle and upper income urban audiences, demand based economics dominate, to the detriment of creating books for economically weaker groups where the profit motive is low. Pratham Books created an alternate model to address these inequities to provide quality storybooks in mother tongue languages for children.

Despite all our successes with publishing over 2000 storybooks in 18 Indian languages and distributing over 15 million books and 12 million story cards, we still had a long way to travel to reach every child. A question that we often asked ourselves was ‘How do we create access to joyful reading material for all the 300 million children of India, to learn and practice reading?’ The challenge was to massively scale the creation of content for a highly multilingual and multicultural country.

Our search for an answer lead us to explore the realm of open source. Internet and mobile phone penetration is on an upswing across India and many parts of the developing world, which lead us to believe that technology would be the enabler in helping us reach millions of underserved children.

Rooted in an Open Source World

StoryWeaver came into existence on International Literacy Day, 2015. An online, digital repository of multilingual children’s stories, all the content on the site is openly licensed under CC-BY4.0 – one of the most liberal Creative Commons licenses.

But what does that actually mean for users?

By placing all content on the site under CC-BY4.0 we’re giving users access and permission to use the content on the site as they please. This means our community can read, create, translate, tweak and download stories for printing and sharing. ALL FOR FREE! We’re hoping that by setting stories free like this, they’ll take wing and fly to more children across the world, igniting a love for reading. We actually want people to take what’s on our site and build upon it or create something entirely new with it and share it with the world.

Helping create joyful reading material in many languages

In a country like India with such a diverse linguistic heritage trying to create stories for children in so many languages is a daunting task for even the largest publishing house. But by giving our community the freedom to create and translate stories in any language they desire, we are helping create more resources for more children in many, many more languages.

In the last year we have seen tremendous uptake of localization and translations of stories in languages of the world. When StoryWeaver launched in September 2015 the site had 800 stories and 24 languages. In just one year we have grown to 2200 stories in 52 languages (Indian and International) with almost all new languages added at the behest of our community. StoryWeaver‘s architecture is built for scale and one of the hard choices was to be Unicode compliant. This has allowed us to add complex script languages like Khmer and tribal languages like  Kurukh, Mundari and Sadri with very little effort.

Our embedded translation tool allows people to translate a story to a language of their choice with ease. We have some amazing educators and language enthusiasts translating stories to Tibetan, Santali, Kora, Sanskrit and Konkani on the site, all with the express intent of creating early literacy and reading material for students.

StoryWeaver is proud of the small but vital role we’re playing in preserving tribal languages. Suchana, an organisation in Birbhum, West Bengal is using StoryWeaver in its work with Adivasi children from the Santal and Kora communities. In the 6 Kora villages where Suchana is working,  the language  had never been written before Suchana started making a few children’s books in Kora. Without active intervention,  it is very possible that the next generation will not use it as a first language. StoryWeaver has helped Suchana by improving their ability to create learning materials in Santali and Kora. Their educator-translators have translated 27 stories to Kora (Bengali script) and 19 stories to Santali (Bengali Script) so far.

Similar stories have travelled to us from across borders too. Muhamadreza Bahadur asked us to add Kurdish in both the Roman and Arabic script to the platform.  “Southern Kurdish is an endangered language and I  want to use these translations for two purposes; first, promoting literacy in Southern Kurdish among Kurdish children, and second, enriching a standard Southern Kurdish corpus as an input for corpus linguistics tools to produce dictionaries, grammars, textbooks etc..”

The power to create

StoryWeaver has over 3000 illustrations on the site by some of the country’s most loved children’s book illustrators, aspiring illustrators and even our users. Our create tool allows users to write their own stories using these illustrations. There’s also a category for child created stories to provide budding writers a space to share their work. It’s very exciting to see that we’re able to give unpublished authors a space to write and publish their stories for the world to see. One of the community created stories was recently optioned by a highly respected Indian children’s publishing house and will be published by them next Summer.

There are challenges of course. Quality can be at times variable with regards to translation work. So we’re exploring ways in which we can nurture our community’s talents using the power of digital. An internal review system which will be volunteer driven will help us review work in languages Pratham Books doesn’t have the expertise in. We’re also very excited about launching a new and improved creation interface and are brainstorming on ways in which we can help our users connect more efficiently with one another and readers.

If the last one year has taught us one thing, it’s the power of creative collaboration that a caring community can generate. Our ‘Freedom to Read’ campaign that was launched on International Literacy Day this year hopes to tap into that energy and add stories in 15 new languages by International Mother Language Day (February 21st, 2017). To find out more about the campaign and how you can contribute, click here.

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