Original Research-Special Collection: Reducing inequalities in and through literacy in the early years of schooling

Countering linguistic imperialism with stories in the languages of Africa: The African Storybook initiative as a model for enabling in and out of school literacies

Yvonne Reed
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 9, No 1 | a637 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v9i1.637 | © 2019 Yvonne Reed | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 March 2018 | Published: 28 March 2019

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Yvonne Reed, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Background: In South Africa, and in many other African countries, official language-in-education policy supports the use of learners’ primary language(s) in early schooling. In reality, texts in the language(s) of the former colonial power are dominant, with high-interest texts in languages familiar to young learners in short supply or non-existent. Where government education departments have begun to address this shortage, it is mainly by producing graded readers in the ‘standard’ variety of a language.

Aim: The main aim of this paper is to demonstrate how quality texts can be provided in a wide range of African languages to stimulate children’s interest in reading, across the African continent and beyond.

Setting: The African Storybook (ASb) initiative of the South African Institute of Distance Education (Saide) aims to provide illustrated texts in local languages and language varieties that enable children to read for pleasure and for learning. This is done through a publishing model that makes these texts available, cost-effectively, as needed, by teachers, librarians and caregivers.

Methods: Internal reports, external evaluations, two interviews with the initiative’s co-ordinator and a review of selected texts on the ASb website provided data for analysis.

Results: The analysis enabled reflection on the challenges faced and the successes achieved, identification of factors that have enabled many of the challenges to be addressed and finally consideration of what the initiative offers as a model for supporting literacy development in local languages.

Conclusion: While the paper tells a story that includes elements of a cautionary tale, it is primarily a story that offers inspiration and guidance to other organisations already involved in, or wishing to embark on, the important project of providing texts for young readers in a wide range of languages.


African Storybook initiative; literacy in African languages; digital open licence publishing model; cost-effective children’s texts


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