An award-winning app has flipped the script, letting children write and publish their life stories

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"This approach has ignited the imagination and given the children an opportunity to write their own storybooks"
"This approach has ignited the imagination and given the children an opportunity to write their own storybooks"

A new African Storybook Story Maker App is making great strides in education by tackling South Africa's lack of access to reading materials, language barriers, literacy development, in a platform for a creative outlet in one swift download.

The issue of literacy in South Africa has long been an ongoing crisis with a literacy rate of only 14%, not far ahead of the global average.

In addressing this issue and many others that plague the African continent, the team of experts at Saide has created an offline storybook development tool, the African Storybook Story Maker App, which subsequently won the 2021 Tech4Good Awards in Education. 

Storybook Maker App is a free and easy-to-use app enabling children to create, illustrate, publish, read, speak and share their own stories in a language of their choice. It also helps teachers, librarians, parents and caregivers to support children using mobile phones or tablets.

The app places emphasis on the importance of giving children a creative outlet, while empowering them to tell their own stories in their home languages.

By handing the pen back to readers and the mic back to listeners of audiobooks, the app puts children in touch with their emotions and permits them a safe place to explore how they feel about various issues, and tell stories personal to them.

"This [Story Maker App] has ignited imaginations and given the children an opportunity to write their own storybooks often about their lived experiences," says Rich Henderson of Lenovo, who sponsor the Tech4Good in Education category.

Also read: 'A piece of my heart': Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida releases her children's book

'Technology can be used for good'

The Story Maker App gives African children the opportunity to write their own stories, inspired by a wealth of storybooks from the African Storybook website, which has over 2 000 unique storybooks and over 6 600 translated storybooks with 222 languages of Africa represented, including all 11 of South Africa's official languages.

The Story Maker App is also used by organisations and communities to create storybooks in marginalized languages to help overcome the dire shortage of published resources in those languages.

"It's important for young children to make sure that they can enjoy stories in their own languages which sets them up cognitively for the future," says Smangele Mathebula, who works for the African Storybooks initiative as the partner and development coordinator for South Africa. "Through the app, we also deal with issues of distribution which are currently at the forefront of publishing challenges." 

"Technology can be used for good, for change, and it is important," Mathebula told Parent24

"We can leverage the power of technology, particularly mobile technology, to make a difference on the continent as far as information and books are concerned because most people have, at the very basic a cell phone."

Also see: How a local storytelling startup is tackling the 'general assault on black culture'

Filling the gaps

Though there is still "a long way to go", the app, which is data-free and free to download, is slowly bridging the gaps in language, while helping teach and practice important literacy skills.

The app provides a platform to fill the gaps where accessibility and inclusion fall through the current technology landscape, providing life-changing resources and tools for those in need, says Henderson.

"It's important for children to be able to express themselves. Reading is not just a cerebral activity – it is related to our emotions and to our culture, so being able to first start with the language you were born speaking makes it easier to read and understand in other languages," says Mathebula. 

"There is a very close relation to being able to enjoy stories in your language and being able to appreciate stories in other languages as well."

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