Empowering African writers to publish quality reading materials in local languages

Today we celebrate World Book and Copyright Day. The partnership between the ADEA, USAID and the Global Book Alliance aims to ensure children across Africa can access quality texts to read.

Young girls share a textbook in class. Benin. CREDIT: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

This is the 4th blog post published in 2019 as part of the collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Since 2016, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Book Alliance (GBA), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have collaborated to find solutions to face the lack of suitable, relevant and quality reading materials in both print and electronic formats for children in Africa. This partnership also tackles the important issue of open licensing for books in national languages to ensure wide and easy access to everyone, everywhere.

The importance of World Book and Copyright Day in Africa

Most African governments have not managed to work with their publishing industries to ensure that materials required in schools and at home meet the reading needs of children, especially in local languages.  Today as we celebrate World Book and Copyright Day, we are reminded that books are not only an important educational instrument but also a means of cultural expression, that can be used for spreading peace and knowledge throughout the world.

Books are at the intersection of some of the most essential human freedoms, primarily freedom of expression and freedom to publish. These are fragile freedoms.

Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO.

World Book and Copyright Day pays a tribute to books and authors, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered social and cultural progress of humanity.

It is also a celebration of authors, illustrators, publishers and booksellers and most importantly, it is a celebration of the art of reading. Indeed, it is the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world. I

Reading and 21st century skills: How to ensure that children in Africa are not left behind?

Reading is rightly regarded as the only skill upon which the acquisition of every other skill depends. Indeed, without the ability to read, especially in mother tongues, it would not be possible for humankind to gain knowledge and skills that are critical in achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Africa Union Agenda 2063 and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 (CESA16-25).  

ADEA, USAID and GBA are therefore keen to work closely with like-minded organizations to ensure that children in Africa are not left behind in the acquisition of skills and habits that are so fundamental, especially in the 21st century where specialized skills are a prerequisite for successful living.

ADEA, USAID and GBA are planning for a forum in June 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya, to bring together high-level representatives from the African Union, international development agencies and stakeholders in the book industries across Africa. The forum will serve to create awareness and discuss the uptake of the need for national book and reading policies, a concept that African countries have ignored to their peril.

National book and reading policies are required not only to make order in the book industry but also to ensure that the right content (greater indigenous publishing in content, language and in digital formats),  the right place (accessibility of bookshops, libraries and other distribution channels), and the right price (affordable, given the socio-economic conditions that exist in Africa) are guaranteed in support of quality education and lifelong learning.

Legal action through the Ministries of Education or Culture will enable to enact laws setting up National Book and Reading Development Councils (NBRDCs). Their objective will be to advise governments on the enforcement and implementation of the Book Law and on the development of a National Book and Reading Policy. They will also harmonize state and private-sector interests and efforts for the sustained and democratic development of the national publishing process.

According to UNESCO, a national book and reading policy is a coherent set of regulations and indicators established by the national authority to govern the development, production, printing, distribution and dissemination of books and other reading materials, with the aim of promoting a reading culture.

The backing of the highest national authority is essential since it is not only a question of the allocation of sufficient resources, but also of giving official status to the policy to ensure that it will be implemented.  

We believe that Africa needs to position itself to achieve the SDGs and its own set of targets as stipulated in the Agenda 2063 and the CESA 16-25, if it wants to catch up with the rest of the world. Therefore, all African countries owe it to themselves to formulate their national book and reading policies and establish an NBRDC.

If this is done, chances are high that a sustainable strategy would be put into place to guarantee creation, production, distribution, dissemination and use of relevant reading materials at all levels in languages that they know and understand and in formats that are innovative and interesting to the users.

How to make the book industry more responsive to the reading needs of all

The ADEA-USAID-GBA partnership facilitates forums with book industry stakeholders that resulted in the formation of an Africa Publishing Collaborative (APC) as well as the strengthened collaboration between and among ADEA, the International Publishers Association (IPA), the African Publishers Network (APNET), and the National Book Development Councils (NBDC).

The hope is that this crucial collaboration will concentrate the efforts to make the book industry more responsive to the reading needs of all. This truly resonates with the objective of the World Book and Copyright Day that celebrates books, freedom to publish and freedom to read.

Join us and let us celebrate together the importance of developing reading skills and have access to quality reading materials anytime and everywhere.

Remember: “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader!”