2021 awards and milestones celebrating early literacy achievements

17 March 2022

2021 awards and milestones celebrating early literacy achievements

By Leanne Rencken

If anything, 2021 has been a more challenging year than 2020 for early literacy in the global South. But as with 2020, this year – with all its pandemic-related setbacks – has also seen a lot of innovation and the sharing of ideas.

Once again, we’ve put together a list of the notable achievements that have come to light this year. If you can think of anything or anyone we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments below.

Image source: Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

We’re looking forward to 2022 and the launch of the early literacy development course – a collaborative project that was conceived by the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) in collaboration with Neil Butcher and Associates. Once complete, the openly licensed course will be piloted with a select number of library staff; following that it will be made available for free, with translation into other languages and adaptation encouraged. Read more about the exciting project here.

AfLIA also engaged a small pool of librarians on the African continent to pilot three learning pathways that were developed by OER Africa as part its grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The pilot project focused on three learning pathways: Find Open Content, Adapt Open Content and Publish using Open Access. These online tutorials on open education are available to anyone to complete via the OER Africa website. You can find them here.

If you’re interested in reading more about how the librarians experienced these learning pathways during the pilot, there’s a lovely interview with the librarians - read it here. If you decide to complete any of the tutorials, tell us more about your experience in the comments below.

Room to Read is tackling the COVID-19 education crisis head on, in a press release published in June 2021, they underlined their commitment to increase their offering, stating their intention to “reach an additional 20 million children and add 10 new countries to its operations by 2025, with ‘COVID-smart’ programs in literacy and girls’ education”.

We’re especially excited to learn the the non-profit organization received a US$25 million grant from philanthropists Mackenzie Scott and Dan Jewett. “This transformational capital comes at a time when it is critical to deploy funds to prevent drop out and learning loss, especially given the tremendous strain to education systems in many countries,” said Dr. Geetha Murali, CEO of Room to Read. “This gift, the single largest in Room to Read’s history, allows us to not only address the immediate education emergency but to invest in scalable approaches across varying contexts to benefit more children’s learning outcomes, more quickly than ever before. We are immensely grateful for this investment, which will shape our capacity to accelerate impact for many years to come.”

Saide’s African Storybook Story Maker App has won the 2021 Tech4Good Awards in Education and was voted the Winner of Winners in the virtual awards ceremony. The Story Maker App is an offline storybook development tool, with an accompanying guide, for teachers, librarians, parents and caregivers to support children to create, publish, read and speak about their own stories using mobile phones or tablets. According to the press release, “the UK-based Tech4Good Awards celebrates fantastic businesses, individuals and initiatives that use digital technologies to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place”.

We were also really thrilled to witness the publishing of the first N/uu language children’s book. Although meant for children, the book titled, Tortoise and Ostrich is actually a little piece of history in the making, as this is the first book published in South Africa’s ancient, endangered N/uu language. Sharing this story is a small, but important step towards keeping the language alive. Read more about the author, Ouma Katrina Esau, and the book here; or buy the book online from Book Circle Capital.

South African organization, Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, which was integral to the launch of the N/uu children’s book, was awarded the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize 2021 for its programme, ‘Using digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages’. Read more about the King Sejong prize here.

In 2020 we celebrated Tanzanian-based non-profit social enterprise, Ubongo for embracing open licensing, and in so doing, making its learning materials even more accessible to African children. Ubongo continues to be celebrated for their remarkable, and innovative work in the early literacy space, and has received a number of awards this year in recognition of their efforts. This includes Grand Challenges Canada’s Rotman Innovation of the Year Award, worth $10 000 Canadian dollars. According to a press release issued by Grand Challenges, “Ubongo was recognized for its transformative innovation of offering evidence-based programming that improves developmental outcomes for children, while using broadcast technology to reach a wide breadth of children across Sub-Saharan Africa”.

Ubongo was also chosen as one of five winners of the of the Theirworld Education Innovation Awards 2021. Based on the Theirworld press release, Ubongo, along with the other winners, will receive “£50 000 scale-ready grants and mentoring to help them make an even bigger impact as they deliver education to vulnerable children.” In addition, Ubongo was also selected as one of 10 winners of Elevate 2021. The prize, according to the press release, includes “US $300,000 funding, expert tools, and support to take their world-changing work to the next level — and inspire others to take action”. Massive congratulations to the dedicated team. We look forward to seeing what they do next!

The Fundza Literacy Trust, based in South Africa, was recognized by the US Library of Congress (LOC) Literacy Awards, and as an honoree, was awarded a prize of US $5000. Read more about their awards and accolades received here. The LOC’s International Prize, worth US $50 000 was awarded to The Luminos Fund which runs “transformative education programmes” in Ethiopia, Lebanon and Liberia.

Let us know what we might have missed in 2021, and what kind of exciting, innovative and life-changing early literacy work we can expect to see in 2022.