Early literacy in Africa-the promise of the digitization of African storytelling
Africa is the only continent where the languages of instruction in schools are predominantly foreign to the learners and as a result many African children fail to acquire the basic literacy competency that provides the foundation for other competencies such as writing and arithmetic. Policies supporting the use of mother tongue as medium of instruction in schools are very difficult to implement in many African countries as political and economic factors have combined to stifle the emergence of a genuine political will to act. The plethora of African languages in one single country and the political balancing act to choose one or a few languages as media of instruction in multiethnic countries have made it almost impossible to have a national consensus on the subject. As a result, Africa continues to spend billions of dollars to procure textbooks and teaching materials from European countries whose languages are being used in schools and official business. This situation has created an economic lobby, nationally and internationally, strong enough to counter any serious move to develop an indigenous book industry using mother tongues. All in all, this situation has made mother-tongue textbooks publishing a cost-ineffective venture due to low demand. Against this impeding political and economic background, however, there is the pedagogical imperative. Over the last five decades a solid body of research has emerged that shows that learning to read in a language that one is not familiar with is much harder as children are faced with the difficult task of decoding the written word and at the same time making sense of it. Moreover, most of the stories contained in the imported textbooks are more often than not disconnected from the cultures and the immediate social environments of the children as most of the writers, editors and publishers are not Africans.