Bridge Kenya joins the globe in celebrating World Book Day

The Power of Books: A key to culture, identity and literacy

When a pupil picks up a book, with the turn of the first page, they open a world of opportunity.

It is clear books connect us with endless knowledge, but what is perhaps less obvious is how they help create links with culture and identity through storytelling.

This year’s World Book Day, Sunday 23rd April, presents the opportunity to shine a light on the numerous ways’ books enrich young people’s lives – but while doing this, we must discuss literacy as the key that unlocks what all books have to offer.

The theme for this year is “Indigenous Languages”, one that resonates strongly with Bridge International Academies as an education provider that understands the relationship between learning and culture.

In Bridge Kenya schools, Kiswahili, as an indigenous and national language is taught from Grade 1 onwards. These lessons are made up of language activities that include listening, speaking, pre-reading and pre-writing. This enhances the acquisition of language and relevant vocabulary as well as foundational skills and knowledge in speaking, reading and writing in indigenous languages.

Through ensuring pupils have a connection to Kiswahili, young Kenyans can communicate valuable cultural values and norms transmitted across successive generations.

The importance of indigenous languages is amplified in UNESCO’s Global Action Plan of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, saying:

“It is through languages that people embed their worldviews, memory and traditional knowledge, alongside their unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression, whilst – even more significantly – it is through language too that they construct their future.”

In tandem with teaching indigenous languages, ensuring learning materials are culturally relevant and representative is paramount. With this in mind, Bridge Kenya puts rigorous effort into developing and selecting books that achieve this goal.

Every book in a Bridge Kenya school goes through a journey to get there. From working with the Kenyan Government, to guaranteeing each child can engage meaningfully with a textbook through inclusivity on a cultural, religious and language level.

A study of schools using Bridge Kenya pedagogy shows a clear focus on making books and learning materials engaging. All artwork and creative stories in textbooks and workbooks ensure equal visibility of male and female characters, ensuring female characters are in powerful and unconventional roles.

And when a child meaningfully engages with a book the possibilities are endless.

Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay states, “Indeed, books are vital vehicles to access, transmit and promote education, science, culture and information worldwide.”

Books spark ideas, and provide knowledge that puts young people on a path to succeed and realise their potential – but before these benefits can be harnessed, the ability to read must be obtained.

Worryingly, for many children around the world literacy is locked.

The World Bank defines Learning Poverty by assessing the percentage of ten-year-olds who are unable to read or understand a simple story – this definition highlights the importance of literacy. A recent report estimates 9-out-of-10 children, aged ten, in Sub-Saharan Africa live in learning poverty.

These figures are highly concerning, considering 90% of children are missing out on the benefits books offer, and the way they connect to culture and knowledge.

Bridge Kenya leads in the mission to lower Learning Poverty by delivering data-driven pedagogy that ensures pupils are making positive literacy gains.

In a study led by Nobel Prize Laureate Michael Kremer, the effects of Bridge International Academies methodology on literacy are clearly demonstrated. It finds that 82% of Grade 1 pupils in Bridge Kenya schools are able to read a sentence, compared to 27% of children in other schools.

More broadly, the study shows early childhood development pupils at Bridge schools gained almost an additional year and half of learning, learning in two years what pupils in other schools learn in three and a half years – this includes gains in literacy.

Professor Kremer lauded the significance of the study, saying: “After being enrolled for two years, primary school pupils gained the equivalent of almost one extra year of school, and pre-primary pupils gained the equivalent of 1.5 additional years… These test score results are among the largest in the international education literature, particularly for a programme that was operating at this scale.”

Bridge commits to supporting pupils who previously have been left behind in literacy, by priortising equity in education these children can be pulled out of learning poverty. As highlighted in the Kremer Report, the lowest performing pupils make the greatest learning gains.

This World Book Day we must acknowledge the potential books have to inspire, to connect with culture, and to open the door to a world of knowledge – but more importantly, we must use this opportunity to drive the need for investment in literacy transformation.

Only then will the true value of books be unlocked.