Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Scientist at Work: Tucker Childs - Linguist’s Preservation Kit Has New Digital Tools" By Chris Nicholson, July 27, 2009, The New York Time

"Scientist at Work: Tucker Childs - Linguist’s Preservation Kit Has New Digital Tools"
Published: July 27, 2009
The New York Times

This must-read article by Chris Nicholson opens this way:
"TEI, Sierra Leone — Jogue, yipe, simoi are three short words for foods in Kim, a language in Sierra Leone that Tucker Childs has been trying, for the past three years, to write down, record and understand.

"Kim is a dying language, and Dr. Childs a field linguist. From his base here in Tei, a small fishing village on the Waanje River, he canoes up the narrow waterways that cut across the river’s floodplain, and hikes a few miles inland, to where the last Kim communities remain. Based on recordings taken there, he has devised an alphabet and compiled a dictionary and is finishing a book on the grammar.

"Africa has about 2,000 of the world’s 6,000 languages. Many are still unwritten, some have yet to be named and many will probably disappear..."

Nicholson writes that today's linguists, using new digital tools, compile language documentation "includ(ing) audio recordings of conversations and folktales, videos of songs and dances, and text transcriptions."

Click here to read the entire article on the New York Times On The Web.

Emmanuel Onyango reports on 6th Pan African Reading For All Conference, 10-14 August 2009 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Award-winning Tanzanian journalist Emmanuel Onyango files an excellent report about the 6th Pan African Reading For All Conference on his blog, Knowledge Matters. Click here to read his post and see photos from the press conference.

The conference will be held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 10-14 August 2009, at the University of Dar Es Salaam.

Mr. Onyango is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in East Africa. Currently he is working as the editor with popular construction magazine Tujenge. He is also a news correspondent with the weekly Business Times newspaper, published by the Business Times Limited in Dar es Salaam. His special interests as a journalist include ICT news.

Click here to read Emmanuel Onyango's complete profile.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"BONGO: The Film -- From the streets of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, comes a story about opportunity for a group of young street hustlers..."

Click here to see the Bongo trailer.

Text quoted below is from Bongo: The Film Press Kit. Click here to read the full press kit and more at the excellent Bongo website.

"It’s true that life is a lottery
There is winning and losing
I've been searching for a long time
But I haven't found success
Still I'm fighting
But I haven't found success"
verse from Maisha Magumu

"From the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, comes a
film about opportunity. Bongo, from the Swahili word
for "brain", represents the cunning resourcefulness
that it takes to survive on the streets of Dar es Salaam
and, for that, the city takes its nickname.

"From these streets came a movement that has taken
the music industry by storm and has created a new
voice for the younger generation that is being heard by
millions. They call this music Bongo Flava.

For the msela, the young street hustlers in Dar, Bongo Flava is
an identity [scroll down for details under Bongo Flava heading].

As a major force in mainstream media,
success stories of youth who 'made it big' as hip
hop artists straight off the streets have become a
source of inspiration for a generation of youth hoping
to catch a similar break.

"That break came for a group of msela when Urban
Project, an unconventional charity, stepped in and told
them that they were going to have an opportunity to
record an album of their hip hop. Suddenly, they were
tasked with the responsibility to find a studio, seek out
a willing producer, and write and record an album. Not
only that, they were presented with a chance to
improve their lives for the better. The story lies in how
they responded to these expectations and whether
they were able to live up to them.

"Over the course of six weeks, dramatic power shifts
occurred as the group realized that the hierarchy on
the streets didn't translate into the recording studio.
Close friendships were stretched to breaking points,
and an unlikely member of the group proved to be a
diamond in the rough..."

Bongo Flava - text is quoted from the Film page of the Bongo website.

Bongo Flava is a unique blend of story-telling, East-African song, and Western-inspired hip-hop that has taken the African music industry by storm and has created new voice for a generation of youth that is being heard by millions. For the msela, it is a microphone to express life, love, loss and ambition and a megaphone with which they voice their frustrations of the life on the streets that they were unwillingly thrust into. The lyrics of Bongo Flava tracks can be oppositional and rebellious in nature; they oftentimes express social critique and detail the hardships of life among marginalized Tanzanian youth. However, success stories of youth who ‘made it big’ as hip hop artists straight off the streets are a source of inspiration for young people hoping to catch a similar break. From the perspective of many young people living and working on the streets of Dar es Salaam, Bongo Flava is a musical genre that originated among and continues to be dominated by streetwise gangsters.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"‘Tis the quality of what we produce that will make us global, not English" by Young Kimaro, columnist, Daily News Online, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

‘Tis the quality of what we produce that will make us global, not English
by Young Kimaro
Development with Commonsense column
For May 10th, 2008 issue of the Daily News

According to an article in the Citizen of April 30, the Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Prof. Maghembe, wants to make English the medium of teaching and learning at all levels of Tanzanian education system, as soon as possible.

The reasons he reportedly gave were that “English is the recognized medium of instruction and communication in the world and, according to him, everyone is encouraged to learn it in the hope of keeping pace with the… globalization process.” But he recognizes that there are many challenges – lack of English-proficient teachers at all levels, lack of books – that may slow down the implement by five years.

What if the reasons for which English is about to be enthroned again in Tanzania are misplaced, fallacious?

The “we need English to participate in globalization” mantra has taken hold of Tanzania. It is chanted repeatedly by people of all ages, so much so that despite the fallacy of its assumption it has donned an air of unassailable truth.

Don’t they say if a lie is repeated often enough, even the liar himself will begin to believe it? So, assail we must this pretender to unassailability.

English is the medium of instruction in the U.K. and its ex-colonies as French is the medium of instruction in France, German in Germany, Swedish in Sweden, Dutch in Holland, Japanese in Japan, Spanish in Spain, Danish in Denmark, Korean in Korea and so on. Let’s get it straight. English is one of many, not “the” medium of instruction around the world.

Do you suppose that those countries listed whose people don’t all speak fluent English, struggle to keep up with globalization as some English speakers might want us to believe? Not in the least bit. They “lead” the globalization process in many areas, ahead of their English speaking counterparts. More than half of the countries listed have average income that is higher than those of the U.K. or the U.S.A. Doesn’t that drive home the point?

Japanese products – Sony, Toyota, Nissan, Nikon, Hitachi, Sanyo, and National have become household words even in remote villages. It wasn’t English that Japanese don’t speak that made them so, but the “quality” of their product that made them highly sought after even in our villages.

Yes, people in these non-English speaking countries all learn English. They do so for the convenience of it. English has indeed become the lingua franca of the world. That has more to do with history than inherent merit of the English language. England was, afterall, the leading colonial master from the 18th to 20th century. Three centuries is a long time, long enough for a language that was imposed to stick.

Wouldn’t we love to export to our neighbouring countries cars that we have started to assemble in Tanzania? What if that company spent money to train every single person in that car factory, from the floor sweeper to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to speak English fluently? What if, instead, that money was spent on quality enhancement and quality control so that they end up producing better cars?

Wouldn’t a CEO who is mindful of costs be selective? Would he have only those who need English on the job be trained and devote a larger chunk of the money on product quality enhancement? He wouldn’t train his entire labour force in English. That would be a waste. And yet isn’t that precisely what our Ministry of Education proposes to do, but in a grander scale involving the entire country?

In Italy, as in all non-English speaking countries, English is taught as a second or third language. The majority of Italians wouldn’t be able to converse comfortably in English. Still, Italy “leads” the world in tourism, hands down. With them, there is no “hoping” to keep up with globalization for them.

It’s not English but the quality of our products that will earn us a place in the globalization process. Why then do we persist, wanting to put all bets on English when improved math skills, science, entrepreneurship, management and marketing skills could serve us better?

No Kiswahili in schools means Kiswahili will fade away in large parts of the country where it is not the mother tongue. English will replace Kiswahili as the country’s lingua franca, the only means of uniting 120 some ethnic groups throughout the country that have their own distinct languages.

Gone will be our national pride for having an African language to unify us rather than a language that has a stamp of colonial legacy. And we would have spent hundreds of billions of shillings with the hope that English will make us more global when that “hope” may be nothing but our misplaced, wishful thinking.


Peace Through Fiction and "text connections" reading theory

Peace Through Fiction uses the reading theory called "text connections." Text connections happen when the reader makes a personal connection from a story to something in his/her own life. "Good readers learn how to read deeper, with more meaning, when they make real-world connections to the text" -- reflecting on themselves and the people they know.

Click this link to access excellent "text connections" resources, including posters and worksheets, at Effective Teaching Solutions.com.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Of what good is adult literacy if it can't be put to use?" by Young Kimaro, columnist, the Daily News Online, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Of what good is adult literacy if it can’t be put to use?
by Young Kimaro
Development with Commonsense column
March 1, 2008 issue of the Daily News

In 2005, adult literacy rates (of those 15 years or older) in Asia, Europe and North America averaged over 90 percent; in the Middle East and North Africa, 73 percent; Sub-Saharan Africa trailed behind with 59 percent ; and in Tanzania, 64 percent.

For Tanzania that has had uninterrupted stability in a continent that’s in constant turmoil, an adult literacy rate that beats the continent average by only 5 percentage points is hardly an achievement.

If statistics and memory serve me right, Tanzania’s adult literacy rate has been on a cyclical seesaw. It shot up to over 90 percent in the early 1980s, following a drive for Universal Primary Education in the late 1970s that combined with a vigorous adult literacy campaign. A decade later, it had slid down to the 60 percent range.

Another campaign together with another Universal Primary Education drive in the 1990s bounced the rate back up. A decade later it slid down to the 60 percent range again.

The Government is stirring to launch yet another literacy campaign to bounce the seesaw back up. But of what good is billions of shillings spent on adult literacy campaign, to individuals or to the country, if that literacy skill won’t stick?

Perhaps we could learn from a villager who explains why he lost his hard earned reading skills.

“I was so proud to be able to read finally. My children, too, were proud. I wanted to read and learn more about farming, about the world. But after I finished the course I had nothing to read. Not a single shop in my village sells books; no newspaper reaches us. It’s very discouraging.”

No books, no newspapers, nothing to read. Literacy skill, left unused, is lost with time. Guaranteed.

Perhaps our point of attack shouldn’t be another run-of-the-mill “literacy” campaign, but one with a broader perspective, one that will also mind getting reading materials out to villages so that the hard-earned reading skills could be put to good use.

We can’t afford to flood the country with books for adult readers, not for now. But flyers and leaflets should be affordable, especially if inexpensive newsprint paper is used.

These flyers and leaflets could carry practical information on what villagers could do to help themselves. They have to be written in jargon-free, simple and friendly language that even a Standard 3 student can understand easily. Topics they could cover are endless.

What to do to avoid contracting the disease during outbreak of an epidemic; how to treat simple avoid tetanus from simple cuts; what combination of local foods will give children a balanced diet; and so on.

How to terrace a slope to reduce soil erosion and to keep moisture longer in the soil; how to increase maize yields by simply changing planting distances; how to store crops to reduce post-harvest losses by as much as one third; and so on.

What parents could do at home to help their children to perform better in school such as never sending them to school in empty stomach, even if it’s just ripe bananas or boiled sweet potatoes; making sure children review the notes they had taken at school (since most won’t bring books home) that same day; and so on.

Simple stories based on folk tales from around Tanzania or from around the world, written simply so that even parents with newly acquired literacy skills can read to their pre-schoolers.

Parents who read stories to their pre-schoolers will, while they strengthen their own literacy, instill in their young a love for reading which will give the children a competitive edge later in life, in education and at work.

These flyers and leaflets could be posted on bulletin boards in villages that stand mostly empty for want of materials. Maybe extra flyers and leaflets could be available to those who are interested, at cost.

In China, many such bulletin boards carry newspapers for the benefit of villagers. Could that also work in Tanzania to help villagers keep up to date on current affairs while they again practice their reading skills?

If there are no bulletin boards, setting up new ones is no sweat: A few nails, a board, a wall space where there is an overhead cover to protect the board from rain. That’s all it takes.

Choose places where people like to congregate like market places, schools, churches, health centres. These flyers could spice up villagers’ conversations at the market.

Ebu (say), did you see the karatasi (the flyer) about getting your cow to produce more milk? It says you might feed and care for your cows well but if you don’t give them enough water, you won’t get much milk.

I give mine a full ndoo (bucket) each every morning. Isn’t that enough? Not according to the flyer, it isn’t. It says you should give them three or four buckets each every day. More water, more milk. Really?

If these flyers and leaflets are done right, practical knowledge they bring to the people would capture their attention and more will want to read them.

We could then be killing two birds with one stone. Their literacy will be kept up as they read these flyers and, by using the knowledge they bring, villagers could improve their lives.

If our adult literacy program could overcome its “number fixation,” look beyond the classroom, and take on getting reading materials to villages as one of its major concerns, it could launch the entire country onto a path of lifelong learning and empower the people with a ticket out of poverty.

Who said only two birds could be killed with one stone? This could be our third.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Dar Es Salaam Travel Guide - Wiki Travel

Thanks to the Dar Es Salaam Travel Guide, I'm getting excellent travel guidance for my trip -- click this link to visit Wiki Travel's Dar page.

From the Wiki:

"Understand -- Dar es Salaam is certainly not at the top of the list of places to see for most visitors to Tanzania. It's often a necessary stop on their way to Zanzibar, the northern safari circuit or home. That being said, Dar has its charm. Walks around the city center are a great way to get a feel for the culture and Kariakoo market can be an interesting place for the more adventurous. It can also be a good base for visiting some of the nearby sites such as Bagamoyo, Bongoyo and Mbudja Islands, as well as learn to scuba dive or go deep sea fishing. For those looking for something more humanitarian, most international organizations are based in Dar and may be a good starting point if you wish to volunteer...

"Dar es Salaam (Haven of Peace in Arabic) was founded in 1862 by Sultan Seyyid Majid of Zanzibar on the site of the village of Mzizima. Mzizima's history dates back to the time when the Barawa people started to settle and cultivate the area around Mbwa Maji, Magogoni, Mjimwema, Gezaulole and Kibonde Maji Mbagara.

"Present day Dar es Salaam's origins have been influenced by myriad of Sultans, the Germans and the British. The city started as a fishing village in the mid 19th century, is now Tanzania's largest city, and has become one of East Africa’s most important ports and trading centers.

"With its great atmosphere, mix of African, Muslim, and South Asian influences, picturesque harbour, beaches, chaotic markets, and historical buildings, it is well worth extending your stay beyond the time between flights.

"Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's financial and political hub despite having lost its status as official capital to Dodoma in 1973."

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Urgently needed -- mutual inter-faith tolerance" by Makwaia wa KUHENGA, Daily News Online, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

"Urgently needed -- mutual inter-faith tolerance" by Makwaia wa KUHENGA

Makwaia wa KUHENGA also hosts a lively weekly TV Show on local Channel Ten: Je, Tutafika? E-mail: makwaia@bol.co.tz

The times they are a-changin' in long-peaceful Tanzania --

"It is the same Tanzanian society comprising of Muslims, Christians and pagans that have accepted a Sunday and Saturday as ‘resting’ days without resort or demand for a referendum or Constitutional amendment in conformity with the secular state. The Muslims have never pushed for a Friday as a ‘resting’ day. Muslims and Christians have since times immemorial lived together as brothers and sisters in this country.

"In neighbourhoods across the country, people celebrate respective religious holidays from Christmas to Eid-El-fitr together. A Christian will ensure his Muslim neighbour is comfortable on invitation for lunch or dinner by ensuring that chicken or any other animal had been slaughtered in accordance with his Muslim invitee’s rites.

"But in the intervening period, especially after the Muslim demand for the introduction of Kadhi courts and the possibility of Tanzanian membership to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), bad blood seem to have been infused in this seemingly happy Tanzanian society, which has before learned to live in mutual tolerance and sharing the cost for peaceful co-existence..."

Click here to read the entire article - "Urgently needed -- mutual inter-faith tolerance" by Makwaia wa Kuhenga, Daily News Online, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Realtime Web for the Bottom Billion" by Jon Gosier of Appfrica Labs

Jonathan Gosier is a software developer, writer and social entrepreneur. He currently lives in Kampala, Uganda where he incubates and invests in East African entrepreneurs as the CEO of Appfrica Labs. He's also a 2009 TEDGlobal Fellow.

An excerpt from the beginning of Gosier's blog article, "Realtime Wed for the Bottom Billion," is posted below.

Click here to read the entire post, "Realtime Web for the Bottom Billion"

"Recently there’s been an explosion in the relevance of ‘real-time’ applications like Friend Feed and Twitter. The ability to get information from the masses on one part of the planet to the masses somewhere else has never been greater. Still, despite all the wonders that devices like the iPhone, apps like Twitterific and search engines like Scoopler provide, does any of it really matter to billions of people who still send messages hundreds of miles by foot or auto-rickshaw because it’s their fastest option? Currently there are approximately three billion people on the planet who don’t have access to the internet or other forms of information technology. Even the most common knowledge you’d find at your local public library eludes them for most of their lives. At Questionbox.org we’re very aware of this and we apply technology in ways that ensures information is available to all the world’s people.

"Question Box is a service being piloted in Uganda and India that allows anyone to call and ask questions to operators that speak their local language. Literacy both in written languages and especially in computing technology is a luxury for most of the people on the planet. In developed nations, we often take this for granted when developing solutions for the poor. If people can’t read, what good is it to bombard them with free SMS messages (no matter how informative they might be)? Likewise, if women aren’t allowed in places where men congregate (in some countries this is the culture), how can we ensure they have access to the same basic information as men, especially in areas of health and personal well-being? How do NGO’s and other organizations know where solutions might be better deployed if it turns out the data they’re using for scoping an area is outdated? These are the the types of problems that Question Box hopes to offer scalable solutions to..."

Click here to read the entire post, "Realtime Web for the Bottom Billion"

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Field Notes: What Ails Bibliotherapy?" by Maeve Visser Knoth

It's cool to serendipitously find a kindred spirit --and a joy to find a simpatico thinker who articulates perfectly what you've been thinking but didn't have the eloquence to put on paper (or a blog post).

That's how I felt recently when I discovered Maeve Visser Knoth's article, "Field Notes: What Ails Bibliotherapy?" (May/June 2006, The Horn Book Magazine)

Here are the highlights that are most significant and meaningful for me. All quotes are from the above-linked article by Maeve Visser Knoth (bolded sections are mine):

"Mention the word bibliotherapy, and children's librarians and booksellers have similar tales to tell. The stories go something like this: a well-intentioned parent comes in and asks for a book about death. . .The parent is looking for a book that exactly mirror her own life.

"Teachers also, with the very best of intentions, search for books that will address the emotional lives of the children in their care. . .

"The more I think about my aversion to this type of bibliotherapy, the more I define my own approach to children and books as 'advance' bibliotherapy. Rather than address what is happening in the present, I am inclined to prepare children for emotional experiences before they occur. . .

"I don't have reams of research to back up my approach to reading, but I do have years of observations from working with children in the library and in classrooms and, more personally, some experiences from my own life as a reader and the lives of my children. . ."

In describing how she found comfort from Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light, Ms. Knoth writes, "I am not even sure that I remembered the book correctly, but that did not matter. I took what I needed from the novel and applied it to the events in my life."

"I also make a point of reading about the 'hard' stuff long before my children might need the emotional information. . .Sharing emotionally complex books before a difficult experience occurs may give children the ability to practice their own personal bibliotherapy."

Click this link to visit Maeve Visser Knoth's blog.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"What books on good farming practices for our farmers?" by Young Kimaro, columnist for the Daily News, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Young Kimaro writes the "Development with Commonsense" column for the Daily News in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Her articles are informative, rich with food for thought as well as pragmatic solutions.

This is one of Ms. Kimaro's recent columns on education and reading. Please feel free to post a comment.

What books on good farming practices for our farmers?
by Young Kimaro
Development with Commonsense column
February 7th issue of the Daily News

Not much as far as I know. Few pamphlets here and there perhaps. Don’t know whether they reach the farmers, though. Haven’t seen any sign of them around our village.

I once scoured around Dar es Salaam in search of reading materials in Kiswhaili on better farming practices and animal husbandry, written simply and with good illustrations suitable for farmers. My experience was much like Teben’s. Bookshops around the city were slim on books in Kiswahili. The recently opened Soma Book CafĂ© carries more books in Kiswahili than any that I have seen so far, but when it comes to books on farming and livestock they too didn’t make the mark.

I am directed to one agricultural project office near the Askari monument. No, we don’t handle such publications. Sorry. Perhaps you should try our main office at Chang’ombe. The Livestock Ministry is right there too. They are sure to have what you are looking for. Everything.

O.K. Agricultural Extension folks interact with farmers all the time. If anyone has those materials, surely it would be them. So, with raised hopes I plunge into the Dar es Salaam traffic and head out to Chang’ombe.

A spiel to one of the senior officers: Looking for books on improved farming for villagers – crops, livestock, chicken rearing. I wait in anticipation as she opens the glass door to a bookcase by her desk in which are several rows of small booklets standing tightly packed. She pulls out a few. What about these?

“Enriched Compost for Higher Yields”, “How to Control Striga and Stemborer in Maize”, “Improved Practices in Rearing Indigenous Chickens,” and more. They are part of a “CTA Practical Guide Series” financed by the European Union. They come with simple and easy to follow diagrams and tables.

I can’t hide my excitement. Yes, yes, precisely. These are exactly what I am looking for but, but … in Kiswahili? She shakes her head. Used to have some but no more. No funds. Perhaps the Library…. She leads me through the corridors.

The Librarian offers a few more of the same pamphlets, all in English. Aren’t there any in Kiswahili? The Librarian shakes her head. Sorry. How come? Most of the farmers in Tanzania don’t read English but these are all in English? How come? Who are they for?

The Librarian is taken back by the sudden outburst that’s unfairly hurled at her. After all, she only keeps what’s given to her. She quickly ushers me to an mzee seated at one corner of the Library, reading. Mr. Eusebio Mlay’s one of our senior officers. Maybe he can help you. With that she wastes no time retreating to the safety of the book stacks.

Mr. Mlay had overheard the commotion and is bemused. May be our Ministry’s Training Unit will have what you are looking for. Come. He folds up what he was doing and leads out of the building into the blazing sun to another building, a little walk away.

A large office is filled with desks but only one at the far end is occupied. The officer responds stiffly to our greetings; bad sign. My spiel again, why I am here, what I am looking for. He pulls out a few books, real books, containing a wealth of information.

Don’t have any extra copies now, he explains. New order’s in for the next round of training. When the new batch arrives, can the Ministry possibly donate a few to a community library in our village? Not possible. Regulations. He is categorical, unyielding even to his colleague’s entreaties. We cut our losses short and scoot out of there.

Mr. Mlay wants us to try just one more office. It’s already well past the office hour but Mr. Kirenga, the new Assistant Director of Extension Services is still at his desk and kindly obliges a stranger knocking at his door without appointment.

For the seventh time that day the broken record plays the spiel again. But I sense it’s different this time. A shared concern lingers in the air.

At one time, says Mr. Kirenga, the Adult Literacy Program folks produced wonderful booklets on improved farming and practical guides on many other topics for adults. That probably was the reason why those literacy programs did so well. But they don’t do that any more. Their materials are very hard to come by. We had good work done, but we seem to have dropped the ball.

He had to scrounge around for them, says Mr. Kirenga, as he hands over a thick folder. Inside it are the very treasures I have been searching for: practical guides with simple illustrations to help farmers improve their farming and livestock keeping practices, all in … yes, Kiswahili! But these are the only copies he has. If only these could be reprinted and made widely available. Perhaps, in his new position he can make it all happen. Perhaps.

On my way out, as we pass his office Mr. Mlay pops in for a brief moment then comes out with few books in hand, the ones we were denied at the Training office. Homework, I surmise, remembering them days. But I am wrong. He holds the books out to me. Mama, these are for your library. Take them.


Notes from Yochai Benkler's "The Wealth of Networks" video

From my personal notes -- here are highlights of Yochai Benkler's "Wealth of Networks" video, which is embedded below.

21st-century: we have a networked economy of knowledge, information, and culture

Web 2.0 provides platforms for self-expression and collaboration

decentralizes production and human creativity,
harnesses huge capacity of human creativity

this autonomy changes us from consumers-only to creators and users

but: social production threatens the status quo of 20th-century business models

mass-media recorded music and film taught us passivity --
but: now we have the reemergence of a new form of folk culture, through the networked economy -- and it gives a new determination of who can tell stories about how we can live our lives together

"we" in this context means we who believe in policies that support growth and innovation, freedom and justice, decentralizing capitalization, and supporting human capital and creativity.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"And what about books in Swahili for our children to read" by Young Kimaro, columnist, the Daily News in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Young Kimaro writes the "Development with Commonsense" column for the Daily News in Dar Es Salaam. Her articles are informative, rich with food for thought as well as pragmatic solutions. An excellent example: Ms. Kimaro's proposal for "science stimulus packages" for secondary schools in Tanzania. See my previous post for a link to that article.

I asked Ms. Kimaro if she had written additional columns on education and reading -- and was delighted when she sent me several more to share.

This is the first of four columns I'll post here. Please feel free to write a comment after reading.

"And what about books in Swahili for our children to read"
by Young Kimaro
Development with Commonsense column
For January 31st issue of the Daily New

“You goofed in your last article,” chides my good old friend Teben. “Of what use is saying all those nice things about reading when that’s out of reach of so many people in Tanzania? Don’t you think the majority of Tanzanians don’t read because they don’t have anything to read?” Teben’s of course right. In Tanzania, books and even newspapers are hard to come by outside major urban areas.

It’s a complex issue. I was sidestepping it by touching the easiest facet, those who have access to books and yet do not read. Now that Teben has forced the issue and she won’t let me get away with it, so tackle it I must, perhaps in bite-sizes starting with children’s books.

I remember one time Teben wanted to buy books as Christmas gift for all the children of Tanzanian staff at her embassy. She scoured around Dar es Salaam for children’s books in Swahili, colourful books that children would find irresistible, books with large prints and short simple texts that make reading fun and not a chore for the young.

It was so hard for her to find books in Swahili to begin with and the few that came close to what she was looking for were expensive. Books for teenagers … well they were so dull and uninviting. She ended up abandonning the idea altogether.

How can this be? If we want a reading culture to develop, our children have to get into the habit of reading from very young age. But how can they if they don’t have books in Swahili? Instead of lofty speeches shouldn’t Government officials pay attention to how books can be made available? OK, it’s not the Government’s job to publish books. Isn’t it its job to be a catalyst to help it to happen? But instead it may have discouraged it.

The Governmnet has allowed the language issue to drag on unresolved for years. The possibility that we might switch out of Swahili to English rears its head every so often, often enough to discourage publishers from investing in books in Swahili. They won’t risk it if their market could be wiped out overnight with a stroke of pen. Can’t blame them.

Even if the language issue were resolved today, it will take time for creative authors and illustrators to come along in sufficient numbers. There’s nonetheless plenty to do in the meantime. We could tap the classics in world literature. No, I don’t mean translating the original texts. That’s an enormous task that requires not only the ability to translate but also literary skills of highest order in Swahili itself to do justice to those masterpieces.

Translating abridged versions of these classics though, and some of them are already trimmed to barebones for young children, would be not be hard to do.

Reading an abridged version of “the Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens in Swahili, our children will witness how absolute power in the hands of a few in France before the French Revolution created an overly indulgent ruling class that was so wrapped up in privileges and self-importance that it had no feeling for the plight of the poor, hungry and angry masses.

Children will learn that democracy had a violent birth in France, that it rose against the backdrop of an over-worked guillotine that came swishing down time and again, dispatching many among whom was Marie-Antoinette who thought cake should solve the hunger problem of the masses.

Shakespeare’s plays have already been recast into short stories. Charles and Mary Lamb’s “The Tales of Shakespeare” is much read by children in England. Those too would lend well to translation.

That would acquaint our children with Hamlet’s excessive ruminations that rob him of the ability to act. They will see in Macbeth the destruction that one can bring on oneself by failing to curb blind ambition. They will revel at the timeless romance of Romeo and Juliet and grieve over their death that shouldn’t have been.

What if these tales of Shakespeare were in Swahili, illustrated in very African fashion with colourful kitenge and kanga designs as backdrop?

Lift up your vista, publishers. Go invest in books in Swahili, big time. Let our stores overflow with them so that our children can read. It’s not as risky as you think. The market for books in Swahili stretches beyond our borders and that’s your insurance. Look at the Swahili speaking population in parts of Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Comoros, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, even Somalia and Sudan if they weren’t fighting. Don’t their numbers add up to a sizable market, all there for you to tap?

Think of it. No policy-maker could rob that from you with a stroke of pen unless, unless … exporting books in Swahili is banned. Oh, oh ….