UNESCO and Norad mobilize youth to translate storybooks into ethnic minority languages in Bangladesh

In the framework of the Translate a Story campaign, a book translation campaign to facilitate home-based early age reading, the Ministry of Education of Bangladesh translated over 300 children’s books from English into Bangla and 100 books into five ethnic minority languages (Chakma, Marma, Garo, Tripura and Sadri). The campaign is a collaboration between UNESCO and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), with the support of other partners. As part of this initiative, UNESCO and partners, through a team of the Global Digital Library (GDL), convene dedicated translation webinars for governmental agencies and individual translators who are interested in translating reading materials from English into relevant national languages. All translated books undergo a quality assurance process and are made freely available on the GDL platform. With relevant preparations and expertise made available from the governmental agencies, translated books can be aligned with curriculum standards, so that the books can also quickly be approved for later use in the classroom or on the national platform.

The Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme, the Bangladesh government’s flagship digital transformation program, supported the translation in Bangladesh. Over 100 voluntary teachers and students were mobilized to translate the books. To guide them through the translation process using the online translation interface of the Global Digital Library, UNESCO and Norad organized an online workshop which was attended by 150 participants.

To officially launch the translated e-books on the Global Digital Library (GDL), a2i ICT Division, and the Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO (BNCU), together with UNESCO Dhaka Office, jointly organized a virtual launch event on Tuesday 6 July 2021.

The launch event marked an important opportunity to recognize the achievements of engaged volunteers and organizers in making early age reading materials available to children in languages they speak at home, which allows for better home-based learning and reading for children.

The launch event of the Translate a Story initiative will contribute to the scale-up of the E9 Digital Learning and Skills for All Initiative, under which a meeting of Heads of State will be convened and chaired by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Sheikh Hasina and the UN Secretary-General. The meeting was originally planned on 14 July 2021 but has been postponed due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.

In addition to representatives from UNESCO and Norad, the launch event was attended by Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education of Bangladesh, Mr. Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury, Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Md. Mahbub Hossain, Secretary of the Secondary and Higher Education Division at the Ministry of Education and Mr. Md. Shohel Imam Khan, Deputy Secretary General of the BNCU.

The Minister of Education recognized the importance of this initiative in the context of COVID-19 school closures, in supporting Bangladesh’s efforts to ensure the continuity of education, and in scaling up digital learning in the framework of the E9 Digital Learning and Skills for All Initiative. She congratulated UNESCO, Norad, other partners and especially the young translators and their mentors for the success of this Initiative.

One teacher and two students were also invited to share their experience about the translation process. Ms Farjana Anwar, Assistant Teacher of English at the Ikkshu Gabeshawana High School (Ishwardi, Pabna district), shared how the experience helped her practice her management skills and highlighted the resilience of the Bangladesh education system during the pandemic. “We are the nation of the brave and we proved it, managing all the respected duties, even in this pandemic situation to support our government from our position,” she said.

Anonyo Zarif Akand, a student of grade 7 at The Holy Child School in Manikganj district, recollected the joy of reading since he was a young child, and was pleased to participate in the effort to enable learners in remote areas of Bangladesh, including visually impaired children, to access reading material in their mother tongues. “That’s where we, the army of little book lovers from around the nation, were allowed to translate the books so that the children can enjoy them in their native languages. It was a very delightful experience to work with many other bibliophiles.”

Samaina Sultana Shorna, another student who participated in the translation, said she enjoyed participating in an international project for the very first time while gathering experience and learning new skills. “Throughout this journey, I was introduced to new features and technology so it improved my digital literacy. I have learned how collaboration and teamwork is needed when it comes to solving a problem. But most importantly, I did something good for my country, and especially for the children of this country.”

Christer Gundersen, Chief Technology Officer of the Global Digital Library (GDL), representing Norad, underlined the success of the campaign in Bangladesh, making it a pathfinding country for others to follow their example, especially in mobilizing such a large number of young translators. The Library currently offers over 6000 books in 84 different languages thanks to the efforts of volunteers and translators from around the world who joined the campaign. The goal of this year’s campaign is to reach 4400 translation, including 1500 government-approved books. Mid-way through the campaign, 2500 translations have already been completed. Additionally, the newly added AI-powered feature of the Global Digital Library allows visually impaired children to listen to the text in audio.

The cooperation between UNESCO and Norad on Translate a Story has been led and implemented by the Unit for Technology and AI in Education, Future of Learning and Innovation Team of the Education Sector. According to Dr. Fengchun Miao, Chief of the Unit, Bangladesh is leading in the number of books translated, followed by Palestine which translated 244 books into Arabic and then Uzbekistan which translated 130 books into Uzbek and 100 books into Russian. UNESCO is also working with Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan and Qatar. As a next step, UNESCO will follow up on the actual use of the books in the local context, through online facilitation via the GDL and offline support. UNESCO also seeks to create a list of inclusive digital storybooks in mother-tongue languages approved by governments.