Lets Read! digital library brings books to Northern Thailand

Asia Foundation Powers access to minority language children’s books

(August 2017, Chiang Mai, Thailand)  In the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, books are rare commodities, and children’s books in languages other than standard Thai are almost non-existent. For speakers of S’gaw Karen, a minority language spoken by nearly one million people primarily living in mostly rural communities, this lack of early-grade content is a barrier to literacy, academic success, and fostering a lifelong love of reading among children.

The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program, in conjunction with local partners—the Inter Mountains Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT) and Foundation for Applied Linguistics (FAL)—are working to remove that barrier through the Let’s Read! project: a free children’s digital library that is accessible via web and Android app. The library contains more than 90 individual titles available in one or more of six languages, including S’gaw Karen.

This library empowers communities by putting culturally relevant, mother-tongue books into the hands of children, teachers, and parents that might not have access to books in minority languages,“This library empowers communities by putting culturally relevant, mother-tongue books into the hands of children, teachers, and parents that might not have access to books in minority languages,” says Melody Zavala, director of Books for Asia. “By digitally publishing books created from within the S’gaw Karen community, in the S’gaw Karen language, we hope to help this underserved community to overcome any initial language barriers and support their full participation in educational opportunities offered by the school system.”

Today, among other celebrations and events related to Global Indigenous People’s Day, The Asia Foundation, IMPECT, and FAL are promoting the digital library among S’gaw Karen community members, many of whom have never before had access to children’s books in their own language. In addition to books in S’gaw Karen (80 in Thai script, 31 in Roman script, and 30 in Lixwa script), the library features 36 books in standard Thai and 40 in English.

Through ongoing partnerships with NGOs and publishers, book creation events, and localization opportunities afforded by the library’s innovative native translation tool, The Asia Foundation plans to expand this collection significantly in 2017 by rolling out the program to additional countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, and Nepal.

Since 1954, The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program has donated print books to thousands of needy educational institutions in 21 Asian countries each year. While print remains the most effective means of delivering information in many parts of the developing world, mobile technology’s increasing affordability suggests e-books hold the promise of becoming a cost-effective, scalable model.

The press release is here.