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Ghana children’s verbal stories turned into school books

Students page through one of the books they created

Folk tales come to life in print thanks to team of UBC teacher candidates 

Verbal stories, handed down for generations, are now published in school books in Ghana, thanks to a group of students from UBC’s Okanagan campus.

The seven illustrated books were produced by Nabit children in the village of Bolgatanga, in the Upper East Region of Ghana, with the help of Faculty of Education teacher candidates.

The project is part of PhD student Cindy Bourne’s research exploring the design principles of global service-learning projects. Education students Jessica Bens, Holly Corbett, Meghan Epp, Alisha Hoy, Dorothy Marcy, Stephen MacInnis, and Sara Pereira worked with junior high school students in Bolgatanga to choose, illustrate, and write the folklore for the storybooks.

“Reading stories to children is one of our society's greatest pleasures and it has lasting impact—opening doors to imagination, learning, and a love of literature,” says Bourne. “Providing relevant books that reflect their unique culture and the artistic talent of their young people was an honour and an experience that the teacher candidates will never forget.”

The Nabit are a proud people with a rich culture, explains Bourne. Much of the economy is subsistence farming, the region is one of the poorest in Ghana, and there are many challenges in providing education and resources. In the Nabdam school district, there are limited books available for children learning to read.  What books are accessible are often donated from overseas, and while helpful, are often not culturally relevant.

The UBC students worked with two local junior high schools, taking seven local stories and creating English versions, English being the official language in Ghana. The students provided colourful images to go with the stories and translated the work into Nabit. The result is culturally relevant stories, says Bourne. And she describes the moment when community members opened the books for the first time as unforgettable.

Working closely with Ghana partners, Bourne and her doctoral supervisor Susan Crichton, developed the book project so it can provide Faculty of Education teacher candidates with an opportunity to use their knowledge in a meaningful way.  At the same time, they have helped increase English competency for high school students, and provide culturally relevant reading for primary students in Boglatanga.

Interest in the books is widespread across the Nabdam school district. Fundraising activities are underway both in Canada and in Ghana to ensure that copies of the books become available in the primary schools of Bolgatanga and there are plans for more books to be developed.

Meanwhile, UBC graduate student Robyn Giffen has dovetailed her research with the Faculty of Education’s book project. Giffen’s master’s research is creating a writing system for the Nabit people so they can begin to write in their own language as well as in English. Giffen is studying anthropology at UBC’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences and was in Ghana at the same time as the education students. Through the results of her research and the work of the local Nabit Language Committee, the books will also introduce some of the first Nabit words into print.

To view the books visit: http://issuu.com/ubcedo

On the day the books are delivered to Bolgatanga, students and villagers pore over their own colourful illustrations on the pages and read the words they helped translate.

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