Bridging The Gap : USAID Empowers Teachers to Create Learning Materials in Local Languages
Jun 05, 2021

High school teacher Haguiar Gayak knows the value of education, but when she looks back on her own school years, she still remembers struggling to understand the lessons.

Growing up in Cotabato province on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, Gayak spoke the local language Magindanawn at home with her family. In school, however, Gayak and her classmates could only study in Filipino and English.

“Learning to read and write in other languages like English and Filipino felt strange,” she said.

Many of Gayak’s classmates lost interest and eventually dropped out of school. Coupled with intermittent armed conflicts and civil unrest, close to half of the children who enroll in elementary schools in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi drop out before graduation. Only one out of every ten students who begins primary education in those provinces graduates from junior high school on time. This was one of the many reasons why Gayak chose to become a teacher: to show children and their families the value of literacy.

Since then, the Philippines has implemented a policy requiring teachers to use the local language for instruction in kindergarten to grade three in order to increase literacy. Filipino and English are introduced as the language of instruction after third grade. However, lack of books in students’ mother tongue means many students don’t have the resources they need to establish a strong foundation in literacy.

To address that challenge, USAID is working with The Asia Foundation (TAF) to adapt children’s books into local languages like Gayak’s own mother tongue, Magindanawn, and four other local languages. Over the past year, USAID and TAF conducted four online workshops to translate children’s books in Magindanawn.

When Gayak’s friend and fellow teacher Jennifer Dagadas sent her a link regarding this opportunity to translate children’s books into her mother tongue, Gayak immediately applied. In all, 34 Magindanawn language enthusiasts, including Gayak and Dagadas, were selected to participate.

“Writing stories is my passion. It feels like a dream come true to be part of the program,” said Gayak.

While book adaptation workshops are generally held face-to-face, COVID-19 restrictions meant that this workshop had to be redesigned in an online format. Despite challenges like poor internet connectivity, lack of equipment, and power outages, Gayak and Dagadas said they enjoyed the process.

“I did not mind the technology and internet problems. We enjoyed the whole experience, and I even recruited more friends to join the next workshops,” said Dagadas. “We discovered that we have so much to learn about our language and that we have to explore and go back to our roots.”

During the workshops, the team assigned each volunteer three books to translate within the day. Experienced volunteers received three additional books to translate over the weekend. Each book was carefully selected to promote social and emotional learning while cultivating a love of reading, and translations undergo quality assurance from the Department of Education.

Thanks to the volunteers’ dedication, USAID and TAF successfully translated 45 books into Magindanawn. Twenty-five of these books are now published in the online Let’s Read library, a free digital library for children, while 20 books are still in the final editing stage. These online, mother-tongue based materials give students the resources they need to continue learning in their local languages, even without in-person classes.

So far, the project has trained more than 100 writers, illustrators, and editors and produced nearly 350 children’s books in local languages, with more book adaptation and training workshops planned for the coming year.

“The most challenging part for me was translating the story with proper linguistic and situational context,” said Dagadas. “Now that we have completed the translation, the next step is to write our own stories so our children can read our language and be proud of our identity.”