Competing in the 2020 Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition, University of Cape Town (UCT) student Qhawe Bula and his team have developed a unique digital library comprising a series of read-along children's audiobooks written in South Africa's 11 official languages. This in an effort to change the way young children view literature and language, and to encourage a culture of reading.
The novel idea topped the business ideas category at the regional round of the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition in July. The competition aims to identify top student entrepreneurs at South Africa's public universities, showcase their businesses and attract investors to their enterprises.
South Africa faces enormous literacy challenges: 78% of grade 4 learners can't read for meaning. But Bula's digital library, TAQA, is paving the way for change in this area.
Research indicates that children are likely to learn a second language much faster if they have a firm grasp of their mother tongue. TAQA, Bula said, helps improve children's ability to read in their mother tongue, which, in turn, helps them to learn how to read and understand a second language much easier.
"TAQA's main aim is to protect and celebrate African cultures and identities. We believe that by leveraging language and technology we can go a long way towards achieving this goal," Bula said.
The platform is aimed at children between the ages of two and nine.
According to Bula, a second-year Bachelor of Social Sciences student, TAQA helps children to read for meaning. And bringing children proudly South African stories that they can relate to, and in languages they understand, is one way of doing that. It teaches them the power of storytelling and nurtures a love for reading.
"With TAQA we really want to help grow a love and affinity for reading and improve children's competencies in their mother tongue."
"With TAQA we really want to help grow a love and affinity for reading and improve children's competencies in their mother tongue," he said.
"We want to break down language barriers. They still exist, and doing it will solve many of our problems."
He continued: "We believe that it's important for young South Africans to see themselves and their languages represented and celebrated in mainstream storytelling. We are committed to telling proudly South African stories."
Bula said that TAQA believes in the importance of preserving indigenous languages.
"Languages are far more than just a medium of instruction. They are holders of spirit, thought, imagination and the history of our people," he said.
"The loss of a language is not just the loss of an easily replaceable medium of instruction. It's also the loss of libraries, histories and identities."
The business has already partnered with internationally recognised, award-winning literacy non-profit organisation Nal'ibali to provide a series of audiobook podcasts produced in seven South African languages.
"We'd love to partner with government and other organisations to ensure the platform can be easily accessed by children from all socio-economic backgrounds to encourage and build that culture of reading," Bula said.
Once the platform is fully operational, users will be able to download the TAQA app and pay a monthly subscription fee to access the library.
Bula and his team will join three other UCT student entrepreneurs to compete at the national final in November.