eBooks and Family Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Ethiopia


94,101,000 (2013)

Official languages

Amharic; English (there are more than 75 officially recognised regional languages, e.g.: Tigrinya; Oromifa; Tigre; Harari; Agaw; Afar)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1.25 per day)

31% (2011)

Total expenditure on education as % of GNP

4.74 (2010)

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015)

Female: 67.8%
Male: 71.13%
Both sexes: 69.5%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015)

Female: 41.1%
Male: 57.2%
Both sexes: 49.1%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleeBooks and Family Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationCanadian Organization for Development (CODE-Ethiopia)
Language of InstructionAmharic and Oromo
FundingCODE-Ethiopia, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL)
Programme PartnersElectronic Information For Libraries (EIFL) and Canadian Organization for Development (CODE)
Annual Programme CostsUS $20,000. Annual programme cost per learner: US $219.80
Date of Inception2014

Country Context

The linguistic and cultural heritage of Ethiopia is rich and complex. More than 80 ethnic groups, each with its own distinct local languages, live in the country. Some of the languages spoken have a written script, with Amharic the most common (Alidou and Glanz, 2015). Other languages have, more recently, adopted Latin script or used a mixture of Amharic and Latin characters to produce a hybrid script. The multilingual environment has been actively supported by the government since the 90s, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power and led the transition to a federative form of government, which it still leads. Each of the states in the new federation has been encouraged to use local languages for administrative, judiciary and educational purposes. Primary schools classes are conducted in 21 different languages, while some local languages are also used in higher education. Amharic, the official language of the federal government, is taught as a second language in states where it is not the mother language (ibid.). This variety of different linguistic uses and scripts should be taken into account in the design of educational and literacy policies.

Although the federal government has sought to promote primary, secondary and adult education, a large part of the population still struggles with literacy, especially in rural areas and among women (Shenkut, 2005). This has been compounded by the low levels of financial and material resources available for delivering recent education reforms. Many schools are poorly equipped, often lacking reading rooms and libraries, and with access to few books that are outdated or inappropriate for the age or skills level of the students (CODE-Ethiopia, 2015).

However, recent investment in primary and secondary education has overall had a positive impact on young people, though adults have not benefited to the same extent. According to a recent survey, almost half of Ethiopian fathers and a third of mothers have completed primary school, while a significant proportion (45 per cent of fathers and 73 per cent of mothers) have no education (LSMS and World Bank, 2015). Several studies highlight the significant correlation between the culture of literacy within a family and children’s acquisition of literacy skills (Hanemann, 2013). In addition, the risk of school failure and drop-out is lower when parents participate actively in learning activities with their children. Therefore, adult education and literacy skills should be enhanced, not only to respond to adults' needs, but also to enable parents to be more involved in the educational experiences of their children.

Programme Overview

CODE-Ethiopia is a non-profit, non-governmental local organization established in 1994 as a partner of CODE, the Canadian Organization for Development through Education. Since 1959, CODE has supported the publication of books that engage and enhance literacy skills for children and young people, the establishment and the maintenance of libraries, and teacher training around the world. Up to now, Code-Ethiopia has established 97 community libraries (CLs) in rural Ethiopia, serving local communities in ways that reflect their cultural, social and economic lives.

The eBooks and Family Literacy Programme (eBFLP) was piloted between May 2014 and June 2015. Ebooks are digital versions of books, which can be accessed online, by computer or other information and communication technology (ICT) tools, or can be downloaded, printed and used offline by anyone who can access an internet connection or has access to the PDF copy of the eBook. The accessibility characteristic is particularly relevant in a multilingual context where books in local languages are scare. Providing access to the same book in different languages is an immediate response to this need. The accessibility issue is also relevant given the prohibitive cost of having books printed in all the different languages.

The pilot programme was funded by a grant from the Electronic Information for Libraries Public Library Innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP). The grant covered the costs of providing the three pilot libraries with computers, LCD projectors, projection screens and six eBooks commissioned from local writers and illustrators. The salaries of the full-time librarians were covered by local governments.

Aims and Objectives

Overall, eBFLP aims to promote reading, as well as critical and creative thinking, among families in rural Ethiopia, through activities that can support whole-family literacy as well as literacy development at pre-school age.

Specific objectives are:

Programme Implementation

The six librarians from the three community libraries participating in the pilot (two librarians from each CL) were provided with a set of eBooks in different local languages and the necessary ICT tools to use them in family literacy workshops. CLs were selected based on the interest and commitment shown by librarians.

The pilot worked with three rural community libraries: Fitche, in the state of Oromia; Dubertie, in the state of Amara; and Dire Dawa, one of two city administrations in Ethiopia. Library staff organized and managed at least three family literacy workshops in the period between May 2014 and June 2015, aimed at pre-school children and their parents. Every workshop ran for eleven weeks and sessions were given on weekly basis.

Approaches and Methodologies

eBFLP participants during one of the programme's meetings

eBFLP participants during one of the programme's meetings

At the heart of eBFLP is the family literacy approach: children and their parents are engaged in learning activities that encourage them to interact and to learn from each other. The approach fosters intergenerational engagement within the family and the community, and bridges formal and non-formal learning, supporting parents and children to become partners in education. Drawing on this approach, the programme aims to increase parents' awareness of the importance of early literacy for the cognitive development of their children. Moreover, it helps parents to enrich their relationships with their children through active participation in educational activities and to develop competences in order to nurture their children’s language and literacy skills, as well as their interest in reading.

The programme comprises eleven workshop sessions in which both parents and children participate. During these sessions, the librarian guides families through activities intended to improve the language and literacy skills of children and their parents, as well as the parents' ability to help their children. Workshop sessions are structured as follows:

In a typical session, the librarian might read an eBook aloud to participants and set modeling activities that parents can use when reading with their children at home. The reading is preceded by a warm-up activity aimed at improving oral language and phonemic awareness and other activities to foster the ability to make inferences drawing on the title and illustrations of the books. One of the core pre-reading activities is ‘book walking’. The librarian goes through the pages of the book and participants share their expectations about the story, using the illustrations. While reading, participants are encouraged to discuss the events of the story, to express their opinion on the main characters and to imagine how the story will evolve. After the reading, children and parents read the story again, by themselves, and are then engaged in more proactive follow-up activities, such as drawing, acting or physical games. At the end of every session, the librarian gives the printed copy of the book the families, and asks them to complete a task at home before the following session.

The eBFLP curriculum has been developed to address both early reading and pre-literacy skills. The first eight sessions are focused on reading the six eBooks proposed by the librarians, while, in the last three sessions, participants create two eBooks of their own.

The use of eBooks as learning materials is a positive way of addressing literacy acquisition. Children can either listen to the book being read or read it by themselves. They can also click on the more challenging words or expression to hear the right pronunciation or definition. This same option can be used by adults who need support in strengthening their reading skills. Moreover, eBooks represent a particularly useful resource in multilingual and rural contexts. The same eBook can be translated into several different languages, which can be selected from the main menu. At the same time, eBooks offer a useful alternative in rural and remote areas, where access to commercial print books may be limited due to their cost.

Teaching Material

The six eBooks used during the pilot phase were produced by local authors and illustrators and made available in two local languages, Amharic and Oromo. They cover themes related to animals, school life and friendship. Every book includes a list of suggested activities for the librarians, to help them to conduct sessions effectively. Suggested activities include: rhyming, drawing a picture based on the story, and asking questions about the cover of a book.

During the last three sessions, participants write and design their own eBook. Children and families write their own stories. Two stories are then selected, through a process facilitated by librarians, and further developed. The other stories are kept for reference and may be published in the organization’s biannual magazine. Illustrations by participants are added at the end. The final selected stories are given to CODE-Ethiopia and retouched by professional book developers and illustrators. Each new eBook created enriches the library collection and the experience of its users with a meaningful story grounded in the community’s values, traditions and memories.

Examples of the eBooks created by participants can be found on the organization’s website: https://codeethiopiadigitalbooks.wordpress.com/workshops/

Printouts of one of the eBooks.

Printouts of one of the eBooks.

Recruiting and Training of Facilitators

The CLs were established not only to collect books and provide access to resources. For CODE, a successful CL should be more than a reading room. It should meet the learning needs of all the members of the local community and promote a wide range of learning activities. For this reason, CL staff should manage the library in a way that reflects the needs and wishes of the local community.

To improve the capacity of librarians to create programmes for the promotion of reading, CODE-Ethiopia organized a one-week workshop in December 2014, at the Cooperative Training Centre of the Ministry of Education, in Addis Ababa. The librarians who participated had attended other reading promotion training and library management courses. During the training provided for eBFLP, they were trained in family literacy approaches and how to design a literacy programme, and taught the ICT skills required for the programme, such as the capacity to work with specific software for eBooks production or to use data projectors and computers more proficiently. The librarians were also provided with assessment tools to track the impact of the programme. New training courses are planned.

Enrolment of Learners

Every library implementing eBFLP promoted the programme by posting advertisements in places where families spend time, such as early childhood education and development centres and primary schools. The advertisements were printed in languages spoken within the community, mainly Amharic, Oromo, Somali and English.

Only applicants meeting specific requirements were eligible for the programme: parents with basic literacy skills in one local language and at least one child aged between three and six years old. Parents had to commit to attending each of the eleven sessions. Participants were selected from eligible families by lottery. In some cases, parents with low literacy skills were accepted as well, but additional support was provided by referring them to adult literacy centres, as in the case of the CL in Dire Dwa. Adults who did not have solid literacy skills were also supported by librarians during the workshops.

Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation

The effective implementation of the programme and its evaluation were assured by assessment tools, which were used before, during and at the end of the pilot, and by monitoring visits conducted by CODE-Ethiopia.

Questionnaires and tests were provided to librarians during training to track and document the work undertaken. A test was administered to children before and at the end of the programme, in order to assess their literacy skills and understanding of the use of printed words. A librarian might, for example, show an illustrated book to a child and ask her questions regarding books and their use. Questions could include identifying the front and the back of a book, where a story starts, and where he or she should continue to read when at the end of the page. Another questionnaire was used to gather background information about families, such as the schooling level of parents and their reading habits. A third and final questionnaire was used to collect families' feedbacks on the eBooks developed by CODE-Ethiopia and on the related activities. This was done to adjust the programme to local need. For parents, a separate assessment tool was created to record baseline data and evaluate the programme. Some librarians (for example, in Fiche) have also developed their own questionnaire for parents and tried to collect information from participant parents. CODE-Ethiopia provided a service for librarians who needed additional support in the administration of the assessment tools. The data collected through the assessment tools were analysed by CODE-Ethiopia in order to better understand the impact and effectiveness of the programme, as well as to find ways to improve it, taking into account feedback from parents and children.

Impact and Challenges


Between May 2014 and June 2015, eleven workshops ran in three pilot CLs. Each workshop reached, on average, twenty children and their families. A total of ninety-one participants attended in one year (some of them going to multiple workshops).

The impact of the project on children has been considerable. Analysis of the data collected through the assessment tools highlights the significant increase in the print awareness of the children. In addition, according to the libraries' records, the number of visitors has grown in the three pilot CLs, showing an increasing interest from adults in the resources and activities offered by the libraries.

Most of the librarians who participated in the pilot reported gains in confidence in implementing and promoting reading activities as part of their job. With regard to the impact on participants, CODE-Ethiopia focused primarily on children’s outcomes, but the whole community benefits from the new ICT tools available in their CLs.

Among the many innovative features of the programme, one of the most interesting was the production of new eBooks, created collaboratively with families, for the library’s collection.


The family literacy approach embraced by eBFLP aimed to enhance early literacy skills by involving parents in the educational process. For many parents, participation was also an opportunity to enhance their own language and literacy skills. Parents were, however, required to have reached a minimum threshold level in literacy in order to enrol in the programme, as otherwise they would not have been able to fully participate in the activities. This baseline literacy level was not always enough to enable parents to participate actively with their children in some of the more challenging reading activities. This is a crucial point to take into account in the implementation of family literacy programmes in some rural areas of Ethiopia, where many adults are struggling with reading and writing skills. Some of the parents who faced these difficulties were encouraged to join an adult literacy programme.

Other difficulties were related to the training offered to the librarians. One week was, in many cases, not enough for many of them to acquire essential ICT skills. Moreover, the use of assessment tools was challenging and staff also required more training to become fully confident in their use.

Lastly, it is evident that CLs do not have enough ICTs. Some do not have internet access either and have to make do with digital copies of the eBooks saved on their computers. Power outages make the use of computers challenging as well.

Lessons Learned

The family literacy approach embraced by eBFLP succeeded in involving adults and children together in the activities of the community library. Reading and writing together is not only a means to enhance language and literacy skills, it builds community among those who share a common story and space. More specifically, reading aloud is a pleasant experience shared between parents and children as members of a community. In this common space, parents can discuss worries and difficulties regarding their role as educators and supporters of their children’s education.

Reading aloud is often considered an activity reserved only for young children. However, the pilot programme gave adults and older children the opportunity to enjoy listening to someone reading to a group. Reading aloud also provided access to language usage and a vocabulary beyond their current reading and language level.

More significantly, the family literacy approach helped to fulfill the main aim of the community libraries: to be more than a simple reading room, and become a shared place where the local community can gather, and develop networks and mutual support mechanisms.


Despite the fact that expenditure on the pilot programme was covered by the grant, the expansion of the programme to other CLs, projected to take place between 2016 and 2020, still faces sustainability issues. In order to address this challenge, an agreement has been reached between local authorities, community members and CODE-Ethiopia in order to transfer ownership of the programme and responsibility for it to local communities. The agreement is not a written one but rather an oral understanding between CODE and communities which were informed, before the beginning of the programme, of the budgetary limitations. This understanding includes the responsibility of each community for the costs associated with all programme’s components. This responsibility corresponds to the ownership that each community has of their CL. Almost all the ninety-five CLs established by CODE-Ethiopia and local communities over the last fifteen to twenty years are still active, owned and run by their communities using funding from the government’s budget and other NGOs.


More information and reading material is available on CODE-Ethiopia’s website: www.code-ethiopia.org.


Mr Alemu Abebe Woldie
Coordinator, Library Development and Management

PO Box 62902
Tel: 251-91-1424902
Fax: 251-11-5510381
Addis Ababa

Last update: 24 November 2015