by Elita Ouk. Photographs by Wendy Rockett.

Elita is a consultant for The Asia Foundation in Cambodia and Wendy Rockett is the Foundation’s Books for Asia senior communications manager. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders. This post was originally published in The Asia Foundation’s In Asia blog here.

On September 18, nearly 20 publishers, editors, writers, and young technologists, ready with pencils and laptops, filled a co-working space in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, for the country’s first children’s e-book hackathon. The hackathon is part of Let’s Read! an Asia Foundation initiative that applies technology interventions to stimulate reading in developing Asian countries. By the end of the day, participants had created a series of engaging, original children’s content in electronic format, all in the Khmer language.

According to a 2015 Asia Foundation research study, 40 percent of Cambodian phone users own at least one smartphone, and a third of the population has access to the internet. Such increased access to technology is also opening up new opportunities for educational material to reach parents, teachers, and children, and helping to formulate a new way of publishing children’s content.

 

Hackathons have the potential to invigorate children’s book creation and distribution in Cambodia, where small amounts of children’s reading material are published every year. Shifting publishing from a linear process to a collaborative model lowers development and production costs and dramatically compresses the turnaround time. Photos by Wendy Rockett

Hackathon participants were divided into teams, each with a writer, illustrator, designer, and coder. An editor and children’s book experts from Room to Read guided the teams through the process, from conception to detailed storyboards and finished covers.

The teams spent most of the day refining the stories, with writers working closely with the editor to strengthen the narrative and sharpen the language, while illustrators continually refined storyboard drawings and cover art to make sure they were compelling to children.

 

For most of the writers and illustrators, the hackathon was the first time they had ever worked directly with each other in real time.

 

In 11 action-packed hours, the teams produced four stories that were further refined after the event: Big-Eyed Bee, the story of an adventurous and clever bee; Prach and Sathae, a tale of two boys who learn to resolve their differences; The Amazing Journey, the travels of a boy and girl with an intrepid alien; and The Storybook Princess, which captures the magic of storytime.

 

The Let’s Read! books will be freely available from the Ministry of Education’s Open Education Resource site, as well as through digital library apps such as Khmer LEARN for anyone to download, read, and adapt for their own use. The books will also be offered in e-pub and print-ready formats.

 

With the support of Smart Axiata, one of Cambodia’s leading telecom companies, the next hackathon in March 2017 will incubate even more publishing talent and further expand the quality and diversity of local children’s books.

Read more about Let’s Read!

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