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iSinkwe app makes reading easy

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

Children who struggle to read will soon get a helping hand from Bushbaby – a clever app that will assist learners with special needs.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Western Cape Education Department have partnered to launch a user-friendly application that will make learning to read easier for learners in the province. 

Called iSinkwe, the app translates text into audio in any of the 11 official languages of South Africa. 

Senior CSIR researcher Dr Georg Schlünz says the app will aid school learners facing reading barriers due to early literacy difficulties, problems with their eyes, dyslexia and other special educational needs. 

“iSinkwe is the isiZulu word for a bushbaby. A bushbaby is an easy way to remember how iSinkwe works. The big ears of the bushbaby represent how learners can listen to the audio that is added to their textbooks and other documents. The big eyes represent how learners can follow the text being highlighted as the audio is played,” he says. 

According to Schlünz, iSinkwe was tested at three special needs schools in the province – Jan Kriel, Langerug and Tafelberg – between April 2019 and March 2022. 

“The schools where iSinkwe was tested are part of a bigger project by the Western Cape Education Department to roll out assistive technology that supports the local South African languages. 

“There were broad smiles from the learners and nods of approval from the teachers. They were very excited and grateful for reading assistance in their mother tongue. We often see solutions making their way into the country, yet only catering for global languages like English and neglecting our other local languages,” he says.

Schlünz says once the app has been downloaded, learners and teachers can upload their documents and match them with their audio and language preferences. He added that said schools that intend on using the app will need to pay a subscription fee of between R100 and R200 per month.

The app in its current form is ready to be licensed by interested resellers. They can contact CSIR Commercialisation Manager Minal Soni at msoni1@csir.co.za

Schools, publishers and others can visit www.isinkwe.com or contact the iSinkwe team at info@isinkwe.com for more information.