ICS Addis Teams up with MIT to Translate Scratch into Amharic



Kristi Williams, Communications Director, International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Scratch is a computer program made and shared by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is used by children around the world to create programs and share games, simulations, musical instruments and art projects. And now students at the International Community School in Addis Ababa are leading the charge to translate Scratch into Amharic, the national language in Ethiopia.

“The International Community School of Addis Ababa places a high value on learning through service to our host country, Ethiopia. There are many needs in a developing country, but since we are a community of teachers and learners, we always look for ways we can serve through education. Schools in Ethiopia have limited resources and the national curriculum emphasizes traditional rote learning. Our teachers and teaching assistants regularly work in local schools and teacher training colleges to model modern teaching and learning methods. We use simple resources that promote engaged learning, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity in Ethiopian classrooms.” —Jim Laney, ICS Head of School.

With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations— and share your creations with others in the online community. More than 18,500,000 projects are shared on the Scratch website. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively— essential skills for life in the 21st century. Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of charge. It has been translated into more than 40 languages so far.

As part of the school’s ongoing efforts to share effective educational practices, ICS teachers and teaching assistants offer annual intensive weekend workshops for local teachers, sharing best practices and standards. During one of the teacher workshops, Aaron Tyo-Dickerson, ICS Technology and Innovation Coach, was inspired to ensure that the local school teachers and their students could learn computer programming through Scratch. Aaron contacted MIT and organized an after-school activity where ICS students translate Scratch into Amharic.

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Screenshot of English to Aramaic translations.

“I want Ethiopian children to be as excited and inspired by Scratch as children in other regions of the world. Making Scratch available to them in their language is an important first step towards that goal.” —Aaron Tyo Dickerson

What started last school year, is reaching the end goal this year. Our high school students worked after school and on weekends to complete the translation. The students are nearly finished with the translating and then Scratch in Amharic will be available worldwide. However, translating has been a challenge. As with many languages, Amharic has grammatical gender associated with nouns and pronouns. Amharic also adds gender to verbs, including the imperative commands. So, before we even started, we needed to decide if Scratch was feminine or masculine. Our translators decided that Scratch commands will be written in the male imperative from.

ICS Translations Jam session

Even harder than translating words is translating names for cultural constructs like the ubiquitous word “block”. Our student translators informed me early on that Ethiopia children don’t play with blocks. Aaron suggested “brick” pointing out the walls of our school. They discussed this option briefly but informed him that bricks are used by adults to construct buildings, not as playthings for children. Children would therefore be unlikely to know this “adult” word.

To help unravel cultural differences and “adult” words versus “children” words, we held a “jam session” and invited native Amharic speakers to attend. The event was a huge success and we had answers to “brick vs. block”, “tint” vs. “shade” and many more. Teachers, parents and students collaborated to get us through most of the remaining elements. “The Scratch Jam session was an interesting and fun activity where members of the ICS community as well as other Amharic language experts (who typically do not work with each other) came together and collaborated on translating words and terms that would be applied to the Amharic version of Scratch. While doing our part to make this wonderful project a reality, we sometimes disagreed but eventually came to a consensus. I enjoyed being challenged as well as learning from not just the adults that were there but the dynamic middle and high school students who partook in this activity,” said Abenet Asnake, ICS Art Teacher.

We are working to complete the Scratch Amharic translation by April 2017. “The project to translate Scratch into the national language— Amharic—is a prime example of how ICS Addis can serve others in Ethiopia by championing modern educational tools. The project has brought together the school’s computer educators, students, artists and musicians. Our goal is to provide an engaging learning tool that can potentially reach more than 35,000,000 youth in Ethiopia. Amharic Scratch will become a vehicle for developing creativity and problem solving for children and youth who have limited English. It will make coding and computer science more accessible to tens of millions of school-aged children, in and out of the classroom. I am proud of the leadership and spirit of service that our Amharic Scratch team has shown to get this project rolling, and I look forward to helping them promote it across the nation when it is ready.”- Jim Laney

For more information, you can check out our Scratch Translation website.


Published in ISS NewsLinks: Volume XXXII Number 2


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