Early childhood education is an urgent developmental issue to be solved in Tanzania, where less than half of children receive any formal education before entering primary school at age of six. With so many challenges to deliver early education in Tanzania (and across Africa), mass media presents a unique opportunity to reach tens of millions of families with educational media for their young children. Ubongo is a Tanzanian social enterprise that creates interactive edutainment for learners in Africa, delivered to them via the technologies they already have. While working with caregivers and early childhood development (ECD) stakeholders in Tanzania, Ubongo Kids identified the need and gaps for caregiver awareness-raising and behaviour change.
During this pilot project, Ubongo created Akili and Me – an edutainment cartoon and radio series that effectively teaches children aged three to six years early numeracy, literacy, English as a second language, and fine motor skills.
An evaluation of the programme, conducted in partnership with the University of Maryland, found that:
- The programme had a significant effect on school readiness for both girls and boys aged three to six years.
- Both girls and boys who watched the Akili and Me show scored 16 per cent better in overall school readiness than those who did not watch it.
- Build user testing into the production process: Stories, characters, and ideas were developed into testable prototypes, which were then shown to users. This allowed Ubongo to craft a product that was much more effective and engaging than if they had simply created from prior knowledge and expertise.
- Utilise social media as a cost-effective feedback mechanism: Managing responsive and interactive social media channels allowed Ubongo to receive feedback for every episode. Facebook has also allowed parents to provide Ubongo with a continuous flow of feedback about how their children were responding and interacting with each new episode.
- Encourage experimentation: All digital development projects should be encouraged to start experimenting, changing, and adapting until they find the right tools and processes for them.
Gender equity and social inclusion
Ubongo Kids addresses the complex dynamics for learning and personal growth that many girls (and boys) contend with daily by creating positive role models and portrayals of strong girls and women. In the second series of the show, the makers turned their attention to teaching socio-emotional skills and ‘early mindset building’, particularly around gender equality. Both shows have strong female characters and representation of characters of both genders.
Principles for digital development
Design with the user: In the design phase of their school readiness programme, Akili and Me, the producers discovered through user feedback that their original design appealed to adults but was confusing and complex for their target audience – i.e. the children. Episodes were rewritten and the animations adapted, and were then tested again. Following a more positive response from both children and parents, Ubongo went ahead with the full production of a 26-episode season of the series. It is currently reaching over two million households every week in Tanzania through TV, radio, and a mobile phone application. Since its launch, Ubongo staff have constantly been seeking feedback from viewers, communicating with users via phone interviews, focus groups, and social media.
With a new grant from HDIF, Ubongo is scaling up Akili and Me with the aim of reaching 3.5 million households in Tanzania by 2020. Ubongo will create ‘Akili and You’ toolkits based on an innovative, multimedia platform that can increase the access of content to more children, via caregivers and ECD stakeholders to improve the health, wellbeing, and development of children under the age of six. Ubongo will also continue to create engaging content for radio and TV that builds public awareness and demand for quality whole child development, which can then support caregivers and stakeholders with the knowledge and resources they need to improve children’s early outcomes.