Tripped over an interesting social enterprise startup in Tanzania this morning – Ubongo is the name of a town in Tanzania AND of a new edutainment company that is creating digital content for Africa. Using video, audio and interactive learning materials, these talented young people are planning on delivering meaningful learning through TV (analog), radio, web, mobile and local educational programs. Their engaging cartoon stories are told by native Tanzanians, using local language (Swahili) and focused on helping learners understand concepts, not just memorize content.
Apparently Tanzania has been struggling to improve student performance on national exams (see Motherboard blog article); recently, 60 percent of Tanzanian students failed the national exam they have to take (in English!) when they are 17. International efforts to help resulted in proposals that looked at providing education through MOOCs from high-profile Western universities.
The pushback against a MOOC-solution resulted from the realities that a developing country like Tanzania faces – from a 12 percent penetration rate for Internet and the difficulty of adequate bandwidth and equipment to stream video (from traditional MOOCs) to a recognition that many MOOCs simply reinforce the lecture-memorization cycle that many felt was causing the poor student performance on exams.
Ubongo, led by Nisha Ligon and Tom Ng’atigwa, decided to produce localized, entertaining and meaningful learning through animation, music and creative presentation of concepts and knowledge. Not only are they using simple, colorful and thoughtful stories, available in Kiswahili and English, they are producing content that can be delivered through channels that are available to the majority of Tanzanians. For example, their pilot series, Bunga Bongo, launching on January 18th, 2014, will be broadcast on Tanzania’s national television network. They’ve found a way to make the show interactive, allowing students to participate using basic mobile phones as they answer questions and score points to win prizes.
I’ll be watching with great interest as this is the kind of education we are trying to develop in the North – focusing on meaningful content delivered through relevant channels that incorporates recognizable language, environmental issues, characters, etc. What others are trying with “indigienization” of learning. I wish them great success.