Training and Development

Ubongo Kids: Ridiculously innovative African e-learning

Learning in Africa is experiencing a small but rapid change with the implementation of digital learning tools. Various African governments, including Kenya, are looking to boost education by adopting comprehensive e-learning channels.

One company that is making waves in this sector is Ubongo, a Tanzania based ‘edu-taiment’ company aimed at primary schoolers which is currently extending its reach over east Africa.

Ubongo Kids, an animated children’s show and its flagship learning product is reported to be reaching over 1.2 million households through free-to-air and pay television across the region.

“We also have Ubongo Mobile, a mobile service that allows kids in Tanzania to interact with the TV series and keep learning even after the show is over. It works via SMS and interactive voice response, which means that it can be accessed from any phone, even the ‘dumbest’ phones which only do voice and text,” Nisha Ligon, the founder and CEO of Ubongo told IDG Connect.  

Kids are required to register using a short code and then they answer questions on what they have learnt during the programme. Each user gets one free question per day, but for 500 Tanzanian shillings (USD $0.23) they can receive unlimited access to quiz questions.

“It's also gamified so that each time a user gets five questions right, they receive a phone call from Mama Ndege [one of the characters in the show], with an encouraging message and a sing along song,” Ligon explains.

The great success of Ubongo Kids highlights the need for children’s entertainment across the continent. Yet the supply is almost nonexistent.

“Yes, there is very little kids' content on TV in Africa, and even less localised kids' content. I think a lot of that has to do with the market,” Ligon said.

“It's incredibly difficult to get funding for a TV series here, since TV stations don't commission productions and very few pay sufficient licensing fees,” she reiterated.

But Ligon sees the internet penetration as a great way to monetise and even reach more kids in Africa.

The company’s expansion into a mobile application has served it well as Ligon and her team see the mobile phone as a key to solving various issues in education in Africa.

Africa has a rapid growth of mobile phone penetration. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, there are over 900 million mobile phone connections in the continent. With this reach, business cannot ignore its power.

“The big question is how to get great content out to kids on the ‘dumb phones’ that most of their families will have,” Ligon posed.

She explained that the company currently produces rich media content that cannot be accommodated on ‘dumb phones’. But it is still innovating content for both smart and ‘dumb phones’.

“We're still working on ways to get a full learning experience to kids and families, just on a ‘dumb phone’. Eneza Education have done an incredible job with this in Kenya, and we've tried to learn from them as we've developed Ubongo Mobile in Tanzania,” she revealed.

The core difficulty arising from the lack of content is not really in motivating the content creators but finding monetisation routes. Ligon said that it is really hard to produce a series of a children’s programme in Africa.

Few have achieved this including Kenya’s Know Zone and Nigeria’s Bino and Fino.

“Monetisation is really hard.  In the rest of the world, a lot of children's content production is government subsidised, while others make most of their revenue off merchandise,” Ligon stated.

Ubongo Kids were able to recruit sponsors for the show including CRDB Bank and other NGO’s to fund the production of the show and this has worked well. “Traditionally, TV in Africa has been supported by corporate sponsorship, and that's still how we make most of our current revenue,” she said.

She added that her team is looking to go the merchandising way to open up avenues for more revenue.

Ligon said she is looking to have another kids show, aimed at three to six year olds. The new programme will help them learn languages and literacy skills. It will offer its own mobile platform to deliver education content to parents of the young ones.

Television expansion might not be at par with mobile penetration. But the possibilities are very large indeed, as this gives content creators and distributors a new channel they can reach nearly a billion Africans, and create a vibrant entertainment industry for the continent.


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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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