Ubongo to launch East African edutainment radio show in March

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Tanzanian e-learning startup Ubongo has announced it will be launching an edutainment radio show across East Africa in March as it looks to expand into one of the region’s most popular mediums.

Ubongo aims to simplify the teaching of mathematics to children through fun video stories in Swahili, and allows participation via SMS. It is watched by over 1.4 million viewers in Tanzania and is available in over one million more households across East Africa.

Chief executive officer (CEO) Nisha Ligon told Disrupt Africa the startup had been trying to do something for radio for a long time, and would be utilising the medium for the first time with a new series called Akili and Me.

“92 per cent of families in Tanzania listen to radio weekly. If you combine radio with mobile phone interaction, you can create some really engaging e-learning,” Ligon said.

Akili and Me is an edutainment series for children between the ages of three and six years old. The radio and animated TV series follows the adventures of Akili, a four-year-old girl who lives with her family at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every night when Akili goes to sleep, she enters a magical land where the animals speak, but they only speak English.  Akili learns English and other skills, with the help of the young audience.

“A local language narrator – currently in Kiswahili, but also being translated to other African languages – scaffolds the learning, and each character also has a special “active learning” radio and TV segment,” Ligon said.

She said Ubongo was also doing a lot with interactive voice response technology on mobiles, which had started as an experiment to gamify our SMS platform, so that when children answered a lot of questions correctly, they could win an automated call back from one of the characters.  

“We did lots of pre-recorded messages and songs, and it was a massive hit – users started averaging 72 questions per day because they wanted to win more phone calls,” Ligon said.

“Now we’ve also launched on-demand audio stories, so that users can select a story through an SMS menu.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent’s most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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