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Sex education software in Nigeria

4 Apr

Learning About Living (LAL) is a new media project in Nigerian schools helping young people to combat ignorance on issues around sexual health, HIV and AIDS, maternal morbidity and gender violence, based on the Nigerian Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE) curriculum. It has been running for over two years now.

Funding for the Learning about Living pilot is mainly from the West: Oxfam Novib, Netherlands, MacArthur Foundation USA, Butterfly Works and Finalist IT Group, Netherlands so there is likely to be an element of Western influence over the content of the software (which is made to be compatible with Intel classmate laptops and also the One Laptop per Child device.

The idea behind it is that young characters on the computer screen become the ‘peer educators’ in classrooms that you then discuss in class exercises. 

Sensitive topics

One of the main reasons such a learning tool is needed in Nigerian schools is because young people and parents find it difficult to talk about sexual topics openly in Nigerian culture. This could potentially lead to generations of miseducation regarding sexually transmitted infections.

Professor Bene Madunago of the Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) which is also in collaboration with LAL said that even teachers themselves were not comfortable with talking about subjects such as HIV/AIDs.

The programme follows Nigerian culture and it initiates discussions about sex, but it is important that it only accompanies teaching rather than replaces it, as not talking about sexual relationships face-to-face may become the norm and could be a dangerous thing if health education on sensitive subjects was solely dependent on computers that replace human contact.


It is a largely decontralised approach that can seem less orderly to an authoritarian-style teacher for example. so they have to adapt as well as the students.

LAL explores myths

The problem with these programmes is that student assessment and feedback can be fairly limited and bandwidth limitations mean you cannot necessarily develop them any further.

Apart from a short quiz after every section of information, there is not actually a way of monitoring whether students are taking any of the information in.

I went through one of the lessons online on HIV and AIDs. In effect it did feel like I was reading a health leaflet but with some colourful images accompanied, but information was very simple and clear. It also promotes abstinence which can be dangerous if ‘fidelity’ is the only thing you’re relying on for STI prevention, however it does offer advice for young people who don’t choose abstinence.

The interactive test is interesting as it explores the myths surrounding HIV as well as the facts – have a go here.

On the whole it also allows teenagers to ask questions online, discretly which they would never have done out loud in the classroom. The online service has had a good response indicating the need for it. Perhaps there is a need for more consultation with young people and parents to establish their information needs.


Soap operas with soul

12 Mar

Development and health campaigns always face the challenge of firstly, getting their message out to target audiences, and then sustaining that message. But what if there was a method where you could educate people indirectly?

The UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) helps fund soap operas, dubbed ‘edutainment’ in developing countries in Africa and South Asia.


Makutano Junction is a Kenyan-produced soap also shown in Uganda and Tanzania featuring a fictional village. Every episode, broadcast in English, is watched by around seven million Kenyans, of which 50% of television owners live in rural areas.

Described as “stories that touch your heart and maybe teach you something new” DFID say “hard hitting and realistic storylines” are what makes them have the success and popularity of British soaps like Eastenders and Coronation Street from even the remotest of villages.

Storylines educate on topics including contraception, challenging corruption, malaria prevention through bednets, HIV and AIDS and giving women a voice in politics.

The soaps aim to kick off local conversation about some of the most serious health and development challenges that face the Global South.

In India, the series Jasoos Vijay aims to prevent AIDS and also change attitudes on the virus and HIV. Watched by 70 million Indians, figures show the mass audiences DFID have access to. There have also been moves to go beyond English and Hindi speakers, and the show is broadcast in Hindi and seven other regional languages. Throughout the fictional storylines are small intermissions, where experts give information on HIV prevention. It is vital as 5 million Indians are infected with HIV and AIDS and the social stigma of infection remains a factor in its spreading.


But Bollywood churns out more films than America, that are often based in imperialist ideals, where there are echos of Ritzer’s ‘Mcdonaldisation’ paradigm a lot of glamour involved in the clothes, music, houses and storylines – some of which are not relevant to audiences besides escapism and entertainment. It does make you wonder whether Bollywood should play an increasing role in ‘edutainment’.

Makutano Junction

Makutano Junction

Soap operas on the radio reach an even bigger audience than on the television. The Story Story radio programme is set in a Nigerian Marketplace and is recorded on location. Broadcast in English on 57 federal, state and independent partner stations as well as on the BBC World Service, which has also delivered extensive radio training to professionals in Nigeria. Versions have also been produced in the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages.

South Africa’s TV soap Soul City regularly reaches 16m people and has been running for over 15 years. It was originally set up by NGOs in 1994, but regular test screenings by producers to ensure they are real and relevant storylines to the audiences watching, where HIV prevention messages are central to its storylines.

It has been so successful that they are introducing a transition in to Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe and encompassing radio shows, information booklets and a spin-off show for young children (Soul Buddyz). One episode which focused on domestic abuse brought in 180,000 calls to a women’s helpline while the programme was on air.

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets


Matthew Krouse, arts editor of the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, has been following Soul City since the beginning and praises it for steering away from Western television exported to South Africa, despite being sceptical at first:

“We’re saturated with crap American TV at the moment, this never-never land of beautiful people and unrealistic lives. But here we have a gritty, realistic soap with a powerful message. It’s something we can really be proud of.”

These soaps are fairly sanctimonious and preachy and don’t necessarily offer a means to put this new thinking into practice. There is the danger that the messages are so indirect that they just blend into the notion of entertainment. Viewers and listeners are also very passive, so it does echo a top-down model.

There is still the problem that these messages cannot reach those who cannot afford to purchase television sets or radios.

However entertainment is an important strategy for development and it does seem practical for regions that have an aural tradition.

Projet Radio Madagascar: A ‘new’ model of development?

27 Feb
listening group
Radio is a widespread form of communication in Africa and was one of the first main technologies to be used for development communication in the continent.
Projet Radio on the island of Madagascar is a contemporary example of instigating ‘modern’ social change in rural communities using radio communication based in the Global South. These development projects have introduced a level of participatory involvement, distinguishing themselves from the modernisation development attempts of the early twentieth century – but how much are people on the ground actually involved? Is the West still using techniques that development communication supposedly moved away from decades ago?


Madagascar, which gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960, has not yet achieved any of its UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and is “off track” on gender equality and maternal heath. The island has a literacy rate of about 69%, but only 25% in rural areas so radio is a practical media technology.

projet radio statsSet up in 1999 as part of the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT), Project Radio broadcasts programmes which are distributed through working with 38 local stations, covering agriculture, healthcare, education and AIDS.

Indigenous communities assist Western journalists’ research though ‘listening groups’ enabling locals to share their experiences and establish their needs.

Culture barriers

Radios are given free to village ‘responsibles’ who head the groups, 68% of which are women. This empowerment gives women control over radio access. But this promotion of gender equality was also a practical decision because women are more likely to be in the village during daytime hours.

The Madagascan culture and tradition caused problems in the project’s early days according to director, Yvonne Orengo, who said listening groups could be “quite problematic due to the hierarchies and male dominance in the villages”.

Language is also a culture barrier when imposing Western models of journalism, but Projet Radio embraced the aural culture of the otherwise isolated Tulear and Fianarantsoa provinces before it launched its service and broadcasts in ‘easy to understand’ dialects like Antandroy and Antanosy.

Programmes giving advice on HIV and AIDS prevention also have to battle with the traditional Malagasy belief that such illnesses are caused by spirit possession, so horizontal contact with people on the ground floor is crucial.

Western model

The ALT is registered charity in England and although it does have a Malagasy branch, it is run from the UK and works with the notion that education can be “a single alleviating factor in a family’s ability to overcome the effects of poverty”. It has made positive contributions towards Madagascar’s MDGs and its participatory intention to empower indigenous populations cannot be denied.

Funded from various sources, including the European Commission, UNICEF and the British and American embassies, it enforces the idea that this is a Western ‘approved’ project working very much within what resonates the former ‘Modernisation’ model.

The format and content of the devised radio programmes is largely determined by Western partners and local radio stations, which also control the production and airing of principally ‘solution-orientated’ broadcasts.

NGOs and partners provide equipment to local radio stations on the condition that their programmes are broadcast and out outreach workers are trained to make programmes promoting their specialist topics, rather than training the radio broadcasters to produce programmes on unfamiliar subjects which makes us question To what extent are the programme themes actually taken from what people have said on the ground and what partners involved feel it should be.

More participation?

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Most production members involved in the programmes are Malagasy, so local cultural nuances are identified and understood, but with a lack of producers who are actually trained journalists (Evans, 2002) and only 5% of listening groups actually involved in actual recordings, the participation element of ‘village voices’ can be minimal.

In some respects, Projet Radio is an evolved development initiative and can be seen as taking a participative and empowering approach, but it also shows that modernisation approaches are still present. With its practicalities, radio also comes with limitations – would ‘Projet Online’ allow for a wider perspective?

South Africa: HIV awareness goes mobile

11 Feb
Mobile texts South Africa Project Masiluleke

Picture: Praekelt Foundation

Around six million people are living with HIV in South Africa, and yet it still remains a taboo subject amongst the population where only one in 10 gets the treatment they need.

But Project Masiluleke (‘Lend a Helping Hand’) based in KawZulu-Natal, one of the worst affected regions, is using mobile technology to raise awareness about HIV, AIDS and TB by sending out a million text messages a day, motivating people to reach out for counseling and voluntary testing.


It’s an idea that proved to increase calls to the National AIDS Hotline in Johannesburg three-fold during pilot schemes.

The project has been running since December last year and works by embedding health care messages alongside ‘Call-Me-Backs’, a type of free messaging used mainly by low income people in poorer communities – it even works if you don’t have any airtime left.

An estimated 80-90% of South Africans have access to a mobile phone and texts are sent in English and in Zulu making this project one of the most widely accessible and cost effective in the country.

Just digital billboards?

What sets this apart from usual top-down strategies is that it is working with iTEACH, which organised focus groups on the ground to find out what really made people go to the clinic.

take a shower poster HIV south africaThey found that billboards portray ridiculous messages that border  on offensive, including advice to “take a shower” after having sex with someone potentially infected.

Only 5% of South Africans have tested for HIV and they only do so in the later stages. Especially amongst men, the social stigma attached to HIV means queuing for the clinic is demeaning and there is a lack of trust between clinics and patients when it comes to confidentiality. People have why-bother attitudes because media they’re usually exposed to is negative, just representing death.

Commercial value

The key to this is the private-but-not-alone approach, which has expanded to follow through the stages of awareness, referral, testing and treatment, even sending reminder texts for clinic appointments.

However, a lot of commercial value is to be gained from this scheme for and for advertising that fills any space left in texts and for the funders and techno developers, including Nokia Siemens Network, Praekelt Foundation and global innovation firm Frog Design.

There is also the danger that it might reinforce the notion that HIV is something to be ashamed of and testing should be done in secret, but it is an example of how mobile technology can positively impact health care issues in South Africa even if it does bypass the issue of dealing with (predominantly male) attitudes towards sexually transmitted infections.