Kukua.ME: Meet Super Sema, Africa’s Literacy Heroine

Kukua.ME: Meet Super Sema, Africa’s Literacy Heroine

We are beginning this week with a little introspect into the world of technological advancements and the many advantages it brought along. Development of different technologies has led to solving many medical issues, ranging from the use of 3D printers for creating patient-specific devices like artificial joints, to detecting the early stages of  Alzheimer’s disease with the help of VR technology. 

Owing to the development of technologies, we have seen the rise of the digital world, which led to the shrinkage of the proximity of separation. With the help of the internet, the information we need is oftentimes easily available, however, the question of the digital divide is an often discussed topic. Can everyone afford to be a part of the digital world and its advancements? Questions such as these are especially important for regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Illiteracy Rates and the Lack of African Content

Kukua.me Super Sema literacy children learning app

Sub-Saharan Africa is the home to fourteen out of twenty-two countries in the world where the literacy rates are below 60%. As the contributing factors to the illiteracy rates, this region faces the high dropout rates, teacher shortages, the inadequate approach of both national and international learning assessments, and the survival rate to the last grade. 

Inspired by African culture and stories, the team behind the Kukua.Me saw an opportunity to contribute towards the combat of the illiteracy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. They’ve done so by creating Super Sema.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world, so why develop an educational game for smartphones? So far, 75% of the low-income groups have a regular cell phone, and roughly a third of the population owning a smartphone. With the rapid penetration of the cheap smartphones taking place in the region and the focus on the low-income communities, these numbers are expected to rise. 

In 2014, on their visit to Gambia one of the poorest countries in the region, Kukua’s team spent time in villages where they witnessed the rise of the use of smartphones and people’s savvy ways in acquiring data plans. 

The African Heroine Known As Super Sema

Kukua.me Super Sema literacy children learning app

Born out of the urge to create locally relevant and educational content for the African population, Super Sema is a protagonist in the series of apps that strive to teach millions of African children to read. Represented as an animated version of an African girl, Super Sema is an African hero that goes on magical, hair-raising quests. 

So far, Kukua has launched three apps (with two more coming soon), which were designed and created by a team of literacy experts, cognitive psychologists, educational specialists and designers. These apps aimed to combine entertainment with learning. Children will learn reading and writing in English and Swahili, and the basics mathematics by playing entertaining games set in the imaginary town that mirrors their owns. For the creation of the settings and characters, Kukua team used the elements from the local legends and customs, in order to make Super Sema and her adventures more authentic, thereby allowing kids to connect with the game easier.

Super Sema is courageous, creative and quick-witted and never afraid to harness her powers for the good of her urban village Dunia. With a wide range of DIY and STEM powers, Sema successfully solves her every quest, empowering generations of young Africans with skills and confidence to seize opportunities in life. 

With the arsenal of mobile games and animated content, ranging from Sema Run, Sema Trace, Sema Goal to the upcoming games like Sema Catch and Sema Launch, Kukua’s team is preparing to take a step further and conquer national TV programmes in sub-Saharan African countries with animated television series on the same topic. 

At Kukua.Me Human-Centred Design Matters

Kukua.me Super Sema literacy children learning app

Human-centred design is based on real people who are the chosen audience, and finding creative solutions tailored to meet those people’s lives. In order to seize the gap in the global market, when it comes to the representation of the African culture, and create a product that would suit their targeted audience Kukua’s team made sure to get to know kids for whom they were creating a game. 

In the early stages of the game development, they immersed themselves in the rural communities and urban slums across Gambia, South Africa and Kenya. This allowed them to observe the teaching methods in the classrooms, children’s reactions and get to know the kids. In order to obtain a wider picture and acquire all the necessary information, Kukua’s team interviewed both parents and teachers which allowed them to understand the region’s values and the challenges to effective learning these kids face.

This approach has led to decisions like Kenyan voiceovers, characters that would inspire children, and circumstances in which these kids would find themselves. For example, seeing how children would stop playing the game during the prototype testing to take selfies or record a video of themselves on the tablets they were given, the game now features a selfie reward upon completing a level. 

What Can We Learn From Kukua.Me

Kukua.me Super Sema literacy children learning app

Founded by Lucrezia Bisignani, who was recently placed on the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, Kukua teaches us to think big and strive to bridge the gaps where we see them. In the wake of the Syrian Civil War, Kuku’s team repurposed Super Sema game to suit the needs of 2.8 million Syrian refugees. The repurposed app aimed at educating refugee children, who at the time did not have access to a stable education. With its human-centric design approach, Kukua manages to get to the core of the problem and produce a solution that benefits its target audience in the best way possible.

Currently just on Google Play, the apps have over 70,000 installs. 

Rapid digitalization offers us ample of opportunities to achieve our goals and set an example for others. We can serve as role models, inspire others to take action by doing what we do best and striving to improve ourselves. Whether we are to create something as inspirational and valuable as Super Sema and help millions of children achieve their dreams and full potential, or we are to let the world see our art, it is important we keep on creating and sharing our ideas with others.


Tijana Ostojic

Most likely you'll find her planning her next summit with a bunch of books in her hiking backpack. Keen on a written word, she's working hard on writing a book for children.

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