UK-based media and education technology company Kukua has raised US$2.5 million in seed investment as it builds the first pan-African edutainment franchise to address child illiteracy.
It is estimated there will be over 250 million primary school children in Africa by 2030, yet 138 million primary school children currently lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. To address this, Kukua is building Sema, a suite of educational tools made up of game-based apps that teach reading, writing and maths.
A television series to inspire children to learn STEM subjects is also in the pipeline, and to facilitate all this Kukua has raised a seed investment round led by EchoVC and also featuring firstminute capital, Burda Principal Investments, Xavier Niel's Kima Ventures and strategic angel investors such as Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, former VP of mobile at Uber and Dropbox.
The funding will support the development of Kukua's educational products and its upcoming TV series, as well as scaling the company's distribution with strategic partners across Africa and the African diaspora.
Kukua has partnered with mobile operator Airtel to promote Sema apps to over two million phones in Kenya.
The company is working with a team of literacy experts and children's media producers, including Claudia Lloyd, the BAFTA-award winning producer of Tinga Tinga Tales, and Marielle Henault, who previously led animation franchises at Walt Disney and Warner Bros.
Over 30,000 children are already using Sema Run, the first of the series of apps, three times a week for an average of 30 minutes, and have been shown to significantly improve their letter sounds' recognition in Early Grade Reading Assessments.
"The next generation of African children have the potential to become extraordinary leaders, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and anything they dream of. Empowering them with basic reading and math skills delivers the founding blocks of that trajectory and is at the heart of Kukua's mission," said Lucrezia Bisignani, founder and CEO of Kukua.
"With the increasingly high penetration of smartphones, we have an unparalleled opportunity to reach children across the continent with quality and magical educational content."
Kukua's approach is to combine proven literacy methodologies, such as early focus on phonics, with locally-inspired storytelling, engaging game play and animated entertainment.
"We saw a huge gap in the production of locally relevant content. Children currently watch western cartoons like Dora the Explorer and Tom and Jerry and we didn't want children to grow up without African heros that look just like them," Bisignani said.
Eghosa Omoigui, managing general partner at EchoVC, said his company was excited to partner with Kukua to help address the constraints on primary school education in Africa.