The animation industry in Kenya and Africa at large is growing fast. Though it may take a while to catch up to the likes of Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar, people in Kenya are now embracing African cartoons. This is due to the fact that they show the African continent in a more realistic and positive light as opposed to the disease ridden and poverty stricken picture usually painted in the media. Increasingly, cartoons, are also being accepted as a useful tool for educating children and not just as a form of entertainment. This is evident with the rapid growth of digital education that has seen more and more schools using tablets, kindles and other electronic devices as teaching aids. The Kenyan president, H. E Uhuru Kenyatta, has been keen on helping to boost this digital education by providing free laptops to Primary schools. These devices have access to content including animated illustrations for better understanding. Ms. Caroline Macharia, a teacher at Elimu House Group of Schools, speaks highly of cartoons citing how they have helped her kindergaten class improve their learning in a fun and interactive way. Her students no longer zone off as she teaches. Aside from learning through animations in school, Communications Authority of Kenya (C. A) estimates that about 3.5 million Kenyan households own TV sets, meaning that most children have access to them hence can tune it to their favourite cartoons whenever.
Research, especially as observed by parents and teachers, shows that cartoons help in building cognitive skills in children. These skills are attention, thinking and memory, which are mostly aided by the use of visual objects ,humour and colour. Children below 5 years have low attention spans that can be lengthened over time by having them glued on things that are able to interest them. With time their minds are trained to focus on a specific thing at a time. Cartoon characters may play out challenges that they resolve using their own perspectives therefore teaching children how to asses situations. The more colourful, interactive and visually stimulating a cartoon is, the higher the information retained.
Cartoons have also been found to increase language skills – listening, speaking,reading and writing – thus enabling children to communicate effectively. Through the repetition of words, fun rhymes and catchy tunes, they learn to listen and mimick words. They eventually learn to associate the words by relating them to the images they see then later on speak. Most Kenyan children start pre-school at the age of 3 years where they can neither read nor write. However, a majority of these children can sound out object names, colours and shapes. Some can even count a bit and know some of the alphabet, all thanks to the interactive animations they get to watch alongside their day to day interactions with grown ups.
Aside from aiding in cognitive and language skills, cartoons also help in building on moral behavior. Children tend to associate best with cartoon characters due to their awe-inspiring nature. They therefore find it easier to have role models in these characters and take in moral lessons from them more readily as opposed to those taught by adults. African cartoons often incorporate African culture thus instilling some moral and cultural values in Kenyan children. An example is the South African animation film ‘Adventures in Zambezia’ that teaches on the spirit of togetherness. Some also teach on folk tales that answer questions regarding various phenomena. One example is the production by Wallace Murungi, ‘The Legend of Ngong Hills’, created by Kenya’s Kwame Nyong’o. It delves into the Maasai folklore regarding the formation of the Ngong hills that are on the outskirts of present day Nairobi, where an ogre with the habit of attacking villagers gets trapped by a beautiful Maasai girl. Another is ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’, a British-Kenyan animated series produced by Homeboyz Animation Kenya,that tells of various animals and how they got to acquire their physical features.
As most of these animations are set in Africa, they enable Kenyan children to learn more about, relate and connect with the African continent. Proximity tends to make things easier to visualise and piques a child’s interest. A great example is ‘Bino and Fino’ that teaches children about Africa in a fun way. It is centred on a young boy and girl who live with their grandparents in a city in Africa. A creation by Adamu Waziri, it is produced by EVCL studio in Nigeria. Kenyan children also get to learn about animals found in our beautiful continent through productions such as ‘Jungle Beat’ by Sunrise Productions South Africa. Aside from folk tales, ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’, also serves this purpose.
With the need to have Kenyan children learn and understand better, some of these cartoons have been translated into Kenya’s national language – Swahili. Even Western productions have made an effort to do the same as seen in the French series ‘Kirikou and the Sorceress’ and the American-Irish series, ‘Doc Mcstuffins’.
Whether a series or a short animation, a dialogue or dialogue-free nature, cartoons have made learning more fun. They have ensured that no matter the level of literacy or the age of a child, they are able to understand and have the message embedded in their minds. With the increase in training institutions that offer animation courses in Kenya, it is certain that Kenyan children will have access to more local content to thrill and jog their minds.