Innovative practice - Put a sock in it

13th January 2012 at 00:00
Using puppets to make fun, low-budget videos and TV programmes that promote learning and health

The background

Bruktawit Tigabu began her career as a primary school teacher in her home city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She was initially reluctant to become a teacher and underwent the training simply because it was one of the limited university courses available to her. "It was only when I went on my first teaching practice that I realised I really enjoyed and loved teaching," she says.

A problem she noticed when she began teaching full-time was the high level of drop-out among young pupils, with as many as 50 per cent not even completing their first year of primary at some Ethiopian schools. Ms Tigabu felt that this might be because few had attended nurseries, so were unprepared to go straight into formal education.

She was also worried about the high proportion suffering from illnesses including malaria and diarrhoea. A lack of health education was, she feared, a key reason why one in eight children in Ethiopia die from preventable diseases.

The approach

Ms Tigabu decided to make a fun educational video at home using animal puppets created from socks. Her husband Shane Etzenhouser helped her with the puppetry and the two filmed it in their living room using a video camera and a makeshift green screen, then edited it on a laptop, adding computerised backdrops.

Ms Tigabu screened the video to her pupils in 2005 and the reaction was so positive she managed to persuade Ethiopia's only television channel, ETV, to screen a series.

The 10-minute episodes of Tsehai Loves Learning focus on a young girl giraffe with a squeaky voice called Tsehai. "It was important to show that learning is fun," Ms Tigabu says. "And that Tsehai should be a girl and be inquisitive - it isn't common here for girls to ask questions."

Each episode teaches simple health lessons and the basics of literacy in Amharic, Ethiopia's principal language. One episode features an alphabet song for children to sing while washing their hands.

More than 30 of the episodes have been broadcast, and DVDs have also been sent to areas where families do not have their own televisions for community and school screenings.

Ms Tigabu now has a team of volunteers working with her on the Whiz Kids Workshop, a television company that she says takes inspiration from the success of US series Sesame Street. They have recently begun making a series of programmes featuring older students called Involve Me, as well as a series focused on science.

Tips from the scheme

Never forget that items at home can be turned into fun teaching tools - a sock can be transformed into a giraffe.

Green sheets can be used as green screens (though it may take some testing before you find the right green).

Don't be afraid if you've not tried something like this before. Ms Tigabu and her husband were novices when they started.

Evidence that it works?

The series Tsehai Loves Learning has reached an estimated five million young people in Ethiopia. The project has been backed by Unesco and has beaten competition from bigger budget US and UK children's programmes to win television awards in Japan and France. Last year, Ms Tigabu was named Rolex Young Laureate and the watch manufacturer has provided $50,000 for the scheme, its largest source of funding yet.

Approach: Making educational videos through the Whiz Kids Workshop

Leaders: Founded by Bruktawit Tigabu and Shane Etzenhouser

Started: 2005

Based: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Reach: An estimated five million young Ethiopians.

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