The Kenyan TV programme Makutano Junction is gaining new fans and challenging old ideas in UK schools. Kenyan viewers have been caught up in tales of people who live, do business, fall in love, get sick or get drunk in the fictional town of Makutano. But more surprisingly, viewers now also include school students in the UK watching the soap in the classroom, where it is being used as an awareness raising teaching aid. And it has got the children hooked.
Makutano Junction is an ‘edutainment’ soap series, delivering messages like how to prevent malaria, or how to live with HIV and AIDS.
UK teachers attend induction days, where they are familiarised with programme and supporting material – including a website, and explore how to use them in lessons. With cultural awareness an increasingly important part of UK education, a global dimension is now compulsory in the secondary curriculum, and teachers need to find ways of including it. After watching clips from the programme, children are encouraged to discuss – or develop role plays – based on issues raised in packaged themes such as Exploring Kenya; Living with HIV and AIDS; the Millennium Development Goals and Me.
“It’s fascinating when you go into these schools,” says Lloyd Morgan, one of the programme makers. “I find it really shocking what kids’ perceptions are – it’s quite an eye opener. Their perceptions are that Africa is very hot, very dirty and very poor, with lots of wild animals and mud huts. Then we show Makutano. In it we have got characters who are dressed smartly, paint their nails and wear groovy jeans.”
So what do British children make of Kenya’s skyscrapers, people who wear fashionable jeans, own a business and use mobile phones? At first, they can be surprised. Lloyd Morgan recalls, “One boy said, 'But Miss, she has a mobile phone. They don’t have mobile phones in Africa.’” Challenging stereotypes is a large part of what the initiative is about.
Back here in Kenya though, we have now realized that Shuga is a more exciting approach for reaching our young people. Shuga follows the lives and loves of a group of cool young students whose bright lives and fabulous futures are balanced on a knife-edge due to their love of risk and danger. It's a story about sex with a great story line and good actors. So why are UK kids still watching Makutano Junction? What do you think UK kids should watch? Let us know in the poll below and feel free to write your observations as comment on this post.