Can cartoons help children learn how to read and write? Literacy learning from Akili and Me


This is one in a series of four articles exploring the use of early childhood development messages in children’s television programming.

Ubongo Meets IDELA

As a response to the challenges children face when entering school for the first time, Ubongo, a Pan-African social enterprise aimed at significantly improving school readiness and learning outcomes for kids through localized edutainment, used IDELA to develop and test 52 episodes of a new edutainment series called Akili and Me. The series is targeted towards young children in the pre-primary ages of 3 to 6 where children learn a variety of different topics related to early childhood education through cartoons, fun activities and songs. Akili and Me covers all four domains measured by IDELA: motor development, social-emotional development, emergent literacy and emergent numeracy.

Early Literacy in Early Childhood Development

Save the Children defines emergent literacy as “the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that a child develops in relation to reading and writing throughout the early childhood period, starting at birth and before the onset of conventional reading and writing instruction (usually at school entry)” (Save the Children, n.d). Early learning skills are developed as children learn how to use both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication to express themselves. These early literacy skills include language development where children also develop their vocabulary, experiment writing where early writing efforts resemble scribbling, print awareness where children begin to understand that print on a page represents something, and letter knowledge and alphabetic principle where children begin to recognize letters of the alphabet and learn to associate letters with sound (Shrier & Michigan State University Extension, 2013).

Literacy Learning through Akili and Me

IDELA provides various assessment tasks within the emergent literacy domain which include print awareness, expressive vocabulary, letter identification, phonological awareness and listening comprehension. Akili and Me offers several episodes for learning within this domain. For example, “Reading with Akiliis an episode where children learn how to read a book and are prompted with “where, who, when” questions, “Learn the letter A” is an episode and part of a series where children get introduced to each letter of the alphabet, and “Animal Alphabet” enables children to learn each letter of the alphabet accompanied by animal names that start with each letter.

To assess the impact of Akili and Me on preprimary children, Ubongo conducted a randomized control trail using IDELA where 568 children from nine government schools were selected and were between the ages of 4 to 5 years, spoke Kiswahili as a first language, and come from low or middle-income families. Children were assessed using IDELA before and after a five-week intervention in the classroom. Results from the study concluded that children who watched Akili and Me exhibited a 13% gain in emergent literacy in comparison to children in the control group.

To learn more about Akili and Me’s impact on child participants, click here


Shrier, C., & Michigan State University Extension. (2018, September 20). ABC’s of Early Literacy: The importance of developing early literacy skills. Retrieved from

Save the Children. (n.d.). Emergent Literacy: Investing Early for Exponential Outcomes. Retrieved from