South Africa still has inordinately high levels of financial exclusion, while consumer financial education is recognised as one of the primary drivers to rectifying this legacy imbalance. And this education is most especially important for South Africa’s youth – for whom unemployment currently resides at a staggering 32.6% – if we are to start addressing the economic disparity that exists.
However, while there are a number of worthy initiatives being championed by both public and private sector in an effort to address financial illiteracy, says Claire Klassen, Group CSI Consumer Financial Education Specialist at Momentum Metropolitan: “COVID-19 dealt the grassroots financial education efforts in poorer communities a significant blow, with all classroom learning and training initiatives grinding to a halt when lockdown was announced.”
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However, crisis often leads to innovation. “While many programmes that involved face-to-face learning were initially paused with the advent of the coronavirus, necessity may have inadvertently catalysed a paradigm shift where technology-driven ‘edutainment’ becomes the order of the day, which brings with it the potential to democtratise financial education for all South African youth given its digital delivery,” she adds.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organisation, has highlighted that this digital delivery ‘makes financial education easier to access with the potential to be tailored to the specific target audience; is interactive and agile in nature; is user-friendly and has tremendous power in that it appeals to younger audiences.’
Edutainment, which typically seeks to instruct its audience by embedding lessons in entertaining material, is highly engaging which makes it effective when teaching a complex subject such as finance, in combination with more formal channels. “Young people are digital natives, and thus are highly comfortable with edutainment in the form of digital games and online programmes, so using these channels as a means to teach important financial concepts makes sense,” says Klassen.
An article in the University World News Africa edition, reported that African universities were starting to join the movement towards digital game-based learning and were recognising its potential in developing skills, increasing enjoyment and enhancing motivation. Said Kingsley Ofosu-Ampong, a researcher at the University of Ghana and vice-president of the Association for Information Systems Special Interest Group in Game Design and Research (SIGGAME): “The significance of digital game-based learning is in its ability to influence behaviour to the desired outcome and, importantly in the era of COVID-19, it offers a level of engagement to students to compensate for missing classroom activities.”
In 2019, Metropolitan launched an edutainment programme through the FunDza.mobi platform, which was later re-released in 2020 to coincide with lockdown. ‘Moving up with the Majolas’, a free, online course taught financial lessons through the engaging tale of the Majolas, a low-income family living in Soweto, which grapples with common financial matters that many of us will face at some point in our lives.
Klassen says that a key take-out was that those most financially vulnerable were highly receptive to the material – demonstrating a keen determination to improve their financial situation. Also, of note was the interest among youth – the course’s highest participation was within the 19 to 21-year age bracket, while those who were unemployed made up the largest percentage of the course’s participants (35.7%).
“In addition, learning is more flexible, as it can happen at a time that suits the participant,” she adds. ‘Moving up with the Majolas’ is not the financial services provider’s only venture in this space. Metropolitan’s Kickstarz programme, encompassing classroom-based lessons conducted in rural and disadvantaged communities, was designed to instill financial literacy in young people, as well as business and entrepreneurship skills. As a result of COVID, the programme was adapted to a WhatsApp ‘webinar’ format, combining media such as video, text and images in 90-minute sessions that learners could access via a dedicated WhatsApp group.
“With over 4000 participants currently registered, we did not anticipate such a successful response – or that the sessions would be so effective in imparting important financial knowledge with learners of a young age. They really connected with the material – and I believe that the entertaining, multi-media format played a pivotal role in this.”
While edutainment and digital learning may be the wave of the future as it allows for scalability, there are still significant hurdles to be overcome. “The cost of data and access to tech are still challenges, particularly in a South African context where there is a severe shortage of resources, says Klassen. “In addition, certain rural areas are not conducive to a solid online connection.”
Klassen believes that infrastructure and zero-rated data should be a consideration when developing digital financial literacy for low-income target audiences.“Finally, monitoring and evaluation tools and consent for minors to partake in these programmes should form part of the conversation when developing a programme where edutainment, gamification and e-learning on a device is considered.
“This is critical if we are to unlock the full potential that edutainment offers countries such as ours, where financial vulnerability remains a core socio-economic challenge.”