Language and literacy acquisition forms the basis of human communication, cognition, and social interaction. Yet, a significant portion of young children in South Africa cannot read for meaning. Numerous factors play a hand in this unsettling situation, including inadequate access to essential resources, skills, and tools for caregivers to teach their children to read from a young age. This reality is especially true for caregivers in low-resourced communities.
There is a pressing need for innovative solutions that can truly empower caregivers to enhance language and literacy acquisition among their children right from the comfort of their homes.
Empowering fathers to connect and teach their children
Juggling between work responsibilities and parenting requires time and effort. In their busy schedules, some fathers may find it challenging to dedicate time to spend with their children in learning activities. This is particularly true because many of them haven’t had their own fathers model this care and education for them.
Launched in 2022 by EISH and Count Africa, with financial and strategic support from Innovation Edge (IE), the Hey Dad! app is specifically designed to solve this problem. This innovative solution puts a particular emphasis on enabling busy fathers to connect with their young children while engaging in meaningful learning activities together.
Through Hey Dad!, fathers, which includes all male caregivers, can access a variety of easy-to-follow bite-sized video clips that model activities that teach them how to effectively praise and engage with their children. It gives fathers an opportunity to create special moments with their young ones, while also gaining confidence that they can prepare their children for “big school”, regardless of their education level. Not only are these activities fun, but they also impart crucial math, science, and literacy skills.
One of the videos, for instance, will help the child gain language and communication skills, as well as role-playing and storytelling skills. Another video teaches a child about the weather – enabling them to gain scientific knowledge, skills for doing an experiment, and language to describe what they do and see during the activity.
The app is accessible through Google Play, Huawei Gallery and on MTN’s Ayoba mobile app.
Fathers who have limited data access can simply reach out to EISH and request a MicroSD card loaded with all the activities available on the app. With both the MicroSD card and the downloaded app, dads can navigate through the content both offline and online.
From an idea to a solution for fathers and early literacy
Hey Dad! is a collaborative product of two dynamic organisations – Eish and Count Africa. In 2021, they joined forces to respond to Innovation Edge’s call for innovative ideas to improve fathers’ involvement in children’s early lives.
EISH, a company dedicated to producing educational content for youth, and Count Africa that strives to increase parental involvement in teaching and learning math, were a perfect match for Hey Dad! Both teams brought different yet complementary expertise and experience to develop Hey Dad! in a way that benefits fathers and their young children in low-resourced areas.
EISH was already on the path to developing an app that would make their content accessible to South African youth at an affordable price. Meanwhile, Count Africa, through their math education workshops in under-resourced schools and communities, noticed a concerning limited attendance of male caregivers to the workshops. It became clear that some fathers, despite their genuine interest in engaging with their children, often felt compelled to prioritise their work schedules over quality time with their children. Count Africa’s workshops also revealed a sense of reservation and vulnerability among the participating fathers.
This eye-opening observation and the need to make content relatable sparked the idea of Hey Dad! – an app that would allow fathers to participate in their young children’s learning and literacy acquisition, in their own space and time, while effectively addressing barriers of accessibility to relevant content. Hey Dad! was consequently launched in April 2022. It is the first app that is specifically designed for South African dads, and one that offers practical activities linked to learning and development of young children.
Unleashing the power of imagination by supporting innovation
As an impact-first investor that is always on the lookout for innovative solutions to early childhood development challenges, we found that Hey Dad! perfectly aligns with our investment approach at IE. This app tackles two of our key impact areas – Early Learning in the Home and Early Security and Safety. Through our financial support of nearly R800 000 and strategic guidance, we’ve helped Hey Dad! develop 18 videos that empower fathers to engage with their children and foster literacy skills. We believe that through the development of the app and strategic guidance, EISH and Count can extend their reach to benefit more fathers and children across South Africa.
“Innovation Edge has been instrumental in supporting Hey Dad!’s journey. The financial assistance helped us develop 18 activities for three to four-year-old children. But the team’s guidance and support extend beyond funding. They steered our approach on how best to deliver the product. We are currently attending an online training on monitoring and evaluation which is really valuable. The investee workshop we attended in Cape Town earlier this year helped us in applying business principles to ensure the success and longevity of our offering. We don’t know of any investor who offers so much non-financial support. We are hugely grateful!” Nadia O’Brien – Curriculum and Content Manager at EISH
Reaching and impacting dads and children in South Africa and beyond
Initially (in 2022), Count ran a pilot of Hey Dad!’s offline app with over 115 fathers in Mpumalanga. The participants included biological fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other male caregivers. Their feedback was highly encouraging. Most fathers reported that they not only enjoyed spending quality time with their children through the app’s activities but also noticed a significant improvement in communication between themselves and their children. Others also expressed surprise at how much their children knew and how capable they were of learning, even at such a young age. There’s often a misconception that learning only begins at formal schooling.
Concurrently, EISH ran a social media campaign on both Facebook and MTN’s Ayoba platform. The Ayoba platform affords the MTN users a certain amount of free data daily. Capitalising on this, EISH used Ayoba to create a dedicated channel for Hey Dad!, releasing an activity weekly, for dads to do with their little ones.
The campaign achieved considerable success, garnering 233 000 subscribers who engaged with the content regularly. Further, through the Ayoba Channel the app has gained users from various regions beyond South Africa, including Nigeria, Congo, and the United Arab Emirates.
Fathers who have been using Hey Dad! have greatly benefited in building bonds and improving communication with their children, while also enabling the children to thrive in their learning journey. Some of the male caregivers from the pilot shared some insights:
“I have learned to save a lot of objects I’d normally throw away because I now know I can use anything as a resource to teach my daughter.” Peace.
“Hey Dad! has taught me that I don’t need money to help my child in education.” Vusi
“Hey Dad! made me feel like a teacher – I felt like I was really helping my child learn new concepts. And we had so much fun.” Alulutho
“This project has helped my child express his feelings more freely. For example, when my child feels unwell, they now communicate with male family members and this builds a bond between them.” Samkelo
“The Hey Dad! project created bonds between our family members. Now my child plays with me and I’m enjoying playing with her too.” Themba
Gazing into the future
The EISH and Count Africa team are constantly striving to improve and have big plans in store for Hey Dad! One of their short-term goals is to develop a Hey Dad!’s chatbot on WhatsApp. This tool will enable direct contact with users, providing them with the much-needed support and guidance they seek. During the pilot phase, it became abundantly clear that many fathers feel isolated in their parenting journey and need assistance and resources. That’s where the chatbot will come in handy by offering a safe space for dads to share lessons and concerns and, if necessary, directing them to relevant organisations for further support.
The team also plans to expand Hey Dad!’s reach in future, through various media outlets such as radio, television and magazines. It has already begun actively soliciting funding and developing the concept for a daily television show aimed at caregivers of various child age groups. EISH and Count plan to distribute the series both through television and on social media. The team believes that this is a natural extension to the offering as it adds to the content library of Hey Dad! It also attracts a greater pool of caregivers by extending the age cohorts targeted.
The feedback from Hey Dad!’s users is inspiring and gives us courage and hope that it is possible to solve the early language and literacy issue in South Africa. By innovating and supporting innovative ideas that solve early learning issues, we are positively influencing children’s future learning journey and success.
Author: Dimpho Lephaila – Communications Associate at Innovation Edge