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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Media That Matters

Oct. 23, 2015

The Japan Prize is the world's only competition for educational programs. The prize was developed by NHK in 1965 to give international creators of educational programming a place to showcase their work. Producers from around the world gathered in Tokyo recently for this year's 50th anniversary ceremony.

The top prize went to "Our Colonial Hangover" a documentary from the Netherlands addressing everyday racism and the country's colonial past.

The first Japan prize ceremony took place in 1965 when broadcasting organizations from around the world got behind the award. The first competition received 185 entries.

Judges flew in from around the world to pick the winners. They look for the best work in all age categories from shows that teach children to read to documentaries aimed at adults. One of the early winners was a program that went on to become one of the most famous shows in television history: Sesame Street.

The Japan Prize also supports producers in countries that don't have the budgets for educational programming. The juries choose promising proposals and give people money to make their ideas a reality.

Namibian producer Glynis Beukes-Kapa beat 41 other applicants to scoop last year's prize. She used the 8,000 dollars she received from the award to make a cartoon designed to help children learn English.

"I came to Japan to try and find a voice for people to listen to my plight in Namibia for elementary kids," Kapa said. "I never expected this so thank you."

Glynis Beukes-Kapa came to Japan again for this year's ceremony to talk about what she created with NHK's Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu.

Shibuya: Glynis, thank you for coming. Well, looking back over last year, how was the production process?

Kapa: Difficult, No. 1, but exciting. For Namibian broadcasters it was the first time I've ever done animation and worked with this age group for television so it's been a wonderful year of experience.

Beppu: This program is to spread English use in your country but why is such a program needed? Does it have something related with the fact that your country is very young?

Kapa: Very young. We only got independence in 1990. English has then become our official language as with a lot of the Southern African countries. But internally, we have 13 different languages and when kids have to start school, they have to come from a home indigenous language to speaking English. And we need to help the kids as a public broadcaster to feel that they are at home when they come to school and that they can manage with the English language as a medium of instruction.

Beppu: Just to make sure, English is the official language but that doesn't mean everyone speaks and reads English.

Kapa: Exactly. So it's officially in the schools and in the public and in the courts. But at home, kids still speak the language, parents working. Yes, it's the second most popular language in the country. The first one is Oshiwambo, which is the national (language), one of the groups we have in Namibia.

Beppu: There was a big change in your station I understand. There was an expansion of channels.

Kapa: Very exciting. For the first time in December of last year, we switched over to TTT and from one channel we now have the capacity of three. So children's programming now had a certain spot on the first channel and we could now speak to children of that age group specifically so it was a huge change for us.

Shibuya: And Glynis, why a Meerkat for the main character?

Kapa: Meerkats, although a wild animal, are freely found in Namibia. So if the kids are in a city or a rural area, they can still see a Meerkat. If I had chosen an elephant, kids would have to have gone to a national park to go see the animals. But with the Meerkat, they can observe outside their homes. They are inquisitive, they are friendly. Kids can relate to them and they are playful like children so that is why.

The name of Kapa's program is "Meerkat's Adventure." It follows a Meerkat named Max and his little sister Osho as they travel around Namibia learning English and discovering things about their country.

It teaches viewers numbers and letters. English is the official language of Namibia but not everyone can speak it. Most use one of several indigenous languages. Kapa says her show is entirely in English, because children living in remote villages don't get a chance to learn the language.

She hopes "Meerkat's Adventure" will be a valuable resource for teachers and childcare providers.

Max and Osho interact with children living in various parts of the country. Kapa says she hopes this will give children in rural villages a view of Namibia many never get to see.

Shibuya: So Glynis, what kind of responses are you getting from the public?

Kapa: Firstly, from the Ministry of Education, there has been a positive response because they haven't had something like that that can speak to children widely. And also from the kids, a lot of smiles, laughter and also recollection of what was in the program so we found it has been working. And also because the program goes out not just once but we can repeat it and not just on the first channel but on the third one as well so the response has been great. It's been helping us to send the message across. And it's something we can talk now with Southern African countries. SABA, which is the Southern African Broadcast Association, wants to take this type of program into all Southern African countries where the English language is spoken. So we can share the English language with other countries in the region.

Beppu: Don't you face any technical problems? It's not like other so-called developed countries. Not every family has a TV set.

Kapa: Definitely not. We only reach about 68 percent of the country so there is a vast area where there is no television but with solar power coming onto the scene we've been able to get certain central areas like schools or community halls or even churches sometimes. You know that someone has a television with solar power and then kids can come in after school in the afternoon, come to a central area and watch this program. And that's why this program is not in the morning but in the afternoons so it's given us a bigger reach. And another thing people might not know is there are more cell phones than people in Namibia. So with the smartphone age dawning in Namibia, we've got another platform to be able to show this program. So if a parent has a phone that is a smartphone, we'll be able to use a smaller screen to reach children and not only at school but wherever we can find them in Namibia and that has been very exciting for us.

Beppu: Well, your challenges remind me of a striking fact in Africa which I used to go travel to quite often when I was a correspondent, especially to South Africa. The borders are artificially straight where the colonialists draw lines according to their interests. So after a country gets independent, people go to use English as a common denominator. But how complicated is that and how is that a challenge to a TV person like you in Africa?

Kapa: It's very challenging. No. 1 because you also have groups that have been separated from each other so it's not like in Japan where you have one language that you can teach. So we've got to think of do we make textbooks for 13 different languages and how do you communicate? How many teachers do you have to teach? So it's been very difficult, traditionally, we've got to share traditions, how do we find common ground for these kids to come into school and share the same experiences and not feel left out of the system.

And this is where a program like Meerkat being in English is a common denominator for them all. So we all come from outside but when we are in the classroom and we watch this program we understand the same things, the same language and experience becomes the same. And it's also...you don't talk about your traditional or my traditional values, we're talking about the Meerkat which is an animated character which is something that we can learn from that it's not you are more important than I am.

Beppu: And it's not like a direct import of foreign culture. The Meerkat is yours, it's part of your traditional scenery.

Kapa: It's part of our scenery, it's just part of like in Namibia. So if the kids go out and play, they see a Meerkat. It's not something foreign. So all of a sudden they feel like there is a comfort zone and they can build on something that is important to them like identity. You know, we get lost in the world. We see a lot of television from outside but we don't like a lot of things locally. So kids want to be more American or something else and not proudly Namibian. And through programs like this with the Meerkat, we can teach kids how to be identified with what is Namibian and how to be proudly Namibian and send that message not just in Namibia but out there in Africa and so we can show kids how to be proudly Namibian.

Beppu: And proudly African.

Kapa: And proudly African, definitely.