Kukua, a game-based learning startup based in San Francisco is building mobile games to make learning fun and exciting to help kids in low-income areas learn theories and concepts and be at par with their counterparts world over.

The startup says it was inspired by some of the most engaging games in the world and brought together world literacy experts and cognitive psychologists to design a curriculum specifically for kids in low-income communities. The game reportedly takes the learners on an exploratory journey inspired by local culture, myth and folklore and compelling storylines to drive curiosity and awaken a love of learning.

Founded by Lucrezia Bisignani, Douglas Hoernle and Alexandre Terrien and Sabrina Bagus, Kukua believes that by teaching basic writing and reading skills, it could lift 171 million people out of poverty, effectively removing 12% of the world’s poverty. The firm says that out of the 250 million children present globally, just 200 million of them attend school but are still illiterate. It gets worse in Sub-Saharan Africa, where two thirds of illiterate children are located, 67% of students drop out before finishing primary school, and another 20% graduate illiterate.

With the growing smartphone adoption on the continent, the firm sees game-based learning as the future of literacy on the continent as the games could help create highly motivating and engaging learning environments unlike what’s being offered. Kukua aims to allow learners to learn at their own pace and get to appreciate both theoretical and practical learning for empowerment, critical thinking and active community participation. These lessons are expected to help improve economic growth, improved health conditions and gender equality.

At the moment, Kukua has SEMA, an adventure game that takes learners through obstacles to overcome, bosses to defeat and missions to finish. The game has practical lessons which kids would grow up to solve rather than the read and write-based curriculum that is currently taught.  The firm says game-based learning would motivate children to learn as the lessons are game-based, are on a tablet or a smartphone and the curriculum is online and is game-based. Kids were first fascinated with technology but after sometime their interest waned but the interest in games never reduced.

SEMA has been tested in Kenya and Gambia, and the games kept learners engaged month over month during the pilot phase in Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya where the school director agreed that the games motivated and engaged his pupils. The firm adds that to increase learner motivation and drive further engagement, it creates anticipation in learners through the map which helps learners visualize their progress, and expect a reward after they pass a level.

“It became even clearer to us after those tests that engagement is the key challenge. We’re on the right track – building a game with a local narrative that resonates with them – but we need to do more to make sure the gaming never stops. Never should it feel like players are back in a more academic setting. Of course, extending the gaming experience comes with its own risks, and we can’t sacrifice the quality of the educational content we provide. But one doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of the other and we’re excited to keep looking for the perfect balance,” announced the firm on its website.

Kukua will be taking on Kenya’s Eneza Education and M-Shule which basically digitize the current education system and do not introduce anything new out of the set curricular.