Entertainment Education: Intersections Between Communication and Development

Betty Ackah shares her experience as a student in the PhD program at the School of Communication.

Originally from Ghana, Betty found her passion for International Development while studying in Ohio. She is currently a PhD student in our School of Communication, who is exploring the connections between Communication and International Development, with aspirations of using concepts such as entertainment education to shape the future of Ghana.

How did you find out about the School of Communication, and prompted you to pursue a degree here?

During my Masters studies, I worked with one of UNICEF’s Communication for Development projects where a professor shared the concept of development through communication, specifically entertainment education. Since then, I have always been interested in the notion of using communication to promote health education in developing countries.

I became interested in SFU’s School of Communication when I first read Dr. Katherine Reilly’s work international development and communication. I also discovered Dr. Martin Laba’s work on using communication for development in Ghana. His work spoke to me, especially given my past work in Ghana with the Maternal Health Channel. My main project while working there was a TV and radio series where we conducted research about various topics related to maternity (teen pregnancy, religious and cultural attitudes, myths, etc.) and created individual programs to address each topic of concern. Each program was formatted as a documentary on a particular person’s story with one of those topics, followed by an educational discussion.

What does your research at SFU focus on?

At SFU, I have become fascinated with Dr. Reilly’s work on her International Development Research Centre project for open development: making initiatives open and freely accessible on digital platforms so individuals can have opportunities for collaboration, adaption and reuse for development. 

My research will focus on entertainment education and using communication for development in Ghana. I know first-hand that people in Ghana love storytelling, and it would be fascinating to leverage entertainment (such as soap operas, movies, and music) to teach and educate people about health and other important issues. I intend to inculcate principal aspects of open development into my research.

How would you describe entertainment education?

The idea is to share and gain knowledge about anything, through the use of entertainment.

The best example I often give is a Peruvian soap opera called “Simply Maria”. Essentially the storyline is about a girl who moves from a village to a city. There, she meets a rich man, but falls into an abusive relationship. Eventually the two separated, but she was unable to secure a job with her limited education. She subsequently enrolled in adult education and began working on a successful career. The idea behind “Simply Maria” was for it to be utilized by the Peruvian government to promote enrolment in adult education, and it was a great success. 

What is the most challenging aspect of entertainment education? What advice would you give someone who was interested in it?

Making it contextual to the area in which it is being used. For example: in Ghana, some of the knowledge that exists in health education comes from “the North” to “the South”. People don’t necessarily relate to many things that are prominent in western culture.

A lot of people who create entertainment media always feel like they have knowledge to impart, but don’t necessarily respect the context of the people and place they’re sharing it with. Taking personal opinions and views into account with local knowledge is key, as it helps the recipients relate to the information being shared.

Rather than thinking of it as education, a better perspective may be to consider it as a style of sharing. You can’t simply give knowledge as if you were simply dropping off something and leaving.

What is media consumption like in Ghana?

In Ghana, TV and radio are very common. Radio has a larger audience, however there is the question of who controls it and who has access to it. 

Recently, there has been an increase in mobile phone usage - this is significant in the sense that almost everyone, even in rural areas, has two cell phones. Despite the large presence of mobile phones, internet usage is very limited.

In terms of entertainment education, mobile phones and radio are the way to go to disseminate media. In addition to radio shows, there is now the possibility of creating a mini drama series sent through mobile devices.

Having studied and taught in Canada and the United States, how is life here different from Ghana?

In Canada and the US, I find people are generally very polite. That being said, there is a strong sense of individuality, and less of a focus on community. A challenge for me was learning the social norms and boundaries for things like personal space.

The largest difference I’ve noticed is the food. Not necessarily just about the taste or the style, but the smell. If you walked into any open-air market in Ghana, the aromas encapsulate you. Flavours and smells are much more reserved here.