Digital games to educate refugee kids are winners
- 02 November 2018
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When Video Games Without Borders launched ‘Antura and The Letters’ in response to the EduApp4Syria call, a 2016 challenge to game developers around the world to create smartphone applications that can build foundational literacy skills in Arabic and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian out-of-school children aged five to ten, the team did not imagine the success that would come their way.
The game was released in March 2017 as an open beta. Since February this year, when the new version was launched with improvements resulting from test data and analysis, it has already scored 90,000 downloads and the numbers are expected to reach 200,000 in the coming months.
The Spanish non-profit organisation was adjudged the winner of the Islamic Creative Economy Competition at a gala dinner at the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) 2018 on October 30, 2018.
“We have a lot of organic downloads in Arab countries. Apart from being designed for the refugee children who may not be attending school, the game is a perfect complementary learning tool for children who are in school, and that's why people love it,” Francesco Cavallari, who founded the non-profit Video Games Without Borders (VGWB) in 2015, told My Salaam.
Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) launched the Islamic Creative Economy (ICE) Competition in partnership with Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC). After receiving over 120 nominations, 10 finalists were selected to pitch their innovative solutions. The top three winners were selected by a jury and audience votes.
Cavallari estimates that the NGO can help a child to learn and read for just a euro and plans to launch Antura and The Letters in other languages in order to make more refugee kids literate.
“We are definitely spending the prize money on our programme. This award is a big boost to make the game available in other languages for children in other regions of the world. We want to help more kids through a combination of technology and entertainment,” he said.
The game is a free mobile and PC game that mixes entertainment technology with specific Arabic learning content to offer an engaging experience. Children learn principles of reading Arabic via 23 games. They test their skills on nine types of quizzes, even as 15 learning blocks guide a child’s progress step by step. It has 500 customisation possibilities and all modern standard Arabic letters (including letter sounds, combinations and special cases) with over 400 words.
“The biggest challenge was to involve the families in design and testing to be sure that the game is in line with what they were expecting – in terms of bandwidth needed, or the fact that the phones may be old,” he said.
“The game is very simple and very small so you can download it on any phone. Once you download it, you don't need an internet connection, and you can play anywhere," Cavallari said, putting his 20 years of experience in the gaming industry to use in creating this app.
With a focus on accessibility for the entire MENA region, Antura teaches modern standard Arabic using an approach called “stealth learning” as well as uses skills such as aiming and precision to teach without the process feeling like a lesson.
“Kids can play autonomously, and there is no need for supervision. They engage on a journey together with their companion and learn all the Arabic alphabets, all forms of the letters, the main diacritics to even decoding words. The game really offers a full basic literacy package.”
Video Games Without Borders will start a Facebook campaign to reach many more kids in the region especially in areas with high density of refugees, Cavallari said. The NGO has an online community comprising 220 people in 28 countries, who work on a voluntary basis.
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