New app could provide literacy and psychosocial support to Syrian children

By Karen Ives

July 8, 2016

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Creative’s submission to the Norwegian Development Agency’s EduApp4Syria competition, Katkooti, (meaning ‘My Chick’ in Arabic), will provide literacy education and psychosocial support to millions of displaced Syrian children. Designed for children ages 5 to 10, the pet simulation app encourages users to help their chicks thrive within safe, interactive learning environments.

For millions of out-of-school Syrian children, a new smartphone app could be key to building literacy and providing psychosocial support.

Creative Associates International is a top-five finalist in a global competition called EduApp4Syria to develop a smartphone application for early grade reading and psychosocial support for millions of out-of-school Syrian children who have been displaced by conflict.

Funded by the Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD), the competition received 78 entries from developers around the world, though Creative was the only competitor from the Americas. NORAD’s aim is to leverage the opportunity to educate out-of-school children displaced by violence using highly accessible smartphones.

For Ayan Kishore, a Senior Associate at Creative in Technology for Development, the EduApp4Syria competition was an opportunity to utilize the organization’s unique talents and expertise.

“This opportunity brought all our skills to the table: our expertise in Technology for Development, our core in education in conflict zones—particularly local language literacy—and our experience in Syria,” says Kishore. “This opportunity was perfect for us.”

Education & psychosocial support through play

Creative’s substantial experience in Education in Conflict and Technology for Development come together in an innovative way to respond to this competition. The app was developed by the Creative Development Lab, which is dedicated to finding innovative ways to apply technology to enhance the scale, reach and cost-effectiveness of Creative’s programs and projects.

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The app allows users to learn how to read Arabic alongside Katkooti, a caring, interactive pet.

Katkooti, which means ‘My Chick’ in Arabic, will provide literacy education and psychosocial support to millions of displaced Syrian children. Katkooti is an interactive pet simulation game where children, ages 5 to 10, help their chicks thrive within safe, interactive learning environments.

Inspired by successful commercial pet games and conceptualized in consultation with Syrian children, Katkooti is designed so users master key literacy skills through sequenced activities that also improve psychosocial wellbeing through caring relationships, active engagement and decision making.

Katkooti increases literacy through incorporating the eight steps of the Integrated Quality of Reading in Arabic (IQRA), a successful systematic approach to reading developed by Creative and used in Yemen.

Dr. Samia Elbassiouny, an expert in Arabic literacy and early grade reading, consulted on Creative’s app.

“The children learn to read from the letter’s sound and shape, which is called phonemic awareness,” explains Elbassiouny. “Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate sounds in language, and that is what the IQRA builds on.”

Creative’s IQRA method has been proven to increase literacy in Arabic much more quickly and effectively than traditional methods. It utilizes not only culturally sensitive materials, designed around Arabic culture and heritage, but also leverages recent developments in technology such as tablet or, as this competition demonstrates, smartphone apps.

Creative’s Katkooti app will also foster emotional and psychosocial development in children by using the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL’s) five interrelated sets of social and emotional learning, including self-awareness, responsibility decision-making, relationship skills, social awareness and self-management.

The future app will track the progress of emotional and psychosocial development of the users, and reports progress to parents through texts and other forms of digital communication. Katkooti regularly checks in with users, asking them how they’re feeling while providing emotional support and positive messaging.

The app is being developed by Creative Frontiers, which has produced award-winning games, apps, animations and children’s storybooks. It will be built as an expandable platform to allow for further development and improvement.

Proven education results in conflict and crisis

Katkooti, draws on Creative’s substantial experience in the development of education programs in conflict and post-conflict communities.

In 2011, Creative launched a highly successful reading program in Yemen, which worked through conflict and instability to revitalize early grade reading curriculum and improve teacher professional development systems. It was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Currently, Creative is providing educational opportunities and psychosocial support to Nigerian youth displaced by insurgency through the Education Crisis Response program. By leveraging existing research on improving psychosocial wellbeing in children, Creative’s approach supports social-emotional competency development. The program is funded by USAID.

Creative’s responsive e-learning platform, CreativeU, connects relevant courses, resources and professional colleagues, mentors and experts to the people and organizations who need them. CreativeU connects teachers, professionals in development and youth working to improve their lives and communities around the world to high-quality online and mobile content for career improvement and lifelong learning.

Sustained dedication to Syrian beneficiaries

“This allows us to do more work with refugees and positions us for post-crisis work.”

Ayan Kishore, Senior Associate in Technology for Development

Now that Creative’s prototype has been accepted as a finalist, it has moved into the alpha stage of development, which will flesh out the prototype and receive feedback from potential users.

The feedback received from these alpha testers will go toward improving the app for the beta version. If NORAD selects Creative’s app as a winner in the EduApp4Syria competition, it will move from beta testing to being finalized for rollout.

For Kishore, the project is a huge opportunity to build off the work Creative has already been doing: “This allows us to do more work with refugees, and positions us for post-crisis work since there will be a lot of need in education and other areas.”

Creative and the other finalists will spend the next few months improving their apps, developing and testing them for the phase of the competition. After assessment and testing, up to three finalists will be offered contracts for the final phase.

In December of this year or early 2017, NORAD will select up to two winners.

Syria_Katkooti_thumb

 

Creative’s submission to the Norwegian Development Agency’s EduApp4Syria competition, Katkooti, (meaning ‘My Chick’ in Arabic), will provide literacy education and psychosocial support to millions of displaced Syrian children. Designed for children ages 5 to 10, the pet simulation app encourages users to help their chicks thrive within safe, interactive learning environments.

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