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Edu4syria: Syrian war-affected kids get a Digital way to Study

Thanks to war, over 4 million Syrian children are not in school and have never learned to read

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Syrian children in Lebanese school. Image source Wikimedia commons
  • War trauma makes learning more difficult in kids, negatively affects memory, concentration and other cognitive abilities 
  • Edu4Syria is game-based learning app to reach kids, displaced inside Syria or refugees
  • The app will engage children and help them in motivational literacy learning games

With numbers that will certainly shock minds, the Syrian Center for Policy Research reports the killing of 250,00 to 470,000 people. Due to the war complexities and chaos, the United Nations announces that it stopped trying to track those killed saying it could no longer accurately confirm the number.

The destruction of Syria was summed up this way by a report released by the U.N. human rights agency released in February: “…Civilians bear the brunt of intensifying hostilities conducted by an ever-increasing number of warring parties. As their country is reduced to ruins around them, Syrian men, women and children – often the objects of deliberate attack – are fleeing their homes in an uncertain and often perilous search for safe haven.” And this estimate: over 4 million Syrian children are not in school thanks to the war.

Syrian army solider. Image commons Wikimedia commons
Syrian army solider. Image commons Wikimedia commons

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Kahoot. Image source Wikimedia commons
Kahoot. Image source Wikimedia commons

Enter Edu4Syria, a $1.7 million competition, run jointly by Norway, the United States and a small group of non-governmental organizations, to tap into the widespread use of smartphones and keep displaced Syrians learning.

It’s a simple idea: use game-based learning to reach kids – displaced inside Syria or refugees – whose education has stalled.

“We went to Gaziantep in Turkey near the border with Syria and spoke to lots of Syrian families about this project,” says Dr. Afl Inge Wang, who is leading the competition. “In one home we visited, the entire family lived in one room and the youngest daughter, aged about 12, had never learned to read. But she often played games on her older brother’s smartphone,” added Wang, a professor in game based learning at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who co-invented the game platform Kahoot! 
Talking to war-affected children. Image source Wikimedia commons
Talking to war-affected children. Image source: Wikimedia commons

“Almost all Syrian households tend to own Smartphones,” said Børge Brende, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs in an email to reporter Wang.

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“We want to take advantage of this to make available engaging and motivational literacy learning games.”

War trauma can make learning more difficult, negatively affecting memory, concentration and other more nuanced cognitive stumbling blocks. So how does a smartphone game make a difference?

“Game-based learning can be an effective format,” said Liv Marte Kristiansen Nordhaug, senior adviser for the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, which supports the competition.

The sounds and animation in a digital game stimulate the brain, Nordhaug said. “The ability to adapt the challenges to the learner’s level” is another factor, along with “the ability to engage and motivate…through immersive narrative and fun gameplay.”

In December, two winners out of five current finalists will be chosen. The apps, all in Arabic, will work on both Apple and Android Smartphones.

“We need to scale up existing efforts that we know already work—like expanding the constellation of non-formal education centers or providing stipends to Syrian teachers who can help fill the enormous demand for trained and talented instructors,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken during remarks made at Standford University earlier this year.

“And we continue to need game-changing new ideas—like classrooms on wheels or extra lessons on podcast or virtual schools.”

Wang is looking for apps that kids can connect with. And he warned developers not to underestimate their smarts.

“Kids will quickly detect it if standard learning approaches are dressed up as games. It’s like feeding them chocolate covered broccoli. So we want real games, with great game mechanics and narratives, that can help the children learn how to read and provide some psycho-social support.”

-by Vrushali Mahajan, (with inputs from VOA), intern at NewsGram. Twitter @Vrushali Mahajan 

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  • devika todi

    such an initiative should always be encouraged.

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Women influence, irrespective of the field, is good for everyone, says Farhan Akhtar

Farhan Akhtar says that influence of women irrespective of the field is good for everyone

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Influence of women in any filed if good for everyone, says Farhan Akhtar.
Influence of women in any filed if good for everyone, says Farhan Akhtar. IANS

New Delhi, Dec 15, 2017: Actor-filmmaker-singer Farhan Akhtar hopes that actresses backing films as producers is not just a passing trend as he believes that women’s influence, irrespective of the field, is good for everyone.

Over the years, actresses like Dia Mirza, Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Chitrangda Singh and Richa Chadha have shown interest in contributing to filmmaking as producers.

Asked what he thought about the trend, Akhtar told IANS here: “That’s how it should be. Not just actresses, there are also a lot of female producers and women who are working in different companies and handling the creative aspect of those companies.”

“It is amazing to see that. The more influence that we have of women in any field, why just films… it can be sports or politics also, it’s good for everyone because they have a different perspective on things because they have experienced life in different ways from what we (men) have; so, it makes a difference,” added the brother of director Zoya Akhtar.

Farhan’s latest co-production, “Fukrey Returns”, registered an opening day collection of Rs 8.10 crore on December 8. Are box office collections more important when he produces a film?

“The reason you do a film is because you want to share it with the world and when a lot of people see your film, the most tangible recognition of it is the box office collection, because you can aggregate a number through it,” he said.

But for him, success of a film also means “conceptually what is done to get people to think about things”.

“There are many films that were released in their time and not considered box office hits, but what that film meant, the kind of story-telling, the work that went into that film have sustained and at times (they are) considered as landmark films and way ahead of their times.

“So, success of a film can be gauged on many fronts; but is box office important? Of course it is, because people are putting money in a film. You don’t want anyone to lose money,” said the co-founder of Excel Entertainment that has produced blockbusters like “Rock On!!” and “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”.

The first look of his next co-production “3 Storeys”, starring Pulkit Samrat, Sharman Joshi, Richa Chadha and Renuka Shahane, was unveiled last week.

So, is a multi-starrer the formula for a hit film?

“I don’t think so. Eventually, a good story should be the formula for success… whether it is about one person in a room or 21 people in a colony like in ‘3 Storeys’. Our emphasis is on trying to tell good stories.

“Arjun Mukerjee, who is the director and writer of this film, has truly put together something that we consider very special. Now we are excited to share it with others,” he said.

Farhan is also passionate about fitness, among other things. The actor, who has fronted ads of vitamins and dietary supplements brand, is now endorsing Apollo Munich Health Insurance.

Is he deliberately focussing on health-related brands?

“It is not deliberate. I do feel good about doing it when it does happen. I don’t go around looking for it, but I guess the lifestyle that I lead, the kind of work that I do, information on my life and focus on health and fitness, encourage people to come and speak to me about it,” said the 43-year-old.

When did he start taking fitness seriously?

“I got serious about it in 2003-2004. I was shooting for ‘Lakshya’ in Ladakh. We were there for five months and I felt incredibly fit by the time I came back from there.

“When I returned to Mumbai, my energy levels were really high… it was a feeling that I didn’t want to lose. That’s when I started training with Sam (Samir Jaura), who is my trainer,” said the “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” actor.

He believes fitness is not about “going to a gym and getting big biceps. It’s much more than that”. (IANS)

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Women’s major role in Shahid Kapoor’s life

Know why Shahid Kpoor says that women have been the strongest and important part of his life

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Women have played a major role in Shahid Kapoor's life
Women have played a major role in Shahid Kapoor's life. IANS
  • Shahid Kapoor talks about how women have played a major role in his life
  • Shahid Kapoor says how the condition of women has evolved in the Bollywood industry

New Delhi, Dec 9: Actor Shahid Kapoor says the strongest people in his life have been women, especially his mother Neelima Azeem who has been a single parent. He also calls his wife Mira and daughter Misha his “whole world” and says he couldn’t have been happier in his life than now.

Shahid spoke to IANS on phone from Mumbai on the sidelines of Reebok FitToFight Awards 2.0, where the brand felicitated women nominees from across the country for their spirit and courage.

“I don’t think there is anything which resonated with me so naturally as this campaign did. The strongest people in my life have been women, starting with my mother. She was a single parent and she was the most powerful and the strongest, and a person I would depend on the most,” said Shahid, who endorses Reebok with Kangana Ranaut.

“Today, Mira and Misha are my whole world and I can’t think of any reason why this initiative would not connect with me. It’s the most natural connect,” said the actor, who also believes women are fitter than men.

“Women know how to deal with situations better than most men do. They are very independent and self-assured,” he said.

So is he going to inculcate these traits in Misha too?

“I want her to discover herself, be respectful towards family and appreciate everything that she has. I want her to spread love and happiness,” he said of his little one, who was born in August 2016.

Coming from an industry where heroines often complain about not getting the equal screen space compared to their male counterparts, Shahid feels the journey of female stars has changed over the years.

“It’s important to recognise roles for their power, for their impact. It doesn’t matter whether it is male or female. I think stories that deserve being told, the characters that deserve being showcased, must be showcased. There is nothing like male or female in art. It’s just about discussing life, connecting with people and saying something substantial.

“I think it’s amazing to see that so much has been created in films which are female-centric and they are loved by audiences. It also goes to show that we have a lot of women in the audience, in case anybody had forgotten,” he said.

And what does he think about pay equality?

“I think it is changing for the positive. I think people are recognising (the issue) and it is all co-related. Today, women-oriented films have started doing extremely well and they have developed a market for themselves. Therefore, the change is naturally happening.

“Like I said before, it’s not about male or female. If you deserve to be paid a certain amount because that is how viable you are, you must be paid that,” Shahid told IANS.

His next film “Padmavati”, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is under the scanner for alleged distortion of historical facts about the fabled Rajput queen. The film was scheduled to release on December 1, but was deferred and uncertainty over its release still looms large.

Tired of commenting on the row, he said: “I have spoken enough and I don’t feel the need to say anything more.”

He also said trolls and backlash are problems emerging from social media.

“It’s very easy to pass a comment when you don’t have to be accountable for it because nobody even knows who you are.” (IANS)

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Google launches three new apps for photography

The new photography applications are "Storyboard" (available on Android only), "Selfissimo!" (available on iOS and Android) and "Scrubbies" (available on iOS only).

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44th Anniversary of the birth of Hip Hop

San Francisco, Dec 12: Google has introduced three photography apps which are part of a new series that it has dubbed as photography “appsperiments”.

“We’re launching the first installment of a series of photography appsperiments: Usable and useful mobile photography experiences built on experimental technology. Our ‘appsperimental’ approach was inspired in part by ‘Motion Stills’,” the company wrote in a research blog late on Monday.

“‘Motion Stills’ is an app developed by researchers that converts short videos into cinemagraphs and time lapses using experimental stabilisation and rendering technologies,” Google added.

Google apps
Google introduces photography apps

The new photography applications are “Storyboard” (available on Android only), “Selfissimo!” (available on iOS and Android) and “Scrubbies” (available on iOS only).

The “Storyboard” app takes video clips and automatically pulls out six frames that it lays out in a comic book-style template.

“Selfissimo!” is an automated selfie photographer that snaps a black and white photograph each time the user poses.

“Scrubbies” lets the user easily manipulate the speed and direction of video playback to produce video loops that highlight actions, capture funny faces and replay moments.

The tech giant has also urged users to try out the new apps and provide feedback via the in-app feedback links. IANS