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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’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

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.