We are excited to announce that we are an initial winner in EduApp4Syria, an innovation competition promoted by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) that aims to help Syrian children learn how to read and write through the use of mobile technology. Kukua is one of five teams chosen amongst more than 79 bids from 31 countries.

As a consequence of the Syrian crisis, millions of families have been forced to flee their homes with an estimated 2.8 million children in Syria or neighbouring countries reported out of school and experiencing learning difficulties. As reported by UNHCR in the region of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where most of Syrian Refugees are now living, 57% of children are currently not attending school, with a lower educational possibility for Syrian refugee girls. The Agency highlighted that, in most cases, demand for education far outweighs supply by far, leaving the majority of young refugee children excluded from quality formal and informal education. Unicef stated that an entire generation of Syrian Children is on the verge of being the lost generation, and “we all must do more to provide them with opportunities to heal, to learn and to thrive again!”

Access to quality education is fundamental: Save the Children estimates that Syrian children who completed primary school are more likely to avoid child labour, early marriage and recruitment by armed groups.

At Kukua we believe there should be no roadblocks to learning because a child’s future begins where education starts. The opportunity we have to contribute to Syrian children’s educational path is through mobile technology. As the Norwegian minister of Foreign affair, Berger Brender, says “Almost all Syrian households tend to own a smartphone”. According to the CIA World Fact Book, in 2014, 87 out of 100 Syrians owned a smartphone. Although it may be hard to believe, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Syrian refugees have smartphones, firstly because of budget Android smartphone that can be picked up for well under $50. Second, because a smartphone is an essential tool to get information to survive, to communicate and to integrate especially if you are fleeing from home.

For these reasons, Kukua took up the challenge of bringing informal education to Syrian refugee children. Our existing game – SEMA – built for Sub-Saharan Africa, will be adapted to fit the Syrian culture for the EduApp4Syria competition and will be renamed SIMA. To build SIMA we intend to maintain our three key pillars of 1) Game-based Learning, 2) Strong literacy pedagogy, and 3) A local narrative.

Our team now includes a Syrian storyteller who has been adapting the storyline and the characters to the Syrian culture for the narrative to easily resonate with users, as well as Syrian primary school teacher who is focused on developing the appropriate arabic content.  Furthermore, we are working with arabic literacy experts and cognitive psychologists to build a strong pedagogy, as well as with a leading Italian Psychiatrist who is a psychosocial well-being expert specialized in working  with refugee children and families. We will be announcing our entire Syrian team shortly!

Notwithstanding the difficulties in adapting the product to the Syrian context and culture, we believe that our effort is indispensable in order to make our game tailor-made to our end users. Indeed, throughout the process, we will maintain our user-centred design approach and will be in Jordan in July testing our game prototypes with Syrian refugee children.

Where schools across Syria have been damaged or destroyed making access to formal education increasingly difficult, our mobile game SIMA will offer Syrian children the chance to hold their education in the palm of their hands, opening the door of possibility by teaching them basic reading and writing while playing.

While our efforts at Kukua to date have been concentrated in Sub Saharan Africa,our team feels humbled and excited to have been granted the opportunity to extend our work to Syria through the EduApp4Syria competition, allowing us a chance to reach many more children who deserve the opportunity to fulfill their basic right to education.

Our team now includes a Syrian storyteller who has been adapting the storyline and the characters to the Syrian culture for the narrative to easily resonate with users, as well as Syrian primary school teacher who is focused on developing the appropriate arabic content.  Furthermore, we are working with arabic literacy experts and cognitive psychologists to build a strong pedagogy, as well as with a leading Italian Psychiatrist who is a psychosocial well-being expert specialized in working  with refugee children and families. We will be announcing our entire Syrian team shortly!

Notwithstanding the difficulties in adapting the product to the Syrian context and culture, we believe that our effort is indispensable in order to make our game tailor-made to our end users. Indeed, throughout the process, we will maintain our user-centred design approach and will be in Jordan in July testing our game prototypes with Syrian refugee children.