The building and testing of our literacy and numeracy mobile-game, SEMA, is advancing each month driven by our user-centered design approach.

This past month, our team was testing the latest prototypes of SEMA in Nairobi with children living in low income communities with little or no access to quality education. Testing our game as we build it allows us to acquire invaluable feedback to optimize game dynamics, educational content and engagement outcomes.

We tested our prototypes in 5 different areas: In Kibera and Mathàre, two of the largest slums in Nairobi, in Gatanga-Muranga, a rural area outside of Nairobi, in a centre for street children in Waithaka-Dagoretti and in Mukuru-Kwa Reuben. Users included boys and girls between the ages of 5-10 with different literacy levels with children who also never attended school before.

There were several key learnings from this month’s field testing:

1) Children’s engagement was much higher than our prototype testing in December because of our switch to game-based learning as opposed to gamified content. The children could focus on playing a real game – which is fun – and as a result were very engaged with the learning content that is fully integrated into the game.

2) Navigating through the game and understanding what to do was intuitive and simple because children were figuring out how to play a game instead of listening to academic instructions.

3) Again, we saw a sense of collectiveness amongst the children. This turns our game into a social activity instead of creating isolation. The children absolutely love to play together and help each other overcome the different game levels. Our game designers are therefore now thinking of how to include this in our game and perhaps allow more than one user to play at once.

4) Finally, we discovered how our game can also become a psychosocial well-being resource for children living in underprivileged communities. The children had a constant smile while playing and manifested excitement and curiosity as a contrast to the difficult social context in which they are growing up in. It was magical to see how engaged they were in the game to be distracted by everything else around them. At times they wouldn’t even listen to our instructions or would be upset when the session was over and it was time for the next group to play.

A final consideration is that the feedback and results of our testing sessions, throughout the five different areas and contexts, were all very similar. The only major difference we found was testing street children. The difference was not on the engagement level, the user experience or the educational side, but rather on the attitude they had towards the game and our team. These children live on streets and attend a day centre to keep them off the streets for a few hours, but on their way in and on their way back they are on duty to earn money for their parents by doing little tasks such as fixing stuff, carrying water going on errands or often stealing. They do not have a supportive community behind them, like a school for example. So this made them much more undisciplined than other children we tested. Their behaviour was often more arrogant and confrontational. They did not understand what it meant to take turns or to listen to our instructions and it was slightly harder to arrange them in groups and carry out a smooth testing without all of them grabbing our mobile devices from each other’s hands. The most interesting reflection that came from this is that although we believe that software alone can allow children to teach themselves how to read, write and do basic arithmetic without the help of a teacher, a school will always be a place in which children can feel part of a community and learn how to relate to one another with love, kindness and respect.

As usual, testing our prototypes with our users and making improvements based on their feedback is always the most rewarding part of our work.

We are thrilled about these month’s results on engagement and believe we really are on the right track to creating a sticky game. Our next challenge is making sure that our learning content is incorporated as powerfully throughout the entire game. More to come on this on our next field test.

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