By Anna Dirksen, PSI Consultant
In parts of the world heading into summer, most school children are getting ready to say “goodbye” to their classrooms and “hello” to summer break. But just because school is out, the learning doesn’t have to stop.
While most parents and caregivers don’t want children to spend too much time in front of a screen, research has shown that interactive online games can play an important role in educating kids. Games help children visualize scenarios and empathize with people who may live very different lives from their own. Indeed, it’s one of the most powerful educative tools to help kids develop a rich understanding of complex subjects.
When it comes to global health, there’s no doubt about it: the subject is indeed complex. But it’s an important one for children to learn about, especially considering how the health and well-being of people in one part of the world affects the well-being of those elsewhere on the planet.
So in the spirit of giving kids an opportunity to learn about global health — and giving those caring for kids a bit of a break this summer — below are five quality games for kids that can help teach them about global health and international development. Due to the nature of the subject matter, we recommend these games for kids who are at an age where they can understand some of the more sensitive issues they may confront in the games, like poverty, severe illness and death.
In this game, players start in India and go on a global journey that takes them to Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the U.S. Along the way, they have to make tough decisions — but they’re the same decisions that many people living in poverty face every day: Should you pay for a vaccine for your daughter or save the money and hope she doesn’t become sick? If your child’s school doesn’t have enough money for books, do you negotiate with the headmistress or just find a solution yourself?
The game is based on Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky book, so it focuses a lot on the issues affecting women and girls across the world. But the game is worthwhile for both boys and girls. There are in-game purchases available, but they aren’t necessary to complete the game. If you do decide to make a purchase, the revenue goes directly to organizations that work on poverty, health and women’s empowerment, providing life-saving medications, vaccines and even books to people in need.
You can play the game on Facebook by clicking here: https://www.facebook.com/HalftheGame
This game puts players in the middle of rural Haiti (“Ayiti” in Haitian Creole) as part of the hard-working but relatively poor and uneducated Guinard family. There are five people in the family. Players get to decide which family members will work on the family farm, work or volunteer in the city, study at school or stay home to rest.
The Guinard family face many difficult challenges resulting from poverty, severe weather and the health issues that affect them as they try to make a living. But as the game itself says, “If they’re careful and lucky, they may have a chance at a better life.” The game was actually created by high school students and does an excellent job of highlighting the many challenges of people living in some of the poorest parts of the world.
You can play Ayiti online here: https://ayiti.globalkids.org/game/
Created by the healthcare NGO Intrahealth, Vital Pursuit gives players an opportunity to learn about the difficulties health workers in the developing world regularly face. The game starts in Kenya, where the player takes on the role of Irene Mwende, a 16-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a nurse. Throughout the game, Irene has to make a series of tough decisions: Should she agree to marry at 16, as many of the girls in her town are doing? How will she pay for school? What should she do when she is asked to give a needle injection to a patient but no gloves are available for her to do it safely?
The game is not as interactive as the others, but you can see the character Irene age as you play. The ultimate goal is for Irene to grow old and happy, having built a strong professional reputation providing quality healthcare to those in need.
You can play Vital Pursuit online here: http://www.intrahealth.org/VitalPursuit/
In Pandemic 2, players actually become the disease of their choosing — either a virus, bacteria or a parasite — with a goal of infecting as many people across the world as possible. The game is an interesting way to learn how diseases are transmitted. Players choose the characteristics of their disease. Then they learn through trial and error how certain attributes, like being waterborne or insect-borne for example, affect transmission. Breaking news alerts are posted throughout the game and players can evolve their disease in response. So if there are heavy rains in a large part of the world, you can have your disease become more moisture resistant, allowing it to function well in wet environments.
The challenge with this game is that a player’s ultimate win is to lethally infect everyone in the world. It’s not necessarily the best message and should be talked through with kids prior to starting the game.
You can play Pandemic 2 online here: http://www.crazymonkeygames.com/Pandemic-2.html
The U.S. National Library of Medicine put together this quick game to teach young children about five important figures in global health. You can play the game here: http://apps.nlm.nih.gov/againsttheodds/online_activities/popup/whos_who_global_health.html
Once the kids have put the computer away, parents and caregivers may be keen to learn a bit more about global health issues as well. We invite you to check out some of what’s new and bold at PSI, and take the PSI Pulse quizzes on HIV, non-communicable diseases and even toilets. You can play the PSI quizzes by scrolling to the relevant sections on this page: http://pulse.psi.org/
Photo credit: Jackie Presutti