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A New Approach to Conflict Resolution: Computer Games Create a Safe Space for Learning

2012 August 1
Students in P4 and P5 hold up their One Laptop Per Child computers after participating in the Search for Common Ground evaluation

Students in P4 and P5 hold up their One Laptop Per Child computers after participating in the SFCG evaluation.

By Katherine Conway

In 2010, Search for Common Ground in Rwanda partnered with the U.S. Institute for Peace, the Rwandan Ministry of Education, and Serious Games Interactive to address conflict resolution in an innovative way.  Through this partnership, Search for Common Ground developed a computer game designed to teach primary school students about the causes of conflict and conflict resolution skills.  The design and implementation of the game is timely as it complements the Rwandan government’s focus on technology described in its strategic report, Vision 2020.

The game, Bana Dukine (Kids, Let’s Play!) depicts a water hole and the animals that surround it.  The central character is Little Lion, who is left in charge of distributing water to the animals by his father.  As the days go on, the temperature rises, and the water decreases – the animals begin to engage in conflict.  At this point in the game, conflict dialogues appear on the screen between characters, and it becomes the responsibility of little lion (i.e. the student) to choose the best response.

The game is comprised of engaging graphics within the context of the “waterhole” that resonates with Rwandan children.

Bana Dukine is played on laptops donated by One Lap Top per Child (OLPC), a program championed by the Rwandan government that aims to distribute more than 200,000 laptops to Rwandan children.  President Kagame launched the program in 2008 with an initial 80,000 lap tops.  Since then, OLPC has reached at least one school in each of Rwanda’s four-hundred and sixteen sectors.  Additionally, OLPC has trained over 2,000 teachers to implement the game.

To view a map of the national roll out of OLPC view this map.

OLPC is coordinating with district governments to connect schools to the national electricity grid to power the computers.  In schools that are located too far from the grid, OLPC is working with the Ministry of Infrastructure to install solar energy.[1]  The laptops provide the critical technology for the computer-based educational game, and thus the national roll out of the Bana Dukine program will mirror that of OLPC.

Our partner, Pauline Nyirahira, at the Ministry of Education, recently blogged about her experience with Bana Dukine.

A P5 student smiles with his One Laptop Per Child computer

Target Group

Bana Dukine is targeted at students in their fourth and fifth years of primary school.  This age group was targeted because they are old enough to understand the message of the game and have the reading and computer skills to utilize the program.  The game is designed to complement lessons in the students’ curriculum, such as lessons on the importance of peace, harmony, social responsibility, and equality.  In Rwanda, these lessons are taught to children from an early age.

During the testing and design phase of the game, SFCG worked with children in Rwandan schools to learn why they feel conflicts occur and what types of conflicts they see in their daily lives.  The conflict dialogues within the game are based on the feedback, which centered on conflicts with other students and conflicts within their homes.  For example, in one scenario two of the animals fight over a soccer ball and in another an animal feels left out because his/her friend did not come to play.

Preliminary Evaluation

In June 2012, Search for Common Ground conducted an evaluation of the game in 20 primary schools around the country.  SFCG staff conducted focus groups and interviews, reaching over 400 students and 40 teachers through schools in each province of the country.  The evaluation sought to assess whether the game was appropriate for the students, to understand if students gained conflict resolution skills, and whether the students could relate the lessons of the game to their real lives.

The results show that children understood and enjoyed the game.  Focus group discussions showed that children had a high level of understanding of conflict resolution skills and, thus, the game provided a productive and safe space to practice.  Through playing the game, students and teachers believed that students improved their conflict resolution skills and that they were able to relate the game to situations in their own lives.

The results of the preliminary evaluation were presented to a group of stakeholders at the closing conference for the Bana Dukine project at the end of June.   A final program evaluation after the roll out of Bana Dukine will yield further results on what students learn about conflict resolution through playing the game.  Additionally, the secondary evaluation could demonstrate behavior change based on exposure to the game.

What’s next?

The Director of OLPC, Nkubito Bakuramutsa, speaks at SFCG’s closing conference for Bana Dukine

The Director of OLPC, Nkubito Bakuramutsa, speaks at SFCG’s closing conference for Bana Dukine

Now that the game has been designed, developed, and tested – it will be rolled out on a national scale by the Ministry of Education of Rwanda.  The goal is to install the game on each OLPC computer, so that students all over the country can benefit from this new form of education on conflict resolution.  Bana Dukine is a pilot project that is designed to be replicated in any post conflict setting.  If successful, the game will show the enormous potential that exists for using technology to transform conflict.

Katherine Conway is currently completing her Masters in Law and Diplomacy at The Tufts Fletcher School. She is an international intern with SFCG in Rwanda.

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