EcoKinder: “We’d like to give children a better understanding of the need for sustainability”
El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, faces huge environmental problems. The EcoKinder team wanted to do something about this. Its idea of a digital educational game about sustainability was the winning hands-on project in 2015. In the meantime the EcoAventuras video game has been launched and from the end of January 2017 school children have been learning in a fun way about how to protect the environment.
El Salvador is particularly adversely affected by deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and pollution of its waters. The various natural disasters of recent years have revealed that El Salvador’s vulnerability is also due to the damage that the country has itself done to the environment. The effects of natural disasters also make it difficult to alleviate poverty in El Salvador.
Environmental problems have a direct impact on society. El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with 6,500 lives lost in 2015 due to acts of violence. This equates to a murder rate of 105 people per 100,000 inhabitants, which is the highest in the world. In comparison, the rate for the world overall is 6.2 per 100,000, and in Germany it is lower than 1. Gang crime is a particular problem in El Salvador. According to media reports, it is estimated that gangs are responsible for 60 per cent of acts of violence.
Carolina Baiza, Francisco Soriano and Rosa Melendez are all from El Salvador. They wanted to change things. They came together to form the EcoKinder team and took part in the 2015 hands-on project, an annual online competition run by Alumniportal Deutschland. Their idea was to develop an interactive educational game for school children about sustainability and environmental protection. Via the popular medium of the computer, children learn in a fun way everything they need to know about protecting the environment so as to ensure better social surroundings and ultimately prevent violence. This, at least, is what EcoKinder hope to achieve.
Education for sustainable development
The EcoAventuras video game contributes towards education for sustainable development (ESD). Its aim is to give people the knowledge that will enable them to think and behave in a way that looks to the future:
- How do my decisions influence future generations or people living in other parts of the world?
- What is the impact, for example, of how I consume, what mode of transport I use, or what type of and how much energy I use?
- Which global processes lead to conflicts, terror and displacement?
Education for sustainable development enables every single individual to understand the impact of his or her behaviour on the world and to take responsible decisions.
The judges thought this was an excellent idea and awarded the team from El Salvador first prize in the 2015 hands-on project competition. As Sabine Olthof, manager of Alumniportal Deutschland, says, “the EcoKinder team shows once again how Germany-Alumni can act as a vital driving force in their home countries and how every single one of us can help in a small way to build a better and more liveable future”.
The end-result of the hands-on project is the EcoAventuras video game. Officially released in January 2017, it is already attracting a lot of interest from both school children and the Government of El Salvador. By 2018 it will be installed on 300,000 computers and also available as an app for smartphones and tablets. We caught up with the three members of the EcoKinder team again at the game’s launch.
2015 hands-on project – a flagship project
“Talking to our members on Alumniportal Deutschland, we can see that many Germany-Alumni across the world would like to get involved in social and environmental issues and help to improve living conditions in their home countries. So for the 2015 hands-on project, we were particularly concerned about getting participants to develop ideas for projects that could ultimately be implemented as tangible digital solutions to ‘sustainable living’.
It was an exciting experience for us to accompany and support the winning EcoKinder team each step of the way as they developed their project idea and brought it to life. The end-result, an interactive video game called ‘EcoAventuras’, makes us very proud and is well worth taking a look at. In particular, reactions to the game in El Salvador, EcoKinder’s home country, are impressive and highly promising. They show once again how Germany-Alumni can act as a vital driving force in their home countries and, with a view to the 2030 Agenda, how every single one of us can help in a small way to build a better and more liveable future. The Alumniportal will undoubtedly offer even greater support in future to ideas and projects that promote sustainable development.”
You’ve had an eventful year with lots of work. What were the greatest challenges you faced while you were developing the EcoAventuras game?
EcoKinder: One of the challenges was establishing contact and communicating with the children who are our target group and who helped us to develop the game. The region where they live and go to school is controlled by gangs, so it wasn’t possible for us to visit them in their own surroundings because of the dangers we would face there.
Another challenge was bringing people from different backgrounds together so that we could all work together towards one goal. The team ranged from teachers to IT developers, and there were also people from various different countries involved. As this was our first video game development project, we faced a steep learning curve that, figuratively speaking, was sometimes difficult to climb.
How has working in the EcoKinder team changed since your stay in Germany?
EcoKinder: Carolina and Francisco live in El Salvador, and Rosa lives in the USA. After we had the opportunity to meet in person in Germany, there was a much stronger team spirit. The face-to-face contact with team members, some of whom hadn’t even met beforehand, had a positive influence on our working relationship and helped us to improve cooperation going forward.
Many people donated their time and energy free of charge
How were you able to establish contact with your networks?
EcoKinder: All the team members have got lots of professional contacts, so we could rely on the support of colleagues from a whole range of different areas, including scientists, artists, authors and university professors. As the project was tackling a social issue, all these people donated their time and energy free of charge.
What role did the school children play in developing the game? What was their reaction like when they were testing the game?
EcoKinder: We took the school children to a computer room to test the game while it was being developed. It was a joy to see their enthusiasm. We then fed the school children’s input into the game.
Testing the video game “Eco Aventuras” with school children
The launch event in San Salvador on 23 January was also attended by the Vice-Minister for Science and Technology and the Vice-Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. Is the state funding the project?
EcoKinder: No. Our core three-person team put all its energy and concentration into managing and coordinating production of the game. But the game was programmed by the development team at El Salvadorian agency ArtCode with financial support from Alumniportal Deutschland.
The Government of El Salvador is supporting distribution of the game. What does the Ministry of Environment expect to get out of this?
EcoKinder: The Ministry is currently focusing on communicating and publicising a “culture of peaceful co-existence in harmony with nature”. The game is seen as a useful tool for achieving these goals.
The official EcoAventuras launch event in San Salvador on 23 January 2017 was attended by almost 100 people, including 17 journalists – most of El Salvador’s press. Speakers included Erlinda Handal (Vice-Minister for Science and Technology), Angel María Ibarra (Vice-Minister for Environment and Natural Resources) and Rubeena Esmail-Arndt, manager of GIZ programme “Preventing youth violence in Central America”.
Read a number of press reports on the event here (in Spanish):
Video of the launch event (in Spanish)
EcoAventuras installed on 300,000 computers by the end of 2018
What are the prospects for the game going forward? On how many computers and in how many schools will it initially be installed?
EcoKinder: As the Ministry of Education programme is called “One Child, One Computer”, our goal is to install the game on 300,000 computers by the end of 2018.
What impact do you expect to see on violence prevention?
EcoKinder: We see the game as being one step towards a bigger goal of giving children a better understanding of sustainability. Ultimately we hope that by playing the game they’ll learn something at a theoretical level that they can then put into practice.
Our hope is that if more inhabitants in El Salvador take an interest in the environment, their social surroundings will automatically improve. That will then help to reduce violence.
How did your link to Germany influence you during the development of the project?
EcoKinder: All the team members learned a lot about sustainable behaviour during the study visit to Germany. But only a few people in San Salvador act in accordance with this principle. It was our ambition to make people aware of key issues in this area such as how to recycle or how to produce solar energy at home.
Hope for the future
Are you already planning another project on sustainability and violence prevention, or will it be just one educational game?
EcoKinder: This will be our only video game. We’ll keep updating EcoAventuras, but we haven’t got any plans to develop a completely different project.
What advice would you give someone who’s intending to develop a video game?
- Firstly, accept that it will be a long and difficult journey.
- Secondly, remember that it’s vital for the entire team to be in agreement.
- Thirdly, keep an eye on the details. There are lots of them, and you’ll feel as if they’re overwhelming you. But every detail is key to the success of the whole.
- Fourthly, recover from the stress by drinking a good German beer.
What have you personally learned from the project?
EcoKinder: We’ve learned a huge amount more about sustainability and also about technology. It was inspirational to see how many inhabitants of San Salvador were prepared to support improving the environment and their social surroundings. The game is already having a positive impact and gives us hope for the future.