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Scratch Around the World, Part 2 of 4: Advocating Awareness with Localized Storytelling

In this four-part ScratchEd feature story series, we explore ways that Scratch is being implemented in classrooms around the world, with a focus on developing countries. The stories expand upon common challenges and strategies shared by three educators: Alisha Panjwani, Julia Reynolds, and Claudia Urrea, who share their experiences using Scratch in developing nations around the world.

In the neighborhoods of Bangalore, India, where she worked as a facilitator in learning centers for underprivileged kids, many of Alisha Panjwani’s students had family members who could not read. Alisha discovered that Scratch could be used as a medium for students to express personal stories and illustrate local issues to the community. She created designed a camp experience to help ninth graders create campaigns to raise awareness about local health concerns. “I was looking for ways that the children could become more involved in the community and become the voices of the community.” Studying the adverse impact of electromagnetic radiation emitted from communication mobile towers surrounding the neighborhood, Alisha guided students to create visualizations in Scratch that demonstrated the movement and impact of electromagnetic waves that were otherwise “invisible” to the public. The multimedia project combined both physical and digital representations of the issue – students erected a large-scale, physical model, mapped out localized mobile towers using Google Maps, and created videos based at electrosmog detector locations, ultimately leading to a scaled visualization of the invisible radiation where students projected their final Scratch animation over a physical model.

In Africa, Julia Reynolds was inspired by the social programs and storytelling projects of Barbara Barry, a researcher at MIT Media Lab. Julia wanted to advocate Scratch as a powerful vehicle for storytelling as part of her work implementing a One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program in Rwanda. “Working with the Rwandan Ministry of Education, we would usually have one person from the ministry team involved, so we wanted to do things that we knew to be a good example of powerful ways of using Scratch.” Curious to experiment with the visual, sound, and variable features in Scratch, Julia invited elementary school students to design animated stories in Scratch as a means to communicate their own understandings from seeing prevalent AIDS/HIV prevention marketing around the city. “One of the first and biggest things we did was AIDS, which is a very big issue there. They have had a lot of PSA, public service awareness focusing on kids about that, so we decided to do one using Scratch.” Children replicated trending billboards by animating Scratch sprites to express their right to say, “No to Shuga Dadis” and “Shuga Mummies” – terms implicit of relationships between girls and older men, or boys and older women, often in exchange for gifts and money – a common phenomenon in Rwanda. As Julia recounts, “In the animations, the characters would say, ‘The sugar daddy wants to take me to a nice hotel, and I say, “No.”’ We then showed the projects on a day when the parents and community came in to see all the projects that the kids had done.”

Similarly, Claudia Urrea experienced the potential of storytelling with Scratch while deploying OLPC programs in Africa and the Caribbean. “The presence of the machine makes visible what is important to the user and brings to life the story that they want to tell. I’ve seen kids do amazing programming, whose parents do not know how to write or read. The kids draw or take pictures to tell stories in Scratch with colorful use of imagery and music. I was impressed to see some of the art created by some of the children in Nigeria. Their art was absolutely amazing. Children in other regions wrote more stories or took more pictures. All of those preferences and differences in use became visible in their Scratch projects.” Recognizing the potential relevance of Scratch storytelling projects for developing nations, she made sure that Scratch would be made available to many through the XO laptop developed at OLPC. “Targeting people in the developing world, I saw that Scratch can really be used by people that don’t have all the support structures, and I liked that even more. One of my goals was to make sure that we have constructionist tools, so I made a huge deal about making Scratch adapted to work well with the OLPC machine.”

Yet, Claudia understands that the tool alone can’t shift attitudes and perspectives towards technology. “There are cultural differences that can affect the OLPC program. If you understood better those differences and the potential, you would help people benefit from each another. In most places around the world, people are still stuck with this idea of technology for information and communication. It limits what people believe technology can do.” Still, Claudia finds similarities among the differences. “I don’t know what it is, but kids everywhere act the same. It’s funny. I’d go to a different country and the kids are doing the same things with the machine: children like music, they found ways to install new software, they learned to solve issues with the machine, and work around challenges. They liked to tinker with the machine and make it their own. How do kids in Nigeria do the same things as the kids in Uruguay and Paraguay and Costa Rica? So kids are just kids everywhere.”

NEXT: Scratch Around the World, Part 3 of 4, "Engaging Community through Peer Learning"