IntegrA (c) tion: Schoolchildren of Darbnik aspire for cultural diversity
Schoolchildren in the village of Darbnik have created IntegrA (c) tion, an educational game promoting cultural diversity and tolerance.
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The village of Darbnik in Armenia’s Ararat region has long sheltered Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku, Syria, and Iraq, and made a new home for those arriving from other regions of the country.
Darbnik’s public school named after Zhora Yesanyan has a leadership club, where the students discuss ways to make their community more united and create an environment of collaboration. There is something unusual though in these discussions, as the club members are exclusively female. The unwritten rule of the village is that clubs, games, and events are “girl stuff”.
“The girls told me at club meetings that the boys are very passive at any event because of certain stereotypes. When we talked about equality and career choice, I discovered that the problem extended into those areas as well. For instance, if any of the girls decides to go into boxing, her parents will not allow it, reasoning that such a sport is not for girls. This is a sensitive topic, not easy to discuss in rural communities, so we decided to create an educational game that would introduce the community to cultural diversity, as well as stereotypes around girls and boys and their negative consequences. We hope this game will increase tolerance in the village and help to improve the educational environment for girls and for boys in the community,”
She is a Teacher-Leader with the Teach For Armenia (TFA) Educational Foundation. In line with the mission of the foundation’s program, Armine works toward creating equal learning conditions and a favorable environment for education for all children. The idea of IntegrA(c)tion was something she felt necessary to make happen, so Armine and her team applied to UNICEF and TFA and got the required assistance.
Members of Darbnik’s creative team attended a two-day seminar to understand cultural diversity and learn about child rights. In the course of the seminar, the team outlined the issues that the game’s questionnaire should touch. Afterwards, they visited KASA Swiss Humanitarian Foundation to learn from their experience of developing educational games, and worked with their designer to choose the format and the logo of the game. That was the birth of IntegrA(c)tion.
“Stereotypes are created and broken by people. It is unusual to see girls and boys work together in our village, but I think now that it is of no importance. If we can organize something with help from the boys, I will not hesitate to start a project,”
Hayk, 13, has arrived from Iraq. He was too young to go to school when his family moved to Darbnik. According to Hayk, although he has never noticed discrimination against himself, he still values equality. Hayk is the only boy to attend the leadership club and get involved in the discussions on the game.
“I really wanted the other boys to join the club, but they were upset that all members were girls. I think they might join us at the next meeting though. This game can help students with disabilities too, so that they open up and everyone can socialize,”
The classes are over, but middle-school students are not heading home - they have gathered in the school garden to test the new game.
“Is it a stereotype that boys are naturally good at math?”
“Is it a cultural stereotype that Armenians are hospitable?”
“What is discrimination?”
The questions are read out loud, and a lively discussion ensues. Some pupils know the answers, others are trying to deduce them logically. In the end, everyone gets into the discussion, ask questions, identify stereotypes, and describe what impact it would have on the community.
“This has been a huge team effort. Every recess, we were convincing the boys to join the clubs, telling them how much fun it is. Hayk did join in, and now that the others see what kind of work we do in the clubs and what results we get, they say they want to come to the next meeting. They didn’t want to take part in the game initially, but when we presented it, the boys got interested,”
“I have never played a game like this before. I came to play today to support the girls, really, because they worked on this. The topics were unfamiliar, to be honest, but I am smart, and I figured out the answers and won. We have learned how to work in a team too,” said Mikael, 15.
There are four sets of the game now, and all of them are to be gifted to the Darbnik school for children to play whenever they want. According to Armine, there will definitely be improvements to IntegrA(c)tion based on the feedback from the students.
“We try to identify the main roots of harmful gender norms and gender inequality, focusing on the existing stereotypes and the institutions that reinforce them. Reducing inequality allows both girls and boys to be more free. And it is the main guarantee of a strong economy and a resilient society.”
UNICEF and the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport are working on policy reforms in the education system to reduce stereotype-based approaches to the curricula and teaching, promote equality, and support students through informal education. Through this, we want to encourage discussion about inequalities and equip boys and girls with relevant skills in designing projects and implementing them in teams and engage them in development of their communities.