A team of young innovators creates a board game and an app to promote media literacy in Armenia
Armenia’s MeDialog team wins in the international Generation Unlimited imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge.
Say it out loud and say it proudly: “We did it!” It's incredible how success evokes so many different positive emotions. Now imagine how much it means to young people.
Four sixteen-year-olds from Yerevan - Vagharshak, Arman, Milena, and Samvel – or as they call their team, MeDialog, are among the finalists of the 2022 Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge, an international competition designed to inspire young people to turn their ideas to life.
According to them, they thought of MeDialog and the concept behind it when the Instagram account of one of their classmates was hacked. “This made us think about the range of mistakes that young people make on social networks and how easily we can be manipulated,” shared Vagharshak, MeDialog team lead. “Giving out bank account codes, sharing personal information, and spreading misinformation are all serious issues that we face. We all agreed that we need to address this not-so-obvious but potentially dangerous problem.”
Vagharshak and his team members started reading more about media literacy, reaching out to technical experts, and soon came up with a range of solutions to work on. They soon got the opportunity to present their ideas at the Armenian phase of Generation Unlimited imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge, so they formed their team and submitted their application in March this year.
In Armenia, the Generation Unlimited imaGen Ventures Youth Challenge is led by UNICEF in partnership with the United Nations Office in Armenia, UNDP, UNFPA and Ayb Educational Foundation, and with the support of the Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports.
This time around, it was also supported by Synergy International, StartUp Armenia scientific and educational foundation, and BodyShop. In July, the jury selected two teams from the competing seven to participate in the international phase of the challenge.
Finally, in November, MeDialog was announced to be among the 12 winning teams out of 71 teams from 37 participating countries.
“Between March and now, it’s amazing to look back and see how far our team has come. We have benefited from all milestones within the GenU Challenge – the bootcamp, meetings and mentoring from technical experts, getting seed funding to work on our ideas,”
Each of the four members played their role in the team's success: Samvel oversaw the design of the board game, Vagharshak managed the finances, Arman created the content, while Milena was in charge of marketing.
“We want our peers and communities to become more media literate. We also want to reduce the number of financial cyber-attacks and theft of personal data, all of which have terrible consequences,”
With these goals in mind, they worked to present a complete package of solutions, ranging from a board game, which they are still testing and perfecting, to a software application. Throughout this process, MeDialog worked with Armenia’s leading media professionals to further update and upgrade their solutions.
The app has five sections – one of them focuses on the theory and features various articles about media literacy, another section helps users test their knowledge through practical exercises, another section features links to prominent books on media literacy. The app also has a news section, as well as video lessons from Armenian.
“After winning in the first round of the competition, we received seed funding in the amount of US$ 1,000, which helped us create the prototype of the board game. Once all of the content pieces are finalised, we will produce 500 units of the board game to disseminate. We are working hard to make it fun and interactive,”
The board game was created with care and humor and is conveniently called ‘Comedia’, a play of words on comedy and media. It has different levels of difficulty for players, so you will find challenges that question your logic, you will need to form new words out of different pictures, words, and letters, or describe a word or a situation on media literacy to fellow players.
The team with the lowest score will need to perform a fun activity described on a card as a penalty. The team is confident that any young person who plays the game, will begin to approach media more critically.
It doesn't stop here: the team also set a goal to do outreach and hold educational sessions for young people on media literacy, using virtual reality (VR) tools in the process. They also plan to create an animated film and posters on the basic principles of media literacy. for younger children.
The team has already designed three posters with tips and advice on how to avoid phishing, interpret what they read on the news, or check the authenticity of photos and images online.
When asked why it is so important to be media literate, Samvel highlights the vast amount of information and opportunities that come with the world wide web.
“We need to be safe not to get lost in this vast amount of information and opportunities, make smart decisions and navigate the online world securely.”
“Young people must understand the serious consequences that media illiteracy can cause. Unfortunately, sometimes young people don't even know what [media literacy] is.”
“Young people must become more media literate, especially in a country like Armenia. We live in a conflict setting, so there are far more threats to our wellbeing online. The conflict doesn’t just happen at the border but also in the media. We must all be cautious to properly manage the flow of information and media manipulations.”
“The focus should be on educating and not restricting access. If we want a well-informed society and a healthy media field, we should start with the young people,”
The team will use most of the US$ 15,000 prize money from the global phase to produce new copies of the improved version of the board game. The four team members also plan to use the funds to purchase VR glasses and create content for them. Additionally, some of the money will be spent on improving and releasing the app, as well as printing and disseminating the educational posters.
Besides the seed funding, the team will access further support as part of the global incubation process, including mentorship and peer-to-peer learning and exchange with the other 11 winning teams.
“Our biggest dream is to make a difference in the level of media literacy of our society. We believed in our solution from the beginning and continue to believe in it today. We will continue to do what we have to do to achieve our goals.”
They may be young, but this ambitious team is equally responsible and determined. They have drawn up their plan in great detail and divided the roles so well that they are sure to succeed. These four teens understand the problem at hand and are determined to tackle it in a comprehensive manner. And at UNICEF, we will be here to support them along the way.