Schoolgirls in Kazakhstan are Introducing Video Games into the Educational Processes

UNICEF and KBTU held the first gamification hackathon in Kazakhstan

09 August 2023
Hackathon participants with Nazanine Alakija

ALMATY, AUGUST 9, 2023 - In Almaty, at the site of Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and its partners held a gamification hackathon. Fifty Kazakhstani schoolgirls took part in the hackathon. Previously, the girls attended a special online course created by UNICEF and the GameLab video game development and research laboratory at KBTU. The course is part of UNICEF's global initiative to support girls in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).

The girls put their skills into practice during a two-day hackathon after first mastering the basic skills of game development and learning about the video game industry through the free online course.

The video game industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the global entertainment sector. Even though women and girls make up nearly half of the world's gamers, women only make up 24 per cent of the gaming industry’s human resources. Girls in Kazakhstan show higher academic results in the hard sciences at school, but only 14 per cent pursue STEAM professions in higher education institutions. Stereotypes and existing social norms often prevent girls from building careers in these traditionally male-dominated industries.

UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan, Arthur van Diesen, emphasized: “We at UNICEF strongly believe that girls can succeed in any field of science, including STEAM. When girls and women are more evenly represented in all sectors of the economy, all of society benefits. Therefore, with the help of our gamification course and hackathon, we want to support Kazakhstani schoolgirls who dream of a career in IT. Girls can make a difference. By mastering the necessary skills and, more importantly, believing in themselves, they can build a more just future without harmful stereotypes and restrictive social norms.”

Naza Alakija, a humanitarian and the Founder and CEO of Evoca Foundation who is also a UNICEF NextGen Global Principal and UNICEF International Council member, added: “Girls have an awe-inspiring capacity to meet new challenges and reach new heights when their potential for creativity and innovation is supported. That’s why it’s so important to equip them for entering the tech job market. Hackathon participants know that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are still dominated by men. But they also know that the situation is changing rapidly; it is in their hands to support and accelerate these changes. Today I’ve seen how UNICEF supports their aspirations and gives them the opportunity to shape a new future.”

Importantly, women who have achieved career heights in the gaming industry supported online course participants. Each course participant spoke with a mentor about finding learning opportunities, promoting her competencies in a highly competitive labor market, finding family and career balance, and addressing other issues that arise when choosing a specialization.

Alexandra Knysheva, head of the educational project on gamification stated: “According to research, the number of girls interested in STEAM doubles if they have role models in their environment. This fact led us to focus on mentoring and launching the ‘girl2girl mentoring’ initiative, where successful women from the industry can give advice and guide girls in game-development careers. It is very important for us to show that the industry needs girls. A supportive and close-knit community awaits them, striving to overcome gender barriers together.”

Thanks to the gamification course, the girls learned about the variety of game-development professions available to them and mastered Unity, a cross-platform game engine; game design; video game psychology; augmented and virtual reality basics; and the use of AI for game development. At the hackathon, the most active programme participants applied their knowledge and learned how to work as a team. As a result, the girls presented several educational game prototypes for the gamification of an online youth nanosatellite development course.

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GameLab KBTU Video Game Development and Research Laboratory was established in 2022 through the School of IT and Engineering at Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU). The laboratory’s main tasks include the following: developing and implementing educational programmes on game development and gamification, mentoring student projects in the field of video game development and research, and researching activities in the field of video games and gamification. Lab page available on Instagram.

Alexandra Knysheva - Head of GameLab Video Game Development and Research Laboratory, MA in Media Studies, first ambassador of an international Women in Games organization in Kazakhstan.

Naza Alakija is a UNICEF NextGen Global Principal and UNICEF International Council member.  She is also the Founder & CEO of Evoca Foundation, an NGO which works across the pillars of climate action, education and supporting women and girls. Naza advocates for girls’ and young women’s access to education and funds innovative grassroots movements that deliver holistic solutions to the climate crisis and build equitable futures for all.

Ms. Alakija’s humanitarian work focuses on identifying and deploying solutions to address the negative impact of climate change on low-income populations, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDP’s). She invests in long-term solutions, such as drilling wells using solar energy as part of UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme in northeastern Nigeria. During the ongoing conflict in Yemen, she also raised funds for UNICEF to provide critical emergency aid to affected children, including food, medicine, and psychosocial care.

About UNICEF NextGen

The UNICEF NextGen community is a group of investors, influencers and creatives between the ages of 21 and 45, who commit their financial resources, expertise and enthusiasm to support UNICEF’s lifesaving work.

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About the UNICEF International Council

The UNICEF International Council is a unique community of people – many from the world’s leading business families and global influencers – who want to optimize their philanthropic investments for children by bringing together their funding, influence and expertise. Formed in 2017, the Council offers a global stage to inspire, engage and collaborate with those working for children’s rights.