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Students’ software innovation helps underprivileged children in Uganda

Monday, 26 August, 2013

A team of students from the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) has designed, developed and delivered a new software program to teach English as a second language to rescued children in Uganda.

The Early Years Application (EYA) software, which uses artificial intelligence to create interactive learning exercises, was developed by a group of Information Systems students at UOWD, in collaboration with an Early Years teacher at Deira International School (DIS) in Dubai Festival City.

The software went through a rigorous testing phase by UOWD at the school, before being deployed to an orphanage in Uganda, allowing underprivileged children to interact with technology and benefit from computer software in ways they would never normally experience. Alongside the custom software, the University donated a laptop and touch screen to the Home for Rescued Children in Uganda, an initiative by www.liveitupuganda.org.

Dr Catherine Todd, Assistant Professor at UOWD and mentor of the student team that developed the software, reflected, “When we first started the EYA Program and turned on the Writing Module, in which a student can write a letter or word on the screen with their finger, the child squealed with absolute delight.

“One of the children, Paul, is deaf and was severely burnt as a younger child. We could not take him away from the computer for most of the time he was there. He was just fascinated with it and wanted to learn, like all of the children that tried the software program and used the laptop we donated.”

The EYA program was developed by Keerthi Prasad, S.M. Mushfiqur Rahman, and Redwan Hasan, as part of their final year studies at UOWD. The application won the People’s Choice Award at the seventh annual Software Development Tradeshow held at UOWD in June.

Keerthi commented, “We set out to address one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – universal primary education – because in a multicultural society such as Dubai, English language skills can provide a vital means of communication for children from many nationalities. We never imagined the project would be so successful and the software would travel so far, and we are very happy that our work has gone on to make such a difference to the lives of these young children.”

Ms Sarah Bennett from DIS explained, “We set up a computer room at the Home. The space used to be an old storage area, and in March I went over with the intention of transforming it into a bright colourful learning environment. Some of these children have never seen or used a computer before and this donation will massively engage them in their learning at home.”

It is the third time Sarah has visited the Home as a volunteer. She continued, “These children would not normally see a computer until the age of 14, and that’s if they’re lucky enough to afford to go to a school. Education in the early years is vital in securing a firm foundation for their future learning. Critical development happens in these years, due to the fact that English is their second language, having access to an interactive phonic program provides them with such an incredible advantage in their language development.”

The EYA program is the first undergraduate project from the UAE that has ever been deployed to help disadvantaged children in sub-Saharan Africa, and that will continue to be used as a teaching aid for their education in the future.

“The impact that this software and the computer room as a whole will have on life for these Ugandan children cannot be understated. It will help change their lives for the better”, Anouchka Lucas-Carter, a volunteer at the Home, commented.

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