UNICEF, together with the IT Ukraine Association, has created the world’s first virtual reality (VR) product on mine safety for children in eastern Ukraine. This April, in areas contaminated with explosives the VR will be launched as an extra component for UNICEF educational sessions in schools with the support of the German and Italian governments. Training sessions will help the children to consolidate the knowledge they receive at the regular lessons in an entertaining way. The training on VR will cover regions affected by the conflict, as well as Dnipro, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv regions, which host ammunition depots and IDPs.
The VR has been built as a journey to teach the user in an entertaining format the rules of safe behaviour with explosive objects. The product is designed for three target audiences: primary, secondary and high school students, as well as for parents and teachers; and offers different features to different groups of users. For example, a version for primary school children has a guide: a character who is already familiar to children from the Super Team Against Mines, a comic book developed by UNICEF as part of explosive ordnance risk education. The guide acts as a helper for the school students, provides tips and accompanies the hero throughout the journey. At the beginning and end of the VR experience, the user takes a special test that measures how informative and useful the VR product has been.
The project was developed by UNICEF and IT Ukraine Association with the participation of a child and family psychologist, and with technical expertise engaged from the HALO Trust, UNICEF’s international NGO partner in delivering the educational sessions. WeAR Studio and MacPaw are technical partners of the project. WeAR Studio has developed the virtual reality software, while MacPaw has provided the VR glasses that give children access to it.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in eastern Ukraine that is approaching its sad seven-year anniversary, 186 children have died or been injured by mines and explosive ordnance. UNICEF and its partners are continuing risk education about explosive ordnance for children. At the same time, it remains challenging for us to find formats that will be of interest to modern children, and how we get the vital message across to children. Virtual reality is becoming the latest technology that helps shape children’s behaviour through entertainment and consolidate the knowledge gained during lessons. We look forward to developing the partnership with IT Ukraine Association, as this could be crucial for the well-being of children and their families in a ‘new’ emerging reality that has faced not only conflicts but also the pandemic challenges,said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine.
IT Ukraine’s cooperation with UNICEF clearly demonstrates the importance of pooling experience, expertise and resources to address complex social issues. The Mine Awareness VR has no analogues in the world and we hope that very soon, it will be piloted in Ukraine and will prove effective and help save lives around the world. VR makes it possible to individually complete tasks when nobody distracts children and does not interfere with the learning process. We are sure that for most students, it will be their first VR experience, so we hope it will be successful,said Konstiantyn Vasiuk, CEO of IT Ukraine Association.
A total of 73 respondents of different ages from Luhansk and Donetsk regions took part in testing the VR product, and it proved effective. The testing involved school students, parents and teachers living in the following settlements – Komyshuvakha, Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk and Toshkivka (Luhansk region), and Blahodatne, Dobropillia, Kostiantynivka, Kramatorsk, Novohorodske, Olhynka and Sloviansk (Donetsk region).