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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

City firm designs disaster management lessons on the lines of Snakes and Ladders

Pune June 23 UNICEF and UN-ISDR evince interest in the computer-based game; plan to take the idea forward

Taking a cue from the established fact that learning is best acquired if taught in a fun manner, Pune-based Neeti Solutions Pvt Ltd has devised a new version of the timeless game Snakes and Ladders. In its new avatar, the computer game is aimed at teaching children about fires and earthquakes and how best to cope with them.

"The disaster management textbooks in schools do not provide practical knowledge on what to do in such situations. In the US, all students — from the youngest to the oldest — are taught about evacuation drills and what to do in case of a disaster. In India the awareness is very low because of the lack of knowledge on the subject. This motivated me to start working with schools after I devised this game. We launched this game also with a motive to switch the interest of children from violent video games to something more constructive," said Dr Parag Mankeekar, CEO, Neeti Solutions.

Mankeekar is currently in talks with UNICEF and United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR), both of who have plans to take the idea forward and implement it in other countries.

The game that was conceived in June 2007 is a 3D computer-based game and has been modified to fit the disaster management training in an innovative way.

"Whenever a player reaches the base of the ladder or the mouth of the snake, a question regarding disaster management pops up. A correct answer by participants helps them escape the snake or climb the ladder while a wrong one gets them gobbled up by the snake or restrains them from climbing the ladder. Also for each dice roll, there is a piece of information regarding disaster," explained Mankeekar.

The project was completed in October 2007 and was showcased at the Asia Pacific Regional Workshop on School Education and Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangkok from 8-10 October, where it was much appreciated.

Neeti Solutions, along with their Netherlands-based partner E-Semble, has also created a platform called DiaboloVR that is used to simulate any disaster scenario and build a response-training program around it. "We haven't launched it yet on the Internet but we have promoted it by giving away CDs to different schools," he said.

In January, to test the methodologies they were working on, Mankeekar's team conducted a two-day workshop, a testing field of sorts, in the Film and Television Institute of India campus, in which 500 students from 50 schools in Pune participated.

An erstwhile president of the Indian Chapter of IERN and presently in the running for the US-based Ashoka Fellowship, already having cleared its first round, Mankeekar hopes to use both these networks of people (there being around 200 Ashoka fellows spread over the world) for the widespread dissemination of the game and also to sell the game in India and abroad at subsidised prices.

He has a presentation ready for the contention of the Ashoka Fellowship, which would categorise the development of the game Snakes and Ladders as social entrepreneurship and would financially support the venture.


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