UP and University of Leeds collaborate on digital project to teach kids about COVID-19

Posted on August 18, 2020

The University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of Leeds are working together on a project to determine if children between eight and 12 years old can learn about COVID-19 through a storybook and/or by playing an online game.

The research is being spearheaded by Dr Nico Claassen, a senior lecturer at UP’s School of Health Systems and Public Health, and is titled “Managing the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’: Development of a booklet and mobile game to be used as teaching tools to convey OHS  [occupational health and safety] message”.

Children are asked to complete an online survey with simple health and safety questions about the virus before they are sent the storybook, called Sibo Stays Healthy. “They get the book to read for three days,” explains Dr Claassen. “Some children get the book and the game – the game is sent to 50% of the participating children to determine if playing a game in combination with reading the booklet adds value in terms of knowledge. Thereafter, they complete the same questionnaire again. The results are compared to see if they have learnt anything from having read the book only, or from having read the book and playing the game.”

According to Prof Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, this is just one of many initiatives that were supported by the University of Leeds. Sibo Stays Healthy is an addition to Sibo Fights Malaria and Sibo Goes Bananas, which focuses on malaria prevention and the importance of a healthy lifestyle respectively.

“The questionnaires are Google-based,” says Ginny Stone, author of the illustrated online book. “Sibo Stays Healthy is a digital reader and the game is an app that can be played on desktop or mobile devices.”

Dr Claassen hopes to see children’s knowledge about COVID-19 improve after they have read Sibo Stays Healthy and that misconceptions are addressed. He says the social behaviour of the public at large shows that there is still a lack of understanding about COVID-19, despite continuous messaging in the media about the virus and its implications. The proposed approach makes use of the following framework proposed by the World Health Organisation: identify evidence, simplify knowledge, amplify actions and quantify the impact.

The booklet and digital application will address current challenges in information management by simplifying digital verification and social media messages, and will demonstrate how to connect with the correct sources of authoritative health information. It will also address misinformation on social media in a non-threatening way and empower the public to question sources of information.

For more information about the project, visit this page. Permission is required from parents/guardians before children can participate; parents/guardians are not allowed to assist children with their answers. 

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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