"Not a Shame": OSUN Students Developing Online Game to Destigmatize Sex Education for Global Teens
By Eban Goodstein
Alua Samat is a student at Bard College and a sex education activist. In her home country of Kazakhstan, young people, and especially girls, have few reliable sources of information about their sexuality. They learn from whatever inadequate sources they can find, including the distorted world of on-line porn. As a result, teen pregnancy is more than six times higher in Central Asia than in developed countries.
Samat has been working with others for years to overcome the stigma that accompanies education about human sexuality for and among teens. While enrolled in OSUN's Network Collaborative Course on Social Entrepreneurship, she teamed up with four other passionate students from Bard and the American University of Central Asia (AUCA), both OSUN partner institutions, to create what could be the answer: an online game called Not a Shame. Their effort, currently under development, is being designed as a potential resource for teenagers across the globe.
Stigma and Language Barriers: One Scenario
The Not a Shame team has created the following scenario to illustrate challenges some young people face when dealing with teen pregnancy:
Alexandra, 15 years old, is a high school student in a Central Asian country. Recently, she found out her friend was pregnant. Both Alexandra and her friend are scared and in panic; Alexandra started Googling information on what to do in this situation.
Given how stigmatized pregnancy outside of marriage is in the region, especially when it comes to teenagers, it was unsafe for her friend to tell anyone. One other concern was abortion: they heard such an option existed, but did not know where to go. One suggestion was to take a pill that would terminate the pregnancy on its own but where would they buy it?
The two teens also had no idea what to do if the friend decided to continue the pregnancy and eventually give birth: all the available information was in Russian, but the only language they felt confident in was Kyrgyz. Asking parents was not an option either; they would become too suspicious of Alexandra hiding something. And she did not want to spill her friend's secret to her own parents.
That night Alexandra was unable to fall asleep because of all the overwhelming feelings and stress. Scrolling on her phone, she saw an advertisement for Not a Shame, which seemed to be telling the same story of what she and her friend were going through. Alexandra always loved diving into other lives and standing in other characters' shoes in mobile games, so she got intrigued and clicked Install to see if the story had anything she could apply to her life.
Existing sex education games are popular among teens around the world, but are not accessible to the many communities who do not speak English, Russian, or other global languages. The games can also fail to recognize different cultural nuances around sexual education and family planning. For example, in some countries condoms purchased from grocery stores frequently aren't as safe, as the products are often expired, notes the team.
The Not a Shame game could help to close such gaps, not only in Central Asian countries but potentially all over the world by serving teens in their own languages and adapting storylines and curricula to fit culture-specific, local needs. The platform would offer a free version of the game with paid tiers and sponsored ads.
The Power of a Global Classroom
Not A Shame emerged from a fall 2022 OSUN Network Collaborative Course on "Social Entrepreneurship," part of a three-course Global Certificate in Social Enterprise and Leading Change offered through Bard’s MBA in Sustainability and the Open Society University Network.
The course brought together students and faculty from AUCA in Kyrgyzstan, Bard College in New York, BRAC University in Bangladesh, Al Quds University in Palestine, the American University of Bulgaria, Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and others. Students gathered weekly in an international zoom meeting conducted by instructors across seven OSUN campuses, and then met in person with local co-instructors who helped develop their projects.
Developing, Pitching, and Launching the Platform
Samat’s team was selected as one of the top three participants from the global group represented in the OSUN virtual class. In December 2022, the team participated in Bard MBA’s annual pitch competition and it was announced that they would receive a $1,500 prize to help them develop the business.
Samat notes that the global class meetings and local sessions gave her team the valuable opportunity to practice presenting the project. When she later pitched the project to a panel of high-level judges in New York, she said that “thanks to that classroom experience, I was personally not puzzled by the questions the judges asked, nor did I feel nervous.”
Bermet Suiutbekova, the team’s faculty instructor at AUCA said that Not a Shame “will bring a positive change to Central Asian countries. With the help of $1,500 in prize money from the competition, the team is planning to release the beta version of the product in June of 2023 and go to market in July of 2024.” Together, this team of young people from opposite sides of the world could very well make a difference in the lives of young people worldwide.
Post Date: 01-31-2023