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Closing Gaps Through Animation to Build Food Security

This Article in Brief:

  • Gaining an education is often limited to those who can read and write. The majority of low-literacy learners worldwide live in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Two-thirds of the world is now connected via mobile devices, and that number is rapidly growing.
  • Scientific Animations Without Borders was created to educate people using animations that can be shared via mobile devices – the program has become increasingly helpful during the pandemic, with animations sharing best practices to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

After years of working in the education field, Julia Bello-Bravo, PhD., knows first-hand how innovations in science can benefit communities and vulnerable populations. In Africa, for example, 17 countries have literacy rates of 50 percent and below. Thanks to advances in technology like shareable video content, Bluetooth technology and the proliferation of cell phones, more people are able to access educational opportunities and resources.

Increasing Knowledge Access Through Smartphones

With approximately 750 million low-literate learners around the globe, education often marginalizes communities. Bello-Bravo, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, is using her research to help level the playing field.

  • Bello-Bravo observed that the proliferation of cell phones, specifically those with video and Bluetooth capabilities, has spread to some of the most remote locations throughout rural Africa, including farming communities.
  • After decades of research, she determined that the most cost-effective way to create, adapt and share educational information to low-literate learners was to leverage these devices and technology.
  • She co-launched Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) – a free program that helps explain technology or answer common questions through easy-to-understand animations in local languages through cell phone videos, smartphone apps and more.

“For the illiterate and isolated, I believe we may have found the next Gutenberg press of our century in cell and smartphone technology,” Bello-Bravo said. “The trend is towards greater accessibility for more people in the coming decade.”

Helping Communities Amid COVID-19

In partnership with Feed the Future, the United Nations and other partners, SAWBO produced several COVID-19 animations in more than 30 languages aimed at preventing and containing the virus.

Ensuring Equitable Access to Education

The goal of SAWBO is to help de-marginalize communities and to embrace and support diversity. To date, the program’s 90 animations in more than 145 languages have reached 45 million individuals in more than 100 countries across six continents.

The animations in the SAWBO library cover topics including health, agriculture, peace and justice, and women’s empowerment. The videos teach skills such as how to safely store beans in jerrycans to prevent post-harvest loss, how to develop charcoal water filtration systems to remove pollutants from drinking water and how to rebuild peace after civil strife.

SAWBO was developed by Julia Bello-Bravo and Barry Pittendrigh while at the University of Illinois as an output of the Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab managed by Michigan State University. SAWBO is Bello-Bravo and Pittendrigh’s collaborative research program and currently resides at Michigan State University.

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