Semi-Literate Mekong Women Learn Using Video Compact Discs

dot-EDU is using low-cost video compact discs (VCD) to help reach at-risk youth in South East Asia in this core-funded pilot activity. The project is designed to gauge the success of applying this versatile and ubiquitous technology to meet critical learning needs of young women who cross the Mekong in search of a more exciting and financially rewarding life in Thailand.

The activity is developing two VCDs containing "edu-tainment" style content related to the realities faced by these young women. Two local NGOs, PADETC and Pattanarak, who currently work directly with these women on both sides of the border, are partnering with dot-EDU to help produce and implement the VCDs in their outreach programs, evaluating their effectiveness at helping these women make better informed choices.

Young Laotian Women At Risk for Exploitation and Abuse
Young women and girls all around the Mekong region are drawn to cross over into Thailand by media images of safe and healthy well-dressed youth with ample money in their pockets, enjoying a comfortable and exciting life. The realities that these young women face however, once in Thailand are very different - as their lack of education, scarce familial resources, and long distance from home makes them targets for unscrupulous employers. HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and sexual exploitation are just a few of the dangers many of these girls face.

The illusion of a better life in Bangkok may begin with relatives and perhaps making brooms to be sold across the river. The next step may involve day passes to cross over to sell the brooms at the big Saturday market on the other side. Some girls then choose to stay on the Thai side to work in a kiosk or assist a vendor. They enjoy the opportunity to socialize with Thai youth as well as friends from Laos.

But once the girls have been lured across the river, other offers begin to come along, such as work in a larger town a bit further inland. And the further inland they move, the more alienated they become. Family and friends are no longer around and it becomes more and more difficult to know whom to trust. Their risk of sexual exploitation, of exposure to HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, and falling victim to forced labor greatly increases. The beguiling truth is that their security lessens subtly, even the fated steps toward an unacceptable level of risk are often too difficult to identify.

How to Reach Semi-Literate Migrants
A key challenge for the local NGOs has been the ability to share critical information with these young women and girls on both sides of the Mekong, but particularly when they have left home and crossed the river into Thailand. Many are only semi-literate, and few have access to traditional schooling or other government institutions. As a result, print media has been a largely ineffective medium to reach these women and girls both before they leave home in Laos and once they arrive in Thailand.

However, using a popular, inexpensive video-based system with multi-language abilities such as VCDs offers multiple opportunities for education and outreach to the young women and girls.

VCD Technology is Inexpensive and Easily Available
Video Compact Discs are already very popular in South East Asian and are strongly associated with entertainment. These VCDs can be produced and copied very cheaply using standard computer equipment and can be played on VCD players broadly available throughout the region. VCDs can also be played on most DVD players and computers with CD-Rom drives. They hold a little over one hour of video and are of comparable video quality to a VHS tape.

VCDs also offer a level of technology that traditional VHS tapes do not - the ability to have multiple sound tracks for the same video content. The user can select which language to use with the video, or can choose "facilitator" version, to help train those who work directly with the young women.

The low cost of hardware, software, and the production process make adaptation of this technology in different contexts and larger scale a real possibility.

Modules Promote Learning and Reflection
The two model VCDs currently under development contain six short "modules". A module contains an eight-minute mini-drama or interview, a narrated news byte, and a telling sequence of images that ends in open-ended trigger questions to stimulate reflection and/or discussion. The information is presented in ways to help migrant girls reflect on the trade-offs between various options in order to help them make more informed choices.

Instructional design fully exploits the VCD technology, distributing and reinforcing the learning through music, dialogue, sequences of images, and subtitles. The design for these VCDs will test a generous use of video clips and graphic material while restricting print to specific subtitles using carefully controlled basic Lao vocabulary.

Learners in this context are motivated by their need to know. Content includes:
  • the various kinds of immigration status and the limitations of eac;
  • how to get out from under oppressive employers;
  • alternative health services open to illegal migrants; and
  • low-risk employment alternatives available to migrants.
Well-known music from local artists and popular styles reinforce the entertainment aspects of the modules.

A menu of images listing all six modules is displayed on an opening screen, allowing viewers (especially facilitators) to select topics as often and in whatever sequence they desire.

The VCDs will also offer a guided soundtrack to help train peer facilitators on how to use the programs with groups. Due to the variety of spoken languages in the region, the multiple sound tracks offer more than one language choice for both users and peer facilitators, who may not speak the same language.

Using the VCDs in Outreach Programs
dot-EDU is partnering with two national NGOs, the Pattanarak Foundation (Thailand) and PADETC (Laos) to both produce the VCDs and integrate their usage into outreach programs.

The Pattanarak Foundation works with girls at risk on the Thai side of the Mekong, while PADETC works with at-risk girls on the Laos side of the border. Both partners are part of a network of groups and agencies involved in supporting at-risk girls who cross the Mekong. The NGOs are well positioned to test their combined effectiveness to produce the VCDs and reach the girls already involved in their programs.

Potential Applications of VCDs for Education and Learning
The broader objective of this activity is to demonstrate the communicative power and versatility of this technology for meeting critical learning needs among the region's at-risk migrant and ethnic youth. Yet VCD technology can easily be harnessed to support classroom learning, particularly since the multiple sound tracks offer different languages. A soundtrack can also be dedicated to training the teacher or facilitator, providing them with guidance at key points.

EDC is implementing the Low-Cost Technology for Semi-Literate Mekong Girls Project starting January 1, 2004 under the dot-EDU Leader Award No: 520-A-00-02-00109-00.

For More Information, Contact:
Field: Roy Zimmermann
Project Director, Education Development Center
Tel: (202) 572-3700

Related DOT-COM Activity
Laos/Thailand - Low Cost Technology for Semi-Literate Mekong Girls
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