Cartoon depictions of Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers, Singapore’s Merlion and Thailand’s golden temples were among some of Southeast Asia’s landmarks gliding behind the name ‘Sea Wander’ on the screen.
The mobile app, with its brightly colored cartoon characters and educational games, was unveiled and crowned as the winner at the UNESCO & Microsoft Hackathon for Culture and Peace on May 21, after the team responsible spent one-month building it.
The UNESCO & Microsoft Hackathon for Culture and Peace was organized as part of Microsoft’s efforts to encourage young women to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and one of the hackathon’s requirements included having at least mixed-gendered teams. Today, only 30% of STEM graduates in Thailand are women.
“I’ve learned so many new things that I can take back and apply to my work. I even gained a new perspective on history,” said 18-year-old Yensira Chaisuk or “Shin”, one of the five team members in NASHIMETEKO. “Everything in ASEAN comes from the same roots in so many aspects.”
The NASHIMETEKO team, which is a combination of the first syllables of each member’s name, walked off with a 20,000 baht prize money and a trophy from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The five high school teammates are from the Rayong Wittayakom School in the Rayong province, 3.5 hours away from Bangkok. They are about to enter the first year in their respective universities to continue their studies in science, engineering and the arts.
“When I was a child, I loved to draw,” shared 17-year-old Nappasorn Sangkiew, another MACHIMETEKO member. “I started drawing on paper before moving on to digital paintings on notebook computer. Now, I am working on logo designs and graphic animation.”
The Sea Wander app allows players to choose between the roles of a Bali farmer growing rice or a Cambodian silk maker. The game uses cultural folktale to help educate users on the history of rice and silk while they plow fields or feed silk worms in mini-games inserted between storytelling narratives.
“I’m a mother of a five-year-old and that is the main reason why I want to know where I can download this app,” said one of the judges, Montira Unakul, UNESCO Bangkok’s Cultural program officer. “I think my son would want to play this game, and even many of the adults sitting in this room would want to play it too.”
NACHIMETEKO was picked by all five judges as their final choices, resulting in a unanimous decision to crown them the winner. A total of five finalist teams were present at the winner announcement session at UNESCO Bangkok.
The program was launched on March 27 and each team had two months to pitch and design a web or mobile educational app that teaches the shared history of Southeast Asia, and present it to the panel of judges. Entries developed by some of these teams include an app that implemented augmented reality questionnaires, story-based time travel and even an educational journey on spice routes.
The purpose of the app is in line with UNESCO’s Shared Histories project, an initiative launched in 2015 to melt away tensions among Southeast Asian countries and promote understanding between neighbors.
According to historians, the promotion of national identities, with neighboring countries portrayed as opponents, is rooted in history curriculums among the 11 Southeast Asia countries. These hostile depictions influenced the mindset of multiple generations of people to view neighboring nations as enemies. The Shared Histories project aims to provide new unbiased views of history and propose new ways of teaching it while emphasizing similarities between nations to cultivate respect.
“We believe that education is very important,” said Desarack Teso, the Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs (CELA) for Microsoft Thailand, and one of the judges. “The job of today may not exist tomorrow, and the job of tomorrow may not exist today, so you don’t really know the skills that you need to compete in your future.”
Teso highlighted that the Sea Wander app, with its kid-friendly graphics, clear subtitles, upbeat tunes and smooth gameplay, is an outstanding example of the intersection between technology and learning.
“The app reflects Microsoft’s belief that technology, no matter how advanced, is meant to serve and enhance the capability of humanity,” he added.
The hackathon aligns with Microsoft’s goal to help people attain the digital skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the digital economy to become “future-ready” – especially for women.