Creative Approach to Teaching Preventative Health

The World Bank estimates that handwashing with soap and water reduces diarrheal diseases by 48 percent, preventing over one and a half million children from dying each year. However, research shows that traditional lesson plans teaching handwashing only result in modest behavior changes at best.

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Two years ago, this problem in mind, Haas Professor David Levine and a team of student researchers, coined Hygiene Heroes, began thinking of new ways to teach preventative health. Through ethnographic research and prototyping, they learned the most effective way to change behavior is through interactive styles of learning, such as stories, games, and songs. Consequently, Hygiene Heroes has created a curriculum that uses interactive game-based learning to teach handwashing, sanitation, and safe water.

I have been fortunate enough to work on this initiative from the beginning. I serve as an international liaison, working with our partners from Teach for India. Internally, I help with both story and game development. One of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on is the Grandma Wants You to Eat Candy board game that reinforces handwashing, boiling water, and using a latrine. I find our project to be powerful because it takes successful pop-culture games and adapts them to teach health in an engaging way.

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Haas Professor David Levine

Project manager David Levine says, “I enjoy learning the great ideas of educators and health workers. This project means part of my job is reading folk tales and learning games from around the world and adapting them to my lessons. I get to work with artists, writers, musicians, computer game designers, researchers on disease prevention, NGO staff, doctors, and teachers from around the globe.  I have always enjoyed my research, but never this much. While the activities are intended to be fun, the purpose is the most serious challenge I can imagine. The overlap is a great place for me to be.”

For the last two summers, we have piloted our lessons in Chennai, India and experienced positive results and growth. Our initiative is currently raising money to send undergraduate researchers to Chennai again this summer to implement the adapted curriculum. The researchers will train local teachers in the new approach and their reports will allow us to further improve and scale our curriculum. Please learn more about our initiative and the potential to donate at Berkeley-Haas’s official crowdfunding platform,

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