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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January 2005, 11:41 GMT
Software re-enacts Rwanda's genocide

By Mark Doyle
BBC World Affairs correspondent

Scenario from Pax Warrior
The simulation uses realistic scenarios from the genocide

It has been a long journey from the Rwandan genocide in 1994 to an Edinburgh classroom in 2005, but a remarkable new computer program is being piloted to teach children about the genocide, about citizenship and about the tough choices adults often have to make.

The new simulation - it sounds wrong to call it a computer game given the subject matter - runs a series of dilemmas similar to those the UN peacekeepers faced during the genocide.

In all, some 800,000 Rwandans were systematically put to death in just 100 days at a rate faster than during the holocaust of the Jews in World War II.

The whole affair was a desperate attempt by an extremist ethnic Hutu regime to hang on to power in the face of ethnic Tutsi rebel advances.

The regime meticulously planned the murder of ethnic Tutsi civilians and Hutu moderates they deemed to be in support of the rebels.

But far too few UN peacekeepers were there to stop the carnage. And some people questioned the political will of the UN and the superpowers on its security council.

Now James Gillespie's High School is seeing what, if anything, can be learned from the terrible dilemmas raised by the tragedy.

Reality to simulation

Many computer games are violent and involve zapping an enemy. But Pax Warrior is about saving people.

In reality very few Rwandans were saved, but that's reflected in the programme too.

Skulls of Rwandan victims
Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred

The idea is to use new media to develop the students' decision-making capacity and at the same time learn about one of the momentous events of 20th century history.

Andreas Ua'Siaghail is the designer of Pax Warrior: "Kids are using books less and less, and there are also different kinds of learners.

"Some learn visually, some learn through auditory stimulation and some from reading text.

"We are using all three methods of reaching the users." The students have to face a real life decision made by UN commanders.

An informant tells the students, who play the role of UN officers, that hidden arms caches are about to be distributed to Rwandan government militiamen who may commit genocide.

The students have several choices. Do they risk confrontation and raid the arms caches? Or should they ask for advice from UN headquarters in New York?

Another option is diplomatic pressure on the president of Rwanda, hoping that that may stop the arms being distributed.

Good intentions

Every choice that's made has consequences for the rest of the simulation.

I asked one student, Niall Dolan, why he chose to fax New York to ask for advice.

"Our mission is not to promote violence," he says.

"And does this simulation relate to your ordinary lives?" I ask.

"The decisions we have to make here are much more extreme than any we'd have to make as teenagers," says Astrid Brown.

I don't have any regrets about the decisions we took. At times we just tried to stay human
Marek Pazik

"But this makes you aware that your decisions can have many more effects than you realised."

"And no matter what your good intentions are," says Jude Purcell, "certain decisions you have to take are going to have bad consequences."

The school's headmaster, Alex Wallace, sees the computer programme as a stimulating way of learning some modern history. But he says there's much more to it than that.

"One of the priorities nationally is that we teach students what it means to be a good citizen, a global citizen.

"The youngsters are getting a real opportunity to improve their social responsibility, and this will hopefully contribute to them becoming better future citizens of the world."

To compare the simulation with the real thing, we invited a UN peacekeeper who served in Rwanda in 1994 to talk to the students.

Along with a handful of other UN personnel Marek Pazik, then a major in the Polish army, volunteered to stay on during the genocide to do what he could to save lives.

Major Marek Pazik
Marek Pazik stayed in Rwanda to try to help the survivors

The students asked him some difficult questions about the weaknesses of the UN operation.

But Mr Pazik defended the ideals of the UN and said that generally it worked as a body.

"I have been unhappy with it at times but we have nothing better and it can work if we all co-operate and work for peace."

"I don't have any regrets about the decisions we took."

"At times we just tried to stay human."

Never again?

The fallout from the Rwandan genocide continues to this day with millions of orphans and war refugees.

So one has to ask whether Pax Warrior, even though designed as a educational tool, doesn't make light of what was an earth-shattering event for Africa.

"I don't think it trivialises it," says Alex Wallace.

"But you need to allow ample space for people for collaborative talk so that the students' thinking is probed."

The world has said "never again" many times, and many times has failed to honour those words.

But communities that have suffered genocide, whether in the Nazi holocaust or the killing fields of Rwanda, say one way of trying to prevent these dreadful events from happening again is by telling and re-telling the stories.

These students may have found a modern media version of more traditional monuments to the dead.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See students using the video simulation



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