A competition for secondary schools, created to help combat severe disruption to learning and isolation that students faced over Covid-19 school closures, saw more than 1500 pupils across the UK submit their written work.
Four UK secondary school pupils have been announced as the first-ever winners of a new creative writing competition backed by the world’s youngest Nobel winner, Malala Yousafzai, and the National Literacy Trust.
The inaugural 500 Word Malala Yousafzai Competition was launched in September 2020, asking students to submit their original creative stories. The aim of the competition is to use creative writing to boost the confidence, mental health, and literacy skills of school pupils who have experienced prolonged disruptions to learning and isolation from friends and family over two academic years.
The competition has provided a much-needed creative outlet for young people who have been struggling with the impact of the pandemic on their education and mental health. Research by Young Minds found that 80% of young people said that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse, while 87% of respondents said they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period.
More than 1500 pupils from around 400 secondary schools submitted pieces of writing or graphic novels, which could be either fiction or non-fiction and in any genre.
Amongst the winners was twelve-year-old Katie Barnett, from Bishop Luffa School in Chichester, West Sussex, who entered a short story titled “The Three Little Pigs and Covid-19”.
Ada Lovelace Church of England High School in Ealing, London had two winning entries, “A Living Hell” by Mark Robinson, aged 13, and “A Chicken’s Road to Heaven” by Deema Mahmood, aged 11.
The creative writing competition was backed by Malala Yousafzai, campaigner for educational equality and the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who congratulated the winners.
Malala said: “Every child has a story to tell. The Connected Creatives competition sums up exactly why I became an activist in the first place – young voices really do matter, but too often they’re ignored or silenced.
“The response to the competition has been inspiring – hundreds of young people took part, and the quality of the writing was impressive. It shows how important the provision of creative outlets like Connected Creatives are, in helping students to improve writing and digital skills, connect with peers, and share their work. Well done to all the pupils, as well as the teachers and schools that supported them.
“I’d like to congratulate both Mark and Deema on their winning stories. In writing “ A Chicken’s Road to Heaven”, Deema did a wonderful job of creating an engaging narrative – with a twist – from the point of view of Paprika the chicken. Mark’s story, “A Living Hell”, is a tense read that vividly captured the emotions of a soldier on the battlefield.
“I’d also like to say well done to Katie Barnett from Bishop Luffa School. Katie’s entry is a very clever retelling of a children’s story with a topical twist – what if the classic ‘Three Little Pigs’ was set during the Coronavirus pandemic? It’s amusing, but also does a great job in reminding us all of the importance of staying safe.
“Writing and storytelling have been essential in my fight to improve educational equality and the rights of girls to learn. Congratulations to the winners, runner up, shortlisted students and everyone that took part in the competition. I hope that you all continue to raise your voice.”
The competition took place on Connected Creatives, an EdTech platform that is free to use for schools, teachers, and pupils, in order to encourage diversity of writing and fairness in educational opportunities.
Connected Creatives was launched in 2020 by Dr Yasmin Hussain (EdD), an educationalist who won the Queen’s Anniversary Award – the highest national Honour awarded in UK further and higher education – for her work on the development of ‘Mother Tongue, Other Tongue’ with Professor Carol Ann Duffy DBE.
The Connected Creatives platform can be used for classroom or homework tasks, creative writing clubs, or extracurricular activities. Students have the choice of self-publishing their work – allowing students to consume and comment on content submitted by peers – or keeping pieces of writing private, eliminating the pressure of writing for an audience. Connected Creatives empowers students to retain control over their work and who sees it. All work and comments are moderated by teachers before publication to keep the platform safe and age-appropriate.
The platform is also now used internationally; Teachers and pupils at St Francis Catholic College in Sydney, Australia requested access to the tool whilst studying Malala Yousafzai in English lessons, becoming the first users outside of the UK.
Dr Hussain has worked with international literacy experts, the National Literacy Trust, and colleagues across the education sector on the development of Connected Creatives.
Dr Yasmin Hussain said:
“No-one could have foreseen the huge challenges that teachers and students have faced over the previous two academic years. It is more important than ever that young people have access to tools that provide them with a safe creative outlet, new ways to learn, and opportunities to build confidence and improve mental health.
“Creative writing is a valuable talent, and vital in building key skills such as literacy, independent thinking, and problem solving.
“The quality of entries to the 500 Word Malala Yousafzai Competition has been phenomenal. It’s so important to celebrate the hard work and talent of young people, especially given the challenges that school pupils have faced recently. I am absolutely thrilled at the positive response we have had from schools. Teachers and pupils alike have really embraced the platform and the competition.
“I would also like to thank OrCam Technologies and Proper Goose for their generosity and support in providing prizes for the first-ever 500 Word Malala Yousafzai Competition. Both organisations share our values of educational fairness, and aim to provide young people with the tools and assistance they need for reading and writing. We’re so proud to be empowering the next generation of writers and creative thinkers with the opportunity to self-publish their work.”
OrCam Technologies, a leader in personal AI-driven innovations, has gifted the winners’ schools with its revolutionary OrCam Read digital reading device. The handheld device assists people with dyslexia, aphasia, reading fatigue, and other reading challenges. The OrCam Read [features video] is wireless and lightweight – compacted into a device the size of a pen – with an intuitive point-and-click operation. For students with dyslexia, the device helps to create an equal level of academic achievement and independence, allowing them to consume textbooks, digital blackboards, computer screens and text on other surfaces through instant audio playback.
Tsachi Moshinsky, OrCam’s UK Director comments: “We passionately believe in the ability of assistive technology to provide opportunities and empower students with reading challenges to reach their full potential. As soon as we heard about the Connected Creatives 500 Word Malala Yousafzai Competition, we knew we had to be involved with our shared mission to create equal opportunities for students, including access to tools that support their learning.”
Proper Goose, a family-run business that offers unique personalised stationery and gifts, is providing winners of The Malala Yousafzai Creative Writing Competition with a bundle of personalised goodies, including designed notepads, engraved pens, a water bottle and a ruler. The winners’ whole class will be provided with A5 notebooks. Each of the 26 runners up will also receive an A5 personalised, coloured notepad too.
The company is supporting Connected Creatives because the team believe that all young people should have access to traditional tools that enable them to be creative.
Founder Mark Gosling comments: “This writing competition is a great way for children to get creative and improve their literacy. Being dyslexic myself, I know it is important to get young people excited about stories, writing and using their imagination from a young age whatever their ability. “We wanted to support Connected Creatives, providing their participants and their schools with our traditional stationery so that everyone involved could continue journaling and story-making even when the competition is over. The number of people journaling has increased since the pandemic and it really is great for well-being.”
Deema Mahmood, aged 11, said: “I am very honoured and excited to be a winner of this prestigious award. My intention was to write a humorous story that also reflects desire for freedom and at the same time shows how deep held beliefs can make life easier.”
Mark Robinson, aged 13, said: “I was delighted when I heard I had won, because I have loved to write short stories since I was younger. I was inspired to write my story because I have always been fascinated in history, and am (weirdly) interested in the World Wars particularly, therefore it influenced me to write a story based on an unknown soldier’s perspective.”
English teacher at Ada Lovelace Chuch of England High School, Hannah Khan, said: “Connected Creatives has been a fantastic way for our students to engage in an imaginative and exciting way outside of the classroom and the competition has allowed students to take ownership of their writing. The entire school community is so proud of Deema and Mark and their wonderful stories. From Deema’s comedy to Mark’s harrowing tale of war, we are so impressed by the range of imagination and can’t wait to hear even more from our budding writers!”
Katie Barnett, aged 12, said: “Being a winner is just amazing. I wrote this story when we saw the idea on Instagram and it was just for a laugh and to keep friends and family entertained during Lockdown. I entered the competition because I was really proud of the story and I wanted more people to read it. I was shielding the day I found out I won, and my mum was out and dad was on a video call with work. I got so excited I rang my mum who went crazy on the phone. One thing I am very pleased with is all the prizes I have won for the school which will help some people hugely in their education especially through the pandemic.”
Steve Collins, Head of English at Bishop Luffa School, said: “Katie’s class and I were delighted that she is one of the winners. Her story, as well as being amusing, is a reflection on the times we are living.”