What can children learn from video games?

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“When I come home and you ask what I did today.  
Do not frown when I say play! 
For I may be a software engineer some day”!

When I was at school dreaming of becoming Jacques Cousteau, my industry did not exist; the tools I use day to day are unrecognisable from back then. Yet I cut my teeth developing the skills I use today by making my own games at school.

Bearing that in mind, I’ve highlighted a few factors which have the potential to negatively impact our ability to create a confident, diverse and creative future workforce.

In schools these consist of: Limited support: Computing can be a lower priority than core subjects. Limited equipment: Access to computers in primary schools can be limited and often unreliable. Limited time: Teachers can be very time poor and may not have time to do more. Limited confidence: There can be a fear that pupils will know more than teachers.

At home these consist of: Limited support: Screen time can be seen as a wasteful hobby. Limited equipment: Access to computers creates a self fulfilling prophecy of the most wealthy having the most access and opportunity. Limited time: Parents are time limited and often have a negative perception of coding. Limited confidence: The creation of digital technologies has been abstracted over years so very few people come close to creating technology using code. A confident digital user is very different from a confident digital creator.

This all adds up to a Tsunami of confluence – well-off families have the budget, resources and aspirations to support a hobby in tech or computing if it develops at an early age. Children from areas of social deprivation struggle to access the same level of support and encouragement.

Changes in the national curriculum have been positive. By supplementing the  learning to use apps like word, powerpoint, excel, with how to create technology and understand how to think logically about how technology is created (computational thinking), has created a foundation from which to build. The trouble is ensuring the foundation supports a diverse group rather than just the wealthy and privileged.

The learning journey is well documented for children as well as adults. Children start  as unconsciously incompetent (they do not know what they do not know) but are happy and want to have fun. Do not blame a child if the learning is not fun! Over 98 per cent (UKie study) of children aged 8 to 15 play video games. It is their domain – they know good from bad and they know the brands that resonate with them.

In our [Junior Game Creators] experience, as children learn about the games they play and make their own versions of the games they love they quickly enter conscious incompetence. They realise there is much to learn. Not just the hard skills of coding, programming and debugging but the soft skills of perseverance, team work, planning, creative thinking and the confidence that failure is OK.

The challenge is getting to conscious competence. Where they form a way of working, they fail early deliberately,  they reflect and build on mistakes, they know their strengths and weaknesses and share expertise openly to solve problems. These are the skills we are all looking for in our future workforce, right?

However, moving from conscious incompetence to conscious competence requires three things above all others – practice, practice , practice.  By practice we are not talking about learning by “rote”. We are talking about a regular, fun and safe environment where an interest can be ignited.  Without this, many can form an opinion that it is too hard, or not for them, or if the delivery is wrong they get bored into oblivion.

Children understand Levelling Up in the games they play. Children understand that to level up they have to practice, fail and learn. Slowly they get better and are rewarded for their time and effort they put into learning a new game.
Developing learning in a parallel manner reaps the same levels of reward. But before we level up we need to make sure we effectively level out the access to diverse groups of society rather than the privileged few.

How can this be achieved:

Level out access to regular extra curricular activities (www.juniorgamecreators.co.uk) through industry sponsored bursaries. Level out learning for teachers (https://www.digitalschoolhouse.org.uk/) by sponsoring creation of more learning hubs. Level out access to bursaries and sponsorship to ensure diversity and accessibility.

If you’re intrigued and would like to know more, join us on Saturday 10 July in #coventry with Big Tent Foundation Coventry City of Culture Trust for Ideas Festival, where John is speaking.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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