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Video games for education?

health and fitness Updated: Sep 19, 2009 21:27 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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India’s education system should move beyond chalk and talk and use interactive technologies in the classroom, as is done in the rest of the world,” spouted my 12-year-old son last night, looking up from The Economist (Sept 11 issue).

The “rest of the world”, in this case, was New York City, where a new government-funded school called Quest to Learn has started to educate students using video games. The curriculum is conventional — mathematics, sciences, history, social sciences, languages and literature — but the teaching methodology is radical.

The subjects are called ‘domains’, designed as 90-minutes capsules. Students learn by completing quests, with history becoming a strategy game between Spartans and Athenians; and science, a game that involves space travel to understand the black hole and anti-matter. Exams called ‘Boss’ levels (a gaming term for the toughest, final obstacle) are held every two weeks.

Conceived by Katie Salen, a professor at Parsons School of Design in NYC, the school draws on researches that show that interactive games help students grasp quicker, increase retention and improve application of skills learnt.

My son supports the theory, naturally, and was quick to point out that the NYC school starts taking students aged 12, which makes him just the right age. “This education model will be a success, though I don’t know how good their eyesight will be by the end of it.” he said.

The Journal of Adolescence reported in July that what matters most is the game’s content and the time spent playing. Playing monitored games for a limited time actually improves schoolwork and channels aggression, but playing violent games for hours does the opposite. That apart, hours spent before the console means fewer hours spent outdoors, leading to obesity, postural and muscular and skeletal disorders. As usual, overdosing on anything is bad, which makes me wonder whether a gaming-alone methodology would work.