Computer games should be part of the school curriculum, because they prepare children for a successful future professional life, according to Marc Prensky, CEO of New York-based business training and software game company games2train.
Prensky, in New Zealand to speak at the Ministry of Education Learning@School conference, says schools are hardly equipped to prepare children for life in the 21st century.
“Technology develops so fast. If you believe that the power of technology is going to double every year, and that is going to continue for 30 years or so, that means that technology is going to be a billion times more powerful. And teaching the curriculum that we teach in schools today is not going to cut it at all.”
According to Prensky, games teach children to work effectively with others, to cooperate virtually, to quickly learn new skills and take in new information.
Games also teach them to program, make decisions under stress, take risks, deal with huge amounts of data, think strategically, solve difficult problems, to do scientific deduction in a data world, and manage businesses and people, dealing with ethical and moral questions.
“Also, when gamers play, there is a standard of excellence that they expect in a digital world, and they judge each other on the work that they do in that world,” Prensky continues. “So, all these things are really a preparation for how people are going to be working in the future, no matter what profession.”
Integrating digital technology and games into the teaching curriculum might seem like a difficult step to take, but Prensky sees many possibilities.
“I recommend just starting to ask questions, like ‘who plays a game that has anything to do with what we are discussing?’ or ‘can you think of an example of what we are discussing in any of your games?’” he says.
The next step could be to theoretically design a game in the class, or to take some of the principles behind the games – the goals, the adaptivity and decision-making – into teaching. To actually play the games takes a bit of planning to fit into the timetable and curriculum, Prensky says.
New Zealand is somewhat ahead of the rest of the world in terms of trying to make changes to the school system, says Prensky.
On the other side of the battlefield are the media watchdog groups — for example the National Institute on Media and the Family in the US. For years, similar groups have been criticising games that glamorise violence.
Prensky says that people that criticise games have a poor understanding of what games are about.
“Most of them don’t play games at all,” he says. “They don’t understand what children enjoy about games, and they don’t seem to want to talk about it either.”
According to Associated Press, the National Institute on Media and the Family recently expressed its disgust over games that contain cannibalism; one particular game features a character that eats human brains.
“Come on, kids love stuff like that,” says Prensky.
Children do understand the difference between games and real life, he says.
“Just talk to the kids, the first thing they will tell you is ‘it’s just a game, come on’.”
Prensky stresses that parents or teachers should play games together with the children.
“It’s like reading books together,” he says. “It becomes a natural part of life.”
But he does believe that overdoing games could have negative effects.
“As parents it’s our job to make sure that our kids live a balanced life. Some people could get hooked on playing games, but to most kids games are a normal part of life.”