Alan Lenton on Games (13 Oct 2005)
The truth is that games and computers are no substitute for education. Most games that are purported to be educational are boring - boring games and boring 'education'. The 'educational' in 'educational games' is little more than a marketing ploy.
I'm not saying that children can't learn from games. Some do, but it's purely incidental.
It's difficult and expensive to write a good game. It's difficult and expensive to write good educational software. To try and do both at the same time is a major exercise in the management of complexity. Add to that the tendency of teachers to make copies of commercial software to pass round their cash-strapped schools and you have an understandable reluctance of companies to invest in anything that might be a real 'educational game'.
In a way it's a bit of a con trick. Having failed to inspire children to want to learn more by conventional methods, we are now trying to trick them into learning by playing computer games. It won't work, children are remarkably good at seeing through such stratagems.
I have to confess that I am something of a Luddite when it comes to the issue of computers in schools. I think that all the money that has gone on computers and the Internet in schools would have been much better spent on more teachers. We connect schools to the Internet, but we don't even teach the teachers how to use it for real research, let alone explain to the children how to distinguish between urban legends and factual data.
I used to be the chair of governors of one of the local schools and just after I stepped down in 1999 I wrote a piece about computers and games in education. There was a paragraph in it that really rang true for me when I read it again a few weeks ago:
'Let's face it. There is nothing that can touch a human teacher for firing up children's interest in the world around then and bringing to them that sense of wonder that is the basis of all enquiry. All the computers in all the schools in the world cannot talk to the child as an individual and encourage him or her to think about a topic and develop insights. A single teacher or parent can spark that development.'
It sounds a bit pompous in retrospect, but nothing that has happened in education over the last six years suggests to me that I was wrong when I wrote that.
Sometimes, when I look around, I see a really bleak future where the children of those who can afford it have human teachers, and the rest have to make do with computers. Hopefully, it won't come to that.
Article URL: http://www.acm.org/ubiquity/interviews/v6i37_lenton.html
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