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Indian children celebrating Holi festival covered in colored powder.

Can a Game Change the World?


An experimental project attempts to demonstrate the importance of games as part of children’s education.

Games are an essential activity that often reflect some of the mind’s most fascinating faculties: imagination, a capacity for abstraction, and the experience of things not quite part of tangible reality. For many decades, playfulness has been understood as a tool for learning and development (even for neurological development), and it’s permeated many of the world’s educational models. One recent project proposed the creation of “gaming laboratories” within schools, and specifically within economically marginalized communities.

This global experiment is funded by the Lego Foundation, Porticus, and BRAC, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the improvement of schools in low-income communities. Thus far, 513 laboratories are planned for countries including Uganda, Tanzania, and Bangladesh, where already a bit more than 400 children are set to participate in the pilot programs. These were created by experts and revolve entirely around games. The game laboratories, designed by architects, include spaces designated for the types of activities they’re to host: secluded, silent corners for reading, areas for manual activities, outdoor play spaces, and others for play within enclosed spaces.

The structure and operation of each of the laboratories are quite simple and include participation by groups of between 30 and 40 children. These groups are divided by age, for shifts of two to three hours, and require a “game guide” who functions as a space coordinator and who works with the help of volunteers. Normally, women from the local community are chosen for these roles. They receive training from BRAC in subjects like early childhood development, project operation, health and safety, communication with children, and the rules for the use of laboratory time and space. They’re also updated monthly on course development and they meet with parents once monthly to report on progress and to find new ways to encourage the children’s development. The laboratories are free, although donations from families are welcomed. The decoration of the spaces is also carried out by members of the community who work hand in hand with architects, which helps the families to be involved with the experiment.

One of the greatest challenges for the game labs is in convincing parents to allow children’s participation. In such communities, childhood education is often associated with discipline, respect for authority, and good behavior, none of which call for fun or recreation. The experts developing the program maintain that the project aims not just to educate children, but also to prepare them in a more integral way for life and the world they’ll face as they grow up.

Some of the records kept as part of this experiment include measurements of children’s development, cognitive abilities (and how these may be transformed during the program), behavior, language, and play ability. The program also aims to demonstrate through these and other statistics, that such laboratories can, over time, result in economic savings for the government, and also in decreasing the differences between participating students and their more economically advantaged peers.

Toward the beginning of the 20th century, Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky (today considered one of the most important thinkers in education) was among the first to propose that play is crucial to children, to their linguistic development, and to their emotional and mental self-control. Games, in the end, shape the way kids think and interact with the world. If kids are to be the future of the world, supporting this important part of their development is a promise of infinite possibility.


Image: Public domain

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