Viewpoint: Educational software games could leave poor children even poorer

Other influences have also impacted the sales of educational games.  A scheme to induce schools to acquire educational ICT games came in the form of “eLearning credits.” Schools promptly bought software by the kilo.  School cupboards were suddenly filled with game titles, many of which remain in their supply wrappers.  Once the eLearning credit scheme was exhausted, sales dropped accordingly.  Many games suppliers faced hard times.

In order to offset the loss of revenue, many of the games appeared on free educational gaming web sites. This seemingly altruistic move, in reality, was to gain income from the advertisements that appeared on the site.  There is no such thing as a free lunch!

Although this gave a second life to many games titles, a further blow waited around the corner. Sales volume has now been eroded with the introduction of the virtual learning environment.  Schools and children at home are able to access educational games online through a central network serving the entire schools and pupils.

Children at this leading edge will have a significant advantage. They will be taught with support from systems using high quality graphics, large databases, and a home interface allowing them to pursue schooling projects at home.  Economically disadvantaged children with limited or no access to the technology will inevitably miss out on these benefits, struggling on the sidelines, watching the focus of teaching unquestionably moving with technology and away from them.

This growing divide does not bode well for children in poorer countries. Changes in society, ease of travel, and developments in electronic communications mean children are already seeing vast changes in adult employment. Effective education will be essential for all candidates for employment, regardless of country of origin.

To match this ongoing demand, all children should be provided with the requisite skills to survive and thrive in an international environment.  This will require a massive philanthropic approach to provide the technological equipment needed so all children receive a common educational opportunity. But history has so far proven this to be an impossible dream, even when considering education in the form of the basic “slate and piece of chalk.”

Education is highly competitive, and with the UK government having announced a £950m funding cut for British universities over the next 3 years, it will only get tougher. Youth ages 15-24 make up 16 percent of the total PC-based internet population in the UK, but that figure leaps to 25 percent of users with mobile access.

As teenagers spend more time online using smart mobile devices, education faces the challenges of finding new ways to grab attention and build engagement.

Alistair Owens is an educationalist who operates keen2learn, an educational games web site that supports teachers and parents. Owens comments on key educational issues affecting the national curriculum.

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