Research: Children

Games and Learning in South Africa

What is the connection between digital-gaming and education? Is it possible that digital games can be used as a learning tool? What would a ‘learning game’ look like?

 

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What is the connection between digital-gaming and education? Is it possible that digital games can be used as a learning tool? What would a ‘learning game’ look like? These and other questions were the subject of discussion at the Games and Learning Indaba hosted by the Shuttleworth Foundation in Johannesburg on 21 August 2008.

Researchers, academics, gamers, teachers and game developers discussed the potential that digital game-based learning holds for formal and informal education in South Africa; the state of gaming amongst South African youth as well as the barriers and opportunities for using games in learning education and training. Participants agreed that there is not enough research about learning and gaming in South Africa.

Researchers, academics, gamers, teachers and game developers discussed the potential that digital game-based learning holds for formal and informal education in South Africa; the state of gaming amongst South African youth as well as the barriers and opportunities for using games in learning education and training. Participants agreed that there is not enough research about learning and gaming in South Africa.

Steve Vosloo, Communication and Analytical Skills Fellow for the Shuttleworth Foundation, contextualised the discussion and shared the highlights from the Cape Town Games and Learning Indaba.

Alan Amory, Educational ICT Professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, made a thought provoking presentation titled ‘Social Constructivism in Games Based Learning in the South African Context’. Amory emphasised that all games are socially constructed and, as such function hegemonically. “Most games are designed by men and are designed from a male perspective”, he said. His presentation highlighted the need for game developers to have an awareness of how their own belief systems impact on game designs.

Elaborating on this point in his blog, Vosloo says: “All games are socially constructed and have ideologies embedded in them... The process of deconstruction, where the game is used as the discussion starter about violence, gender bias, male dominance, etc, is where the real learning occurs.”

Amory emphasised that: “You learn with technology, not from technology. It is not the thing, but what you do with it that matters. Tools like games mediate learning.”

The game designers present shared their experiences in developing games and the strategies use to respond to the needs of learners. An interesting discussion about the relevance of games for learning in the South African education sector followed. “We need to change the way we think about teaching and learning” said one participant.

Vosloo continued the discussion by focusing on the state of gaming amongst South African youth. Participants agreed that media tools used most commonly by children, and which they have access to such as mobile phones, need to be focused on. “Children should be trained and encouraged to use technology to learn, instead of just using it for fun only”, a participant commented.

A concern over teacher and parental reluctance to allow children to bring cell phones to schools was raised. Participants suggested that teachers collaborate with game developers so that they can advise about the academic needs of the children who will be using the games to learn.

The discussions on gaming and learning will continue on the Games and Learning in South Africa Google Group.

- Dora Moche is the Civil Society Information Programme Assistant at SANGONeT