'Games For Learning' Seeks To Embed Social And Emotional Learning Skills In (15+) Learners Through Digital Games: Dr Anantha Duraiappah

In an exclusive interview with BW Education, Dr Anantha Duraiappah, Director, UNESCO MGIEP, talks about Games For Learning initiative, the objective behind introducing games in the process of learning and more.

Dr Anantha Duraiappah took the position as inaugural Director of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) in 2014. A science-policy forerunner, with more than 34 years of experience, he plays a key role in positioning UNESCO MGIEP as a global research institute on education for peace, sustainable development and global citizenship.

In an exclusive interview with BW Education, Duraiappah talks about the Games For Learning initiative and more.

Tell us in detail about the ‘Games For Learning’ initiative of UNESCO MGIEP.

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have positioned education (SDG 4) at the heart of the post-2015 global development agenda. The Global Education for All Meeting called for education to be restructured to respond constructively and progressively to social change. Since the emergence of a global movement that calls for a new model of learning, it has been argued that formal education must be transformed to enable new forms of learning that are needed to tackle increasingly complex problems of the 21st century. Thus, a radical shift is required from a ‘transmission’ model to an ‘active-engagement’ pedagogy model. 

Games For Learning proposes such highly engaging, motivational, self-paced and immersive solutions. Encouraged by numerous studies and research supporting the pedagogical benefits of play, educators are now using digital games to teach mathematics, science, humanities, and social-emotional skills. With the advent of fast internet connectivity and availability of affordable devices, there are infinite possibilities for leveraging educational technology, including games, for deeper, engaging, active and immersive learning experiences for formal, informal and non-formal learning.

The aim is to raise issues of peace, sustainable development and global citizenship in the minds of the learner through the design of game based courses for existing games such as World Rescue, Florence, Bury Me My Love and others. The games and courses are designed to impart critical inquiry and social and emotional skills in the learner.

What is the objective behind introducing this programme? How is it relevant for the Indian education system?  

The project seeks to embed social and emotional learning skills in learners (15+) through digital games in formal and informal education systems, in order to achieve the UN SDG 4.7.

The Indian gaming industry is a large piece of the pie in the global market. With advent of technology and low-cost connectivity, the Indian youth is connected, online and always engaged in some form of digital media. This presents a huge opportunity to tap potential of this domain and offer immersive and engaging content digitally.

Reports also suggest that Indian students are highly overburdened; not only there is high academic load but there is also pressure ‘to do well’ in extracurricular activities. According to a recent news report, a middle school student on an average spends 6-7 hours in the school followed another 3-4 hours going for tuitions, burdening the young students even more. There is curriculum overload and the sense of joy that could be felt through the process of teaching and learning is somewhere lost for both the teacher and student. This is where the ‘Games for Learning’ project aims to hit and build meaningful, engaging and fun experiences to build not only the academic competencies but also the social-emotional skills of students.

What type of games are available for students under this project? How the curriculum has been designed to meet the learning needs?

MGIEP has developed games as well as created curriculums around existing games. Two games that the Institute developed in-house are World Rescue and Cantor’s World. World Rescue is a narrative, research-based video-game, for young learners inspired by the SDGs. Through fast-paced game play set in Kenya, Norway, Brazil, India, and China, learners meet and help five young heroes solve global problems such as displacement, disease, deforestation, drought, and pollution - at the community level. The curriculum around World Rescue is offered digitally through the Institute’s indigenously designed, Artificial Intelligence backed learning platform, FramerSpace. The curriculum focusses on building awareness about the SDGs and evaluating impact of daily life decisions on overall sustainability.

Cantor’s World is a game designed to educate learners about the sustainable use of the natural, human and manufactured capitals that countries build and possess. In the game, players experiment with policy choices and experience first-hand the tug-of-war between short-term results and long-term sustainability. The participants play the role of the sole architect of a country and decide specific targets for their respective countries. Cantor’s World is supplemented by a curriculum framework with well-defined learning objectives, activities and projects. A Facilitator’s Manual and a Player’s Manual has been developed to support the implementation of the game in classrooms.

What is the progress of the project and the impact created so far?

MGIEP trained professors of 8 universities from 6 countries of the Asia Pacific in using Cantor’s World in the classroom. 

In addition to developing original games and creating curriculums around these games, the potential of existing commercial-off-the-shelf games has also been explored to build social and emotional skills. So far, the team has created courses for four award-winning commercial games, which revolve around themes such as gender and identity, migration and refugee crises, art appreciation, critical inquiry and prevention of violent extremism. These learning experiences are available as free courses on FramerSpace.

Recently, the draft version of Industry Guidelines on Digital Learning was also launched at the 40th session of UNESCO General Conference in Paris. The Guidelines were launched by the Minister of Human Resource Development, Government of India, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’. Following the High Level Policy Forum at UNESCO MGIEP’s annual ed-tech conference, TECH 2018, the Vizag Declaration on Guidelines for Digital Learning called for the development of such draft guidelines, which would provide some form of quality check but could be easily adapted to diverse local contexts and learner needs. The guidelines have recently been translated by the Mongolian National Council for Education Accreditation (MNCEA).

What are your plans to expand it further?

With more than 50 hours of curriculums already built around video games specifically designed for educational purposes and otherwise, the Games for Learning programme of MGIEP is now determined to build scientific evidence for the use of digital games as effective tools for building social-emotional skills and conceptual knowledge. In 2020, the programme intends to implement the games-based courses in classrooms across member states of UNESCO. The draft guidelines will be further revised based on best practices emerging form the various countries using digital learning products and platforms. The road will not be an easy one because of the many negative impressions digital games have with the public, especially with parents. However, with proper guidance and the latest research from the sciences of learning, MGIEP hopes to pave a path that can help facilitate the use of games in the most productive manner, while improving the learning experiences for young learners across the world. 

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