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Educational Relevancy

Every 9 seconds, an American high school student drops out of school, more than a million every year. It is extremely difficult for these young people to find meaningful employment. Many become disenfranchised and disaffected. One of the primary reasons youth cite for dropping out of school is a lack of engagement, thanks to the perceived irrelevancy of the school curriculum to their lives. If this trend continues, over the next 10 years it will cost the nation more than $3 trillion in lost wages, productivity and taxes, plus untold personal suffering and loss of potential. Clearly, making education more relevant, engaging, and motivating is a pressing national priority that impacts nearly every other priority. Given that young people today spend more time engaged with digital media than any other activity, games can enable an increasing portion of this out-of-school digital media time to effectively reinforce in-school learning and learning for life and work.

Games offer a well-designed mix of challenges, rewards, and goals that drive motivation, time-on-task, and levels of engagement that can seamlessly move back and forth between formal and informal learning environments. Games enable players to step into different roles (e.g. scientist, explorer, journalist, inventor, political leader), confront problems, make meaningful choices and explore the consequences of these choices. (See Transformational Play) Games can make learning engaging, social, and relevant. They can give students real agency in ways that static textbooks simply cannot. Beyond making learning relevant and deepening understanding of key content areas, games can support the learning of important 21st century skills such as systems thinking, problem solving, innovation, collective action, and others. In addition to addressing the engagement and motivation challenge, games are also well positioned to address key foundational skills such as early childhood cognitive, language, and literacy development. (See The Doctor’s Cure) Additionally, well-designed intergenerational games can create rich mentoring frameworks that facilitate both literacy and high-order thinking skills for young people through interactions with adults. We caution, however, that games—just like books—are not, at their best, stand-alone educational tools, but need to be integrated into well designed learning systems that use a variety of media, real world interactions, and instructional methods.

Key questions: How can we harness the power for games to remedy the lack of engagement, motivation and relevancy, to help address the problem of high drop outs rates and low on-time graduation rates and build a lifelong love of learning? How can we better assess what educational inventions are successfully motivating and engaging our youth and which are most relevant to productive 21st century lives and careers? How can we build games that facilitate and enrich inter-generational play, talk, and interaction for school success? How do we accomplish this without creating a new digital equity gap based on who does and does not have access either to technology or good mentoring and teaching?