Thursday, January 11, 2007

Give a child a video game -- and maybe a job

Give a child a video game -- and maybe a job

Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:02 AM ET


By Lisa Baertlein


LOS ANGELES, Jan 11 (Reuters Life!) - Mathematics, science and video games? A U.S. university professor is urging schools to consider using video games as tools to better prepare children for the work force.


For although many educators scoff at the idea of video games in schools, the U.S. military has titles that train soldiers, teenagers with cancer use a game to battle their illness virtually and physically and some surgeons use video games to keep their hands nimble.


David Williamson Shaffer, an education science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says schools should use games to prepare children to compete in the work force, where juggling technology is a daily requirement.


"People think that the way we teach kids in schools is the natural way we should learn," said Shaffer, author of the book "How Computer Games Help Children Learn."


"But young people in the United States today are being prepared for standardized jobs in a world that will, very soon, punish those who can't innovate. We simply can't 'skill and drill' our way to innovation."


Shaffer argues that youngsters heading into the work force will, from day one, have to compete with skilled workers from around the world with years of technological experience.


For this reason, children should be given the chance to use their innate skills of simultaneously listening to music while playing games, watching videos, surfing the Web and messaging friends from computers or cell phones, while learning about things like biology, history or physics.


He said the current educational system was designed in the late 1800s to prepare people for life in industrial America not today's technologically-steeped world.


Shaffer said this new approach might also help the United States compete against fast-developing countries like India and China which are turning out engineers and scientists at a faster rate.


Governments in Britain and Singapore have already backed efforts that use video games and other technology to develop new teaching methods.


Proponents of such efforts say video games engage kids in a way that is relevant to their lives, allowing them to learn by doing as they experiment with new social and cultural worlds.


Like the U.S. military, some large U.S. corporations have already adapted and use video games to train workers.


Shaffer and his team have developed a range of games that help students learn to think like engineers, urban planners, journalists, architects and other professionals. A list of their games is at .


In March, Shaffer and his team will start working with a school in Madison, Wisconsin, and later this year with a Chicago school.


"There are bad games out there, just as there are bad books. So adults who care about what children learn have to educate themselves about games -- and, more important, start to think about learning in new ways for the digital age of global competition," he said.

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