*It wasn't extra tuition or 100 per cent attendance in school that helped Srishti Kumar, 14, improve her grades. Instead it was a simple chess set that built her confidence and rekindled her interest in studies. Started in 2002, the Mind Champions Academy (MCA), is a joint initiative between chess master Viswanathan Anand and NIIT that promotes chess in over 5,000 schools, impacting a million students across India. "The importance of play is often underestimated in our country. Chess, and other games, provide students the opportunity to think, analyse, communicate, strategise and manage time - all while having fun. Games also inculcate team spirit, which is integral to healthy personality development," explains Anand, who has met and mentored many of the students under the MCA.


According to a report by SRI International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an education game can be defined as 'having clear goals and a built-in reward system (such as points or currency)tied to these goals'. "Not all games are designed with education in mind. But that does not mean that they are not beneficial. For example, while crossword puzzles, Rubrik's Cubes, chess or Sudoku are easy to relate to learning, others like basketball, video games and even swimming are not traditionally equated to education. But infact they too work to stimulate your brain and enhance your interpersonal skills. Games stimulate the release of dopamine in your brain which sharpens your attention and forms the basis for learning," says Hideaki Koizumi, fellow, Hitachi. "Today tech designers are coming up with more and more games with an educational message. This is an important step in getting schools, parents and even students to start viewing play time not as a distraction but as a part of learning," he adds.In India, recent research by Sesame Workshop India shows that children who were exposed to nutritional advice through their muppet shows, games and cartoons were able to differentiate twice as better between healthy and unhealthy food. They were also more aware of sanitation issues and spent more time watching TV with their family as opposed to isolated viewing. "Learning has to be fun, collaborative and stimulating. People don't realise the positive impact of television and games. In a controlled environment, both can really benefit students by improving their retention, understanding, concentration and life skills," says Sashwati Banerjee, managing director, Sesame Workshop India. "To promote creativity and independent thought from an early age students need to be given the freedom to devise their own path of learning. You cannot force feed a child creativity. These are skills that they pick up over time but they need freedom and space to do so. In today's world life skills are as important as theoretical knowledge," she adds.


Learn at your own pace
One of the major benefits of edu-games is the opportunity to design your own course of study. Games can be played either according to a subject or skill. Whether it's problem solving, negotiation, strategic thinking, communication, networking, narrative skills, non-linear thinking, or cognitive learning - there's a game to help you improve upon a skill of your choice. Similarly, there are games catering to a variety of different specialised and general subjects. "There are games that help you learn something as simple as addition and subtraction to something as complicated as computer encoding in Chinese. You can learn music, dance, science, languages, painting, photography - the subjects are endless. As more and more parents and teachers encourage students to use edu-games, more and more variants are being designed to cater to the demand," explains Koizumi. And the demand certainly exists. According to a study by Sony Playstation in India, the market for gaming is estimated at Rs 700 crores with seven to eight million people claiming to regularly play on their consoles. "Aside from what the games actually offer, people can also choose games according to the medium they prefer. Thus there are video games, computer games, mobile games, board games, athletic games, brain teasers, writing games, community games. Which student would not enjoy studies when he or she is able to control what and how he learns," adds Koizumi.
Revision at your tips
Another popular use for edu-games is exam or test revision. Apps such as Revision App, Remember the Milk, Exam Countdown and Evernote provide students with a fun and effective way to revise their lessons both on a daily and monthly basis. Users can choose to revise through verbal notes, written notes, flash cards and even video notes that they themselves have created. "When giving competitive exams right after school, my biggest problem was not maintaining interest or enthusiasm but retention. I would study one page and then forget everything the next day. This when I started using apps to design my own flash cards. The cards were easy and quick to make and were more legible and interactive to revise from than my handwritten notes. Every evening, I would revisit what I had read through the cards and then again every week and every month. It really helped," says Ridhima Bansal, 22, a student from Mumbai University. "What really made a difference was how interactive the flash card apps were. You could design cards with drawings, in sequential order and even according to subject. The colours were bright and engaging, yet not so bright that they hurt the eye. The fonts were perfectly legible. On the whole, they made revision both systematic as well as fun," she adds.
In a recent study by researchers at the University of California, students who played certain games were able to retain content and pay better attention to the task at hand. "I think it's the practical nature of games that help to better engage a student's attention. When you are doing something actively as opposed to passively listening or reading, you are more attentive and exercising your brains more. Thus you are also able to remember better," explains Nobel Laureate George Smoot.
Personality development tools
Life skills such as communication, working in teams, networking and time management are some of the other plus points of edu-games. "One lesson that playing taught me is learning how to lose graciously and at the same time how to never give up. This is something that no theory book or classroom can inculcate in children," reflects Olympic gold medallist, Johann Koss. Koss, a noted speed skater, started Right to Play International in 2000 to promote the use of sport and play as a tool for positive student development. "Play goes beyond just tossing a ball around, it can be used to empower, educate and encourage youngsters to really come into their own. We've had so much positive feedback on our work," he adds. Right to Play International currently operates in over 20 countries, helping a million children access quality games each week.
Games are also finding their way into the workplace with more than 100 Fortune 500 companies now using gaming in some form for training employees. Games such as Galaxy Zoo, a game for studying the skies, are also finding use in research with users having identified 50 million real galaxies and celestial bodies using the game in the first year of its launch alone. "Educators, students and parents are all starting to realise the potential of play and we're seeing games being incorporated into mainstream curriculums. Play time is as important as study time," concludes Koss.




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