Minecraft: Education Edition was launched earlier this month – on the 1st – with some great anticipation; by teaching children about real-world, the game helps children learn by experimenting, rather than rote learning. You get planks from wood; you get charcoal if you burn said wood, you must smelt iron ore to turn it into iron ingots – these things are in the game, and learning the game also teaches them about the real world.
However, Tom Bennett, who The Times refers to as UK government’s “behavior tsar,” has declared that Minecraft in classrooms is nothing but a gimmick, and children should perhaps use simpler and cheaper tools to learn about the world – like books.
“I am not a fan of Minecraft in lessons,” says Bennet. “This smacks to me of another gimmick which will get in the way of children actually learning. Removing these gimmicky aspects of education is one of the biggest tasks facing us as teachers. We need to drain the swamp of gimmicks.”
“I would say to teachers: ‘Do you need to use this game or is there something that is cheaper and better – like books?’ By offering a game and a gimmicky way of learning a subject, you run a real risk of children focusing on the wrong thing.”
He’s not the first person to doubt the impact technology have had inside classrooms in the recent years – this topic has been debated and argued a thousand times across the world; bringing games into classrooms might distract children, rather than educate.
However, thousands of educators have been using Minecraft in classrooms for the past few years – the results have been mostly positive, with kids learning things like spatial awareness, and problem-solving skills by themselves. These skills are required to play the game – and the children want to play the game, so they learn these skills on their own.
The fact that learning about the world passively is much more efficient than rote learning has been proven scientifically – but if games like Minecraft help in doing so, is not.
Bennett, therefore, has also called for scientific evidence to prove that the game has a positive effect on children, dismissing anecdotal data.
As an advisor to the ministers, it is Bennett’s job to consider everything and be as unbiased as he could – his comments might have resembled the President-elect’s rhetoric, but his logic might be sound.
A scientific study into the impact of games in classrooms might help make lawmakers and advisors make better decisions – not just in the UK, but around the world.
“Sometimes gaming works with those who find it difficult to engage in your lesson,” says Ray Chambers, the head of computer science at the Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire.
Chambers co-authored a guide for educators – teaching them how to best use Minecraft: Education Edition in the classroom.
These comments are likely soon to simmer down, while the government machinery functions at its pace – but scientific data does matter, and at some point, it would have to be assessed to judge the usefulness of games in classrooms properly, rather than by opinions.
It might as well be that Bennett is wrong in his comments – but he must be proven wrong, rather than simply told that he is.