Meeta Sengupta works at the cusp of policy and practice across the education and skills spectrum and enjoys sharing her gleanings via her writing for a wider audience. She has been an investment banker, a researcher, an editor, a teacher and school leader across continents. A keen observer of how economics, foreign policy and investments affect the policy and thence practice of education, she works with leaders to design interventions that improve the quality and process of education. Designing education processes to realise the potential of individual students is at the centre of her education philosophy. Meeta has worked both as a policy observer, and at the coalface of education across the board and across countries. She has served as a governor of an aided school, part of the management committee of a residential school, managed an academic centre in an elite post graduate management school and led a business school supported by a community college. She has worked with children, teenagers, business school and PhD candidates and has also worked with those seeking to rebuild their lives via education. Meeta W Sengupta is a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar, among others and can be contacted via her personal blog at meetawsengupta.wordpress.com/about
“Congratulations, you have been promoted to the next class.” The proud student picks up the report card, the badge of honour and the certificate and moves on, bursting with pride. Motivation levels are high. Others watching can see these badges and stars can be achieved and will work harder to achieve them. Some have slipped down the ladder and lost the points they accumulated in the previous year. They will have another chance to play the same round of this game again.
The segregation of learning into levels was the first act of gamification, with levels, rewards and turns built into school systems. Some schools section off children by abilities—another classic gamification technique. The very concept of schooling is gamified learning, where you have rules, pathways, rewards, sudden incentives, failures, the chance to start again and of course an exit with the highest rewards going to the winner of the game.
Schooling truly is a game, with wins and losses every day. Not all of us make it out of there in perfect order, but each of us learns from the games we learn to play. Here are some of the games we learn at school as we pursue our education:
Snakes and Ladders: Sometimes schooling is like playing the game of snakes and ladders. Find yourself in a good school, or with a good teacher who is inspiring and knowledgeable, and it is like climbing the ladder and achieving higher levels rapidly. A bad year for whatever reason, and one finds oneself slithering down the achievement boxes. It is a throw of the dice, because one controls very little of the schooling process. Is it possible to control one’s progress and climb up the numbers faster? To improve learning? Yes, sometimes this is done by the simple ability to change one’s school—thus the school choice campaigns across the world. Other times, interventions such as improving teaching techniques, better communications between the learning community, etc. can improve learning and achievement levels. These are like playing with double dice or more pieces in a snakes and ladders game, where changing the rules strategically can lead to significant wins.
Chess: Schooling is clearly a game of chess. Each student recognises his or her skills and abilities and is recognised for them early on. These internal resources and, of course, the resources and opportunities the school can offer you are the pieces you can play with. Yes, it is competitive, but some of us play against ourselves too, mastering the craft as we go along. Tactical use of the right resources at the right time is what the student needs to master. Joining the Maths Olympiad versus participating in the squash championship—which is the right move to make? Notes in class versus borrowing last year’s notebooks for the perfect answers in examinations? Work more on music or on maths—which piece will take one further towards victory? Strategic use of one’s talents and victories, the choices one makes along the way is the game to play to get better education outcomes.
Football: Learning may be a solitary activity if one so chooses but learning at school is clearly a team sport. Apart from the fact that some assignments are group assignments, and some part of the ethos of the school is to introduce the concept of teaming via their sports, plays and school assemblies, learning too is a team activity. It is clearly efficient for some students to take the lead in mastering one subject, completing their work, tracking the activities, etc. and then sharing their learning. Those who are good at mathematics can take charge there, while others good at history lead the process in that subject. Of course, everyone needs to work on their allocated learning portions, but it has always been efficient to share and learn—even if it was to make some of us more competitive than we would have been on our own. We each have our positions on the field, each of us is aiming for the goal, and the game progresses as we add value by passing the ball to each other. Peer learning and group work have long been upheld as valuable pedagogical tools. Both teaching and assessment are improved by using teaming skills and learning becomes far less stressful.
Cricket: While learning and schooling may be a team sport, there is clearly room for personal improvement and individual heroism here. Cricketing legends have worked for team and country and achieved much by their practice and perseverance. Good learning is about understanding what is required, about delivering on the pitch and about practicing one’s techniques—just as in cricket. There are clear rewards for skills demonstrated and instant penalties for mistakes in the school learning process too. Don’t do your homework—miss out on the next chance to learn. Don’t practice your sums, maps and diagrams—perform badly in the test and maybe miss a chance to access the test pitch again. There is redemption via hard work and there is room for innovation in both learning and the game of cricket. The game itself can be changed and achievement levels improved by sheer hard work and talent. As in learning at school.
Learning via playing games is rather different from the gamification of learning. Games too teach us many skills such as teaming or tactical turn taking. These are valuable lessons and help us in life, in learning and in our workplace. Gamification of learning is the process of building game-like incentives and pathways in learning. The term has been used more frequently recently in the edutech industry as the process of online learning is gamified to make it a more effective learning tool. Gamification involves a move away from delivering content in a linear fashion to building in a higher degree of human engagement. The focus here is the movement within the process of learning—and the emotional tugs and nudges that are embedded in the learning pathways. Schools have been the masters of the gamification process for a couple of centuries—one thing in which they have stolen the march over modern internet-based education technologies.