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Gamification & Latin American Education

Latin America is the number one region in the world when it comes to social networking. Online gaming is massive and, as Asi Burak, founder of Games for Change, suggested in a recent interview, interactivity is the core element for social impact when it comes to gamification.

To provide some context the term “gamify” is to apply game reasoning to any non-game context in order to enhance its appeal and make it more fun, more interesting and more effective. For instance, it is like rewarding a boy scout with a merit badge when he manages to give a short presentation to his fellow boy scouts about camping skills.

But to what extent can it help society and education?

Educational impact of gamification in Latin America

Rodrigo Ayres de Araújo [Portuguese], an award winning Brazilian high school teacher, has successfully been developing a whole set of game-based tools to support the gamification of his History classes since 2012:  from mobile online quizzes to 3D virtual tours of historical scenarios. His students have been able to revisit moments in Brazilian history and through this he has bridged games, generations and knowledge.

According to Rodrigo, who has travelled the world with the support of Microsoft and other companies to present his case, there is a fundamental gap between innovative thinking and mass gamification: teaching culture.  Nonetheless, while audiences from Europe and North America have listened to his experiences and are looking forward to adopting his classroom practices, back home he has few supporters in the teaching community.

It is a well-known fact that older teachers tend to be technology averse as any change in their teaching is seen as a threat. So not surprisingly, Rodrigo’s greatest supporters are his students and young entrepreneurs, people that already live in a tech society and want to see technology in the classrooms. Old school teachers seem to do the talk, but they find it hard to walk the walk.

The new breed of companies emerging

In a recent Lean Startup Machine event aimed at small entrepreneurs that took place in Brazil, a young company named Cupcake Games presented their most recent case: “Letra de Ouro” [Facebook page], or “Golden Letter” in English. This company is just one out of hundreds of new small Latin American companies that work with technology and are fueled by the will to change and grow.

“Letra de Ouro” is a puzzle game that helps children to quickly expand their vocabulary by playing online via Facebook. It is a remake of an American game. Here is what Cupcake found out: Latin Americans were playing games in English without even knowing the language. They are now not only making games in Portuguese and Spanish, but also making money, helping younglings and increasing the gross national product.

Latin America is moving forward at an incredible rate. With the lack of regulation and legal policies, there is little a company cannot do and there is no limit to the imagination of young entrepreneurs. Society is moving without the bridle of dictators or incompetent government rules.

Unexpected Government support

Government initiatives aimed at small time entrepreneurs and developers are hardly seen, but they do happen every now and then – at least in Brazil. Also, Chile and other Latin American countries have been moving towards this trend, which seems to be paying off. However, SMBs  do feel things move at a slow place.

In 2009, a Brazilian government program named PRIME [Portuguese], which was supported by several local universities, distributed seed money to startups through a public contest. Last year, in 2013, Seed MG offered seed money, too.  Start Up Brasil [Portuguese], a more recent program, has followed this trend but it represents more of a dream than reality: the government is now trying to bond its investments in technology to investments in education. This means money is now being invested in master and doctorate students, which has aroused high expectations regarding their capability to innovate.

A new hope is also arising: INOVAPPS [Portuguese], a contest to leverage the development of serious games and apps aimed at social problems and gaps.  Any Brazilian with an idea for an app and the capacity to develop or manage it can take part in this contest, which will award 50 prizes of about US$40.000 each. Guess what, education is now on the top of the list. Contestants should apply from August until mid-September 2014, and all projects will be judged under the same criteria: social impact, innovative approach and its adherence to GINGA, a Brazilian middleware for digital TV.

This initiative represents more than just the recognition of the importance of startups and innovation by the government - it represents an outstanding opportunity to invest in apps and serious games in societies that are extremely connected and have a genuine social need. This is an unexpected initiative when it comes to Latin American governments, because it is the exploration of present and real opportunity. It is proactive, not reactive.

New roads lie ahead

Education is more and more in the hands of the learner than the hands of teachers or governments. In this sense, gamification represents a trend that neither governments nor innovative teachers and entrepreneurs can ignore or refute. Social problems are related not only to the way society is handled, but also to internal factors. It is more productive to let go of old habits and embrace new ones than try to change what cannot be changed. Maybe that is what we are learning, maybe that is what games and technology are bringing to education:  new roads.

However, we must not fool ourselves. In the 80s, the concept of the minimum state - one with an established capitalist society with less government and more growth - was a dream sought by politicians and teachers alike, but such a concept failed and it took Brazil time to reestablish a balanced form of government. Notwithstanding, it did not work in Argentina, either. The point here is to not let our dreams of the future lead us to a future in which we ignore the role of government and formal education. Instead, we must bring formal education and innovation together.

Gamification is a game changer in regard to education. Education is a game changer in regard to society. What we need is to define the changes we want in order to steer the way ahead. A momentum is being built and this is unbeatable. Games and technology, technology and education. Where to now?

 

Frederico de Azevedo Aranha is a Marketing Graduate with a Post-graduation in Project Management and a Latin American entrepreneur. He would love to receive your feedback: aranha.azevedo@gmail.com

 

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Frederico de Azevedo Aranha

Frederico de Azevedo Aranha is a Marketing Graduate with a Post-graduation in Project Management and a Latin American entrepreneur. He would love to receive your feedback: aranha.azevedo@gmail.com

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