Games consoles to teach lessons in literacy

THEIR reputation for turning a generation into glazed-eyed zombies may soon be overturned. Handheld computer games are to be used to improve literacy in Scottish schools for the first time.

Drummond High in Edinburgh is to run a pilot scheme in which S1 and S2 children will use a Nintendo DS word game for six weeks from January. The scheme is being organised by Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the government body responsible for the school curriculum.

It will investigate whether using games to engage children can help their reading and writing levels. A report earlier this month suggested 13,000 pupils in Scotland leave primary each year functionally illiterate.

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The My Word Coach game assesses command of English, giving players a score, known as the "Expression Potential". The game provides mini-games, such as filling in the blank letters, anagrams and guessing games.

Ollie Bray, national adviser to LTS on emerging technologies, said computer games could be the key to re-engaging youngsters in learning. He explained: "If you find an activity that children find interesting and there is teaching behind them, they will probably learn.

"But there are some things we expect young people to know, and which they need in society, and aren't always that interesting. If you can find ways to make that interesting we can find that learning space."

He said children should not be left alone with games, but must be supported by teachers: "Putting in a Nintendo game for education purposes will change the classroom, as long as it is accompanied by a good classroom teacher. The game draws the children in, but it is the teacher still pulling the strings."

Drummond will be the first school in Scotland to use My Word Coach and, if successful, the game could be rolled out to 500 schools across the country.

Hazel Kinnear, depute head, said: "We are always looking for new and interesting ways to promote learning and innovative ways to support less able and the most able pupils."

Education minister Mike Russell yesterday endorsed the new approach: "Educational computer games can be a great way of motivating young people to learn in a way that is relevant and enjoyable for them. They are often perceived solely as a distraction to learning, but, alongside traditional learning aids, they can help make learning more engaging."

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