Playing games with computer education: ArabDev’s Menia initiatives
By FN for APCNews
GOA, INDIA, 27 July 2006
Gaming is very popular with the children and youth. So what better way is there to introduce computing and free and open source software (FOSS) to kids, than through fun didactic software?
APC member in Cairo, ArabDev (www.arabdev.org), undertook a survey of its school-based computer laboratories, together with a market survey of internet cafés in Abu Korkas. [Abou Korkas is in the governorate of El Minya, in Upper Egypt, a region dubbed by locals as the “Bride of Upper-Egypt”.]
Then, the school, the educational district and ArabDev decided that the school lab should offer educational games of a particular kind, in order to meet the demand for gaming software that is seen as “rampant among school-aged children”.
“The demand was so strong for it that the school telecentre agreed to offer selected games in order not to loose the children to the internet cafés,” says ArabDev.
But teachers at the school telecentre only allow limited times for gaming. Further, only four computers have games on them so that the rest – six personal computers (PCs) – are kept free for educational use, internet browsing, emailing and conventional office use.
What’s free about the gaming software promoted by ArabDev?
Free and open source educational software such as “childsplay” (childsplay.sourceforge.net/) and “gcompris” (www.ofset.org/gcompris/) were loaded on the school’s PCs.
Gcompris has a wide range of applications fitting many ages. Though the children are able to use them, the English language was found to be a barrier for them. Says ArabDev: “The demand and need for such open source software in Arabic is a recurrent theme. The teachers see that such applications in Arabic will make a big difference in the amount and quality of the activities the children will be able to do.”
Nonetheless, Gcompris is very popular, even with the teachers. Some took a CD to install the game in their homes for their children. Being FOSS, there are no restrictions on making copies.
Free software grants recipients the freedom to modify and redistribute the software. Commercial copyright law would normally prohibit this, while here, the copyright holder must give recipients the explicit permission to do these things.
Put another way, a free software license grants permissions to the recipient to remove any ownership issues that would otherwise prevent the software from being freely manipulated.
“This was the first time the teachers and students knew about and used these open source games,” explains ArabDev.
One scoop of fun, one scoop of learning make for a better digestion
‘Freeciv’ (www.freeciv.org/), the equivalent of the proprietary game ‘Civilization’, turned out to be popular with both the teachers and the students. Civilization, or Sid Meier’s Civilization (which is the game’s official name) is a turn-based strategy game created by Sid Meier for Microprose in 1991.
The game’s objective is to develop a great empire from the ground up or in other words: “…to build a legacy that would stand the test of time”. The game begins in pre-historic times and the player attempts to expand and develop their empire through the ages until modern and near-future times. It is generally acknowledged to be a pioneer in the genre of turn-based strategy games.
ArabDev points out that in the Freeciv version, players in this game build a civilization and play against other civilizations. The game starts at 4000 B.C. and the players build cities and learn technologies to build civilizations. But its not only about getting bigger and stronger, and that is where things start to get interesting.
In order to make granaries to save food for one’s civilization to avoid starving, the player has to learn about pottery. To build libraries for increasing the level of science research, one needs to learn writing and before that, one needs to establish an alphabet. So the game is a learning tool about history and science.
‘Tux Type’ (tuxtype.sourceforge.net/) was also installed by the project. This software teaches typing in English. “Again we did not find an equivalent open source software for Arabic typing. These applications will be used in the computer club groups,” says ArabDev.
Between July-August 2006, ArabDev has more plans
ArabDev sees IT training as being “in demand” from the students and the teachers.
“An Arabic teacher, for example, came and complained to Asmaa, the teacher-trainer, that she has a PC at her home but does not know how to use it and her children make fun of her. She agreed with the lead teacher-trainer to start computer courses with other Arabic teachers who had the same interest,” reports ArabDev in its report of activities.
“The telecentre will need to stay open during the summer brea, especially July and August (June is taken up by exams), because this is the period that students and teachers will have more free time to use the lab more extensively and to explore its new software and training courses,” says the APC member.
Adds Dr. Leila Hassanin, ArabDev’s director: “The school lab is in fact is an attempt to create an alternative space for children, and other community members like women, to have a publicly conceived, safe and respectable place to learn to use the internet and to use educational games.”
[For more links to FOSS or GNU/Linux computer games, see http://shrunklink.com?hwo or visit the sites linuxbag.com, or www.linuxgames.com.]