Kids might be the secret to solving education

Have you ever asked a kid how we can make learning fun?

For 1.5 years, during my 2-year startup journey, it never occurred to me to ask kids this question. I’ve always assumed that the answer lies with adults—those who have ground through years of schoolwork, gotten diplomas, bachelors and masters. In fact, I always assumed that we adults would know better. Perhaps it was the way we were brought up. We would have to ask adults for permission to do things, learn from teachers who were much older than us, and important tasks like “work” could only be done by adults.

And so, when we started our startup journey thinking of ideas to make learning fun, we kept the design process within the adults. The role of kids in the process would be to use our product, and we would observe them. But we would never ask them how they would make learning fun for themselves.

Over the 1.5 years, we tried a range of ideas. We went from designing game boxes to coding learning platforms to creating youtube videos, but it could never compare to the fun the kids had when they played games. We were at our wit’s end. So I decided to ask a parent for feedback to see if we could get some direction on improving the product. Interestingly, she pointed me to talk to her daughter instead. Her daughter suggested very interesting ideas: from using social deduction games to get kids to work together and learn to add stricter rules to ensure a healthier community that encourages members to share and learn. I was blown away by her suggestions. It was then I realised that I had totally underestimated kids. So we decided to talk to 80 more of them.

We did game testing sessions with kids over zoom. Image courtesy of Khor Le Yi.

We scheduled 1-hour game testing sessions with a maximum of 2-3 kids per session. They were held over zoom and we would observe how they would interact with our prototypes. We’d then ask them questions like “How can we make this even better?”, and they would suggest many interesting ideas:

“Find a shovel to dig out dinosaur bones then you can bring it back to the lab and then you can explore it.”

Auston, an 8-years-old

When asked, “Should learning be as fun as playing games?”, they would mention:

“Yes. If you’re bored, you won’t pay attention. You won’t learn anything. It’s easier to pick up stuff when you’re having fun than when you’re bored.”

Akif and Elyas, 10-years-old

It seemed unanimous among kids that having a positive experience with the subject boosts their ability to learn.

Charis, 12-years-old, even cited ten over different types of ores found in caves because of the games she is currently playing required her to find them. While many might think that our local Singaporean kids are not creative, I can guarantee that it is not true. When given the opportunity to share and given an environment that makes them feel like their ideas matter, they are more than able to think of mindblowing ideas. Thinking out of the box seemed second nature.

After conducting countless game testing sessions with 100+ kids over the past few months, I have come to realise that the biggest mistake I might have made in my whole startup journey, is not approaching kids earlier. Even Ed-Tech startup founders like myself, who want to make learning fun for kids, undermine the power of what kids can do. And perhaps this is also the biggest problem in Education. We do not involve kids in the decision making and design process.

We observed how kids interact with our prototypes. Image courtesy of Khor Le Yi.

When I observe many of the EdTech solutions that are out there, like Byju, KooBits, and KhanAcademy, there is no doubt that we are maximising the learning outcomes that can be achieved with technology. Ranging from adaptive learning, adaptive assessments, gamification elements like leaderboards, coins, etc., we have definitely come a long way in terms of harnessing technology in Education.

But when we ask kids how much they enjoy these activities compared to the games they play, they pale in comparison. As someone who has spent almost 30 months on the frontline thinking of ideas of making learning fun, this is not an easy task. Making a game is already hard enough, much less adding an educational element to it. But I do believe that with the help of kids, inviting them to be co-creators of this journey, seeing them as equals, we can make learning as fun and addictive as playing games. 

And perhaps years later, when asked, “What would you want for your birthday?” kids would answer, “Educational games!”

Watch the video of the game-testing here.

Khor Le Yi is the co-founder of Ottodot. She loves Education, Technology and Design. Her dream is to help each kid discover the best of their abilities, and she believes that a good mix of Education, Technology and Design can help her achieve these dreams. Read more of her ideas on Medium.

Disclaimer: This article was written by a community contributor. All content is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the interviewee herself. If you’d like to contribute, you can apply here

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