The much feared skills deficit has been a popular topic in the media for the last couple of years, with many fearing its potential impact on businesses and the economy in the future (1). An OECD report found that UK teenagers aged 16-19 were ranked 22nd out of 23 in a list of developed nations for numeracy skills, creating a situation where low skill levels are now the main concern for businesses (1). What are schools doing to combat this serious problem? Well one solution may involve loading up the popular game, Minecraft, in the classroom.
In January 2016, Minecraft developers Mojang and their new owners Microsoft announced plans for a new version called ‘Minecraft: Education Edition’, aimed at students and teachers (2). Such an ambitious move was unprecedented, and the idea of using a video game as a means of education seemed like a step into the dark. However, jump forwards to the present day and Minecraft has become a staple in many classrooms all over the world with a user base of over 150,000 students and teachers in more than 100 countries (3). The educational benefits have been particularly aimed at improving levels of engagement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with teachers noting the ‘powerful opportunities for mathematics learning, as well as some great lessons in how to communicate and collaborate as a team.’ (4) The use of Minecraft in schools has now become so popular that not having access to it has even been used as an argument of educational inequality! (5)
The idea of using computer games as a tool for learning is not unwarranted. Past studies have shown that more interactive learning can have educational benefits, especially in relation to a child’s STEM abilities (6). For those who went to school in a time before the presence of tablets and computer games in the classroom, you would have likely encountered something similar to Minecraft in the form of LEGO. Utilising its comparable interactive attributes, LEGO has been used for years in classrooms to encourage children to think creatively about tasks and to help make lessons more stimulating (7). Considering the current omnipresence of technology in everyday life, it is unsurprising that some view Minecraft as the potential successor to LEGO; the new ‘respectable creative toy’ (8).
Microsoft has obviously seen strong potential in Minecraft and the expansion of its Education Edition has hit the ground running (3). Yet, whilst the chances of the Education Edition finding its way into SATs and GCSE exam halls might be a bit far-fetched, it is worth bearing in mind that Minecraft is one generation’s tool of expressing creativity in the digital space, much like another generation would use Microsoft Office for theirs.