Creating financially happy children

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Date: 26 January 2011

Allowing children to explore the real world of money is the driver behind a new online game soon to be launched in New Zealand.

Designed by educators to align with the New Zealand Curriculum, the game teaches children basic financial literacy. In the developmental stage, the educational game is facing its own financial hurdles as it works to align with corporate backers who share the desire to create a future of financially savvy young people.

Endeavour Island is an interactive, social environment where children, aged 12–14 years, can learn to manage their money, establish a business, produce products and create a balanced, healthy lifestyle. After establishing their character, the player chooses a job, opens a bank account, participates in training, develops and creates products and then trades these in the market place.

Game designers and creators, CORE Education and Motim Technologies have successfully trialled the beta version through two Christchurch and one Wellington school. To enable the game to move to the next level financial support needs to be secured.

“It was important that not only was this a fun experience for the students, but that it also has a practical role in the teaching environment,” CORE Education Chief Executive, Ali Hughes says. “Ensuring the game was based around solid learning principles and it worked within the curriculum was one of the biggest considerations in the design solution.”

The project began with a comprehensive research phase, which looked at the educational elements, but also investigated what online solutions there were for teaching sound, realistic and useable financial principles.

“We were surprised at the lack of solutions out there,” Motim's Chief Executive, Andrew Plimmer adds. “What there was appeared to be very simple and lack really compelling game play; which we know is such an important element to getting kids engaged in learning material online. There was clearly an opportunity to develop something which could not only be significant here in New Zealand, but also be scaleable internationally.”

With curriculum guidance and funding from the not-for profit e-learning and educational research company, CORE Education, interaction technology specialists Motim went about developing the online multiplayer game environment (known as an MMORPG). Endeavour Island allows players to create a character which interacts socially in their productive job roles, deals with the issues around running a business, such as finance, purchasing raw materials, making production decisions and selling. The job roles were carefully selected so the age group could relate to them, allowing the important learning concepts to be better understood.

“As an ice-cream vendor, there's nothing worse than your ice cream inventory melting because you did not invest in a freezer!” laughs Plimmer.

While teaching specific financial concepts, the game is very holistic. Players must balance their lifestyle with their money making activities. “If you do not eat well, sleep enough, get exercise and continue to up skill yourself, then your productivity will go down,” Hughes explains.

“The feedback from the trial has been really positive.” Feedback from students showed they found the game to portray the following educational concepts: jobs, managing money, buying and selling, the real world, thinking/communication/confidence, interest/loans/saving, banking, your own future and health.

The teachers were amazed at how the kids became so engrossed in something that was actually teaching them really important principles,” she adds.

“Endeavour Island is so cool! It’s like having a job in the future and having a life,” says one student involved in the trial. The students like that the game taught them real life concepts around money, banking, business and balance.

When asked “Where to from here?” Both CEO’s commented that they were already working on plans to take the game to the next phase. “A key design principle has been scaleability. It is really important to us that we have a platform which can be expanded, both in terms of the game experience, the age of players and age-appropriate lessons and the number of users,” Plimmer says.

The platform is also designed so it can easily adjust the lessons to meet the curriculum needs of different countries’ educational requirements.

The companies are now looking for corporate partners to expand the game, and have already met with government officials on the potential for incorporating the game into classrooms on a national basis to support curriculum learning.

Move over Club Penguin and Farmville—it may just be Endeavour Island that wins over kids, teachers and parents alike.