Over the past 10 years, esports has become a major industry and a legitimate career path for young people. Professional esports athletes receive competitive college scholarships, offering a pathway to higher education, and Lori Bajorek, CEO of the National Esports Association (NEA), believes esports have even more to offer the future of education.
“Our primary objective is to create pathways to success for digitized youth,” Bajorek said of the NEA, whose programs reach childrens of all ages and include competitive gaming and online community building. “One of the things that we’re really working on is how we engage students in the classroom and what the soft skills are that they’re learning through esports.”
Ensuring children are equipped for the digitized future is the NEA’s goal.
“It’s not just that we need our kids playing more esports,” Bajorek said. “It’s about how we can actually take this generation that has been raised on digital devices, and help them communicate and work into today’s world.”
Gaming’s time to shine
The importance of digital teaching was made even more apparent in 2020.
“When you look at what COVID did, it forced us to look at our educational model by forcing us to do things with Zoom calls and all the things that gamers were doing automatically,” Barojek said. “They were way ahead of us in that stream of things.”
Bajorek believes digitized learning is not only beneficial for students hoping to become professional gamer, but that gaming can become an education platform to learn coding, engineering, math, science, and social skills.
“We had a 5-year-old girl in a pre-K program,” Bajorek said. “She did not want to learn the alphabet at all, but she loved to play Minecraft,” a game in which players manipulate a cubist environment to create their own worlds, uses keyboard controls.
The keyboard allowed that girl to learn in an engaged and interactive way that suited her interests.
“Suddenly, she’s able to correlate why it’s important to learn the alphabet.” Bajorek said. “It’s very easy in the K-12 program to utilize a game like Minecraft to get the kids excited.”
Parents and teachers are often more hesitant about their children learning through gaming.
“Parents often say, ‘I want my son or daughter off the computer and in the classroom,’” Bajorek said. “One of the easiest ways to explain why games are great educational tools is to ask why the game Solitaire was put on every computer by Microsoft; it was to teach you how to use a new device called the mouse, and it’s like an ‘aha’ moment for a lot of people.”
It’s this revelation, that games have a unique power to translate information in an engaging way, that Bajorek points to as the power of games in the classroom.