Saturday, October 27, 2018

Education, the MMORPG

After the review session yesterday, from the fragments of observations other people talked about, I pieced together an analogy of how education works here, as in how it seems so successful at the early stages, then successes taper off at higher levels of development.

Our education system is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). All our kids play, or at least participate in the same game together. There arr monsters to defeat, quests to undertake, and rewards to gain for every success. But it's quite a challenging, and punishing game in that it's a grind, meaning that we spend a lot of time doing repetitive, meaningless tasks to accumulate experience points (EXP) as we level up. Leveling up unlocks harder, but more rewarding challenges. Everybody wants to level up as quickly as possible to 'farm' the best rewards the game can dish out.

Most MMORPGs work this way, but our version comes with an online trading system. Advantaged players with the most resources at the start of the game immediately source out and buy the best Unique or Legendary items with which to equip themselves, even before encountering their first low-level rat-monster. Armed with the most powerful level-permitted weapon, and the toughest body-armour money can buy, players blaze through the earliest tutorial stages with ease. Their achievements are impressive, leveling up faster than the other players around the rest of the world. While most other players are still struggling with basic arithmetic, our players are already tackling rudimentary algebra. Collectively, we continue wowing the education world with players constantly topping the academic Olympiad and PISA leagues.

Our successes are based on the pay-to-win strategy that we are all complicit in. All the extra tuition, all the best assessment books, all the best IT equipment, everything money can buy that will give our players a leg-up we willingly spend on. We even pay for dubious 'cheat codes', as some tuition centres purport to offer. We believe in advantaging our players early so that they can have the best start in life. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, if our rapidly unlocked 'Achievements' are dependent on our money-bought equipment, then our players aren't really learning to play the game. They won't need the think around a task or puzzle, or figure out how to defeat a boss monster. You don't need to develop a strategy if you can just bludgeon a problem to death. Many of our players won't even need to consider co-op play -- since they can solo everything, why bother with the complexities of working with other people, and sharing the rewards after?

And so, for our players, education is a game in which they do nothing else but grind, level up, trade for new equipment, rinse and repeat until they max out their characters at the Level Cap -- that is, the level at which there are no higher levels to attain. At this level, our players believe they have attained "Education", and the game is over. After all, what;s there to do when there are no more levels to grind for?

The thing with Education, the MMORPG, is that -- as with most MMORPGS -- the real game begins at the level cap.  At the End Game, the other players who have been learning the game instead of being 'carried' through start to shine. Having understood their characters inside-and out, and figuring out the game mechanics as they struggled through their levels, the real fun begins. They've learned to optimize their randomly-dropped equipment, and strategise around what they have instead of what they've bought to take on the toughest challenges. At his point of the game, the really good rewards are incredibly hard to find, but the sense of accomplishment is real, whereas those with a sense of entitlement are constantly frustrated by the rarity of the drops. Another reason to 'rage quit', since the game was never really very interesting for them to begin with.

What this analogy hopes to explain is how Education today seems to develop young minds so quickly and with so much promise, and yet in later life, most of them are stuck in unfulfilling, mundane job mediocrity, and are wondering where it all went wrong. So it's possible that we parents who so want to provide our children the advantages we never had growing up, could be killing their "joy of learning" with our good intentions instead.

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