Skip to main content

Say bonjour to computer games

The latest software could revolutionise language training of teaching staff in primary schools. Michael Shaw reports

Hi-tech computer games could be used to train more language teachers, the head of the Government's technology task force believes.

Dr Peter Radley, a key figure in the Government's drive to create "Broadband Britain", thinks the games could play a useful role in education if they were developed to tackle specific problems.

Developments in voice recognition and artificial intelligence mean that software creators are now working towards games where players will be able to talk with on-screen characters.

Dr Radley, whose task group reports to schools standards minister David Miliband, has been quizzing games developers about the feasibility of his idea.

He believes that the plan to make modern languages an entitlement for primary pupils is a prime example of where games could help, as there is a lack of appropriately trained teachers.

"Teaching languages in primary schools is something I agree with completely, but it's going to be bloody difficult," he said.

So, was it possible to create something from one of the games platforms, he asked developers at a forum hosted by research centre Futurelab to bring together software designers and educationists.

"Teachers need to have fun and engagement when they learn, too. I can see a situation where a game like Black and White could be adapted to train teachers to teach French," he said.

Black and White is a computer game in which the player has god-like control over a hero who transforms as he commits acts of good or evil. Its makers are interested in developing a spin-off to teach citizenship.

Tim Rance, a founder of the program's maker, Lionhead Studios, said that the latest gaming technology would be "absolutely brilliant" for language training.

He said it was tricky to program characters to understand languages, but the company was developing an advanced language system for its next game, Dimitri.

Schools have been using computers to teach languages since the 1980s, when the popular Grandville program invited pupils on a virtual tour of the Normandy town.

Software developer Jez San received an OBE for the success of computer game company Argonaut, which he set up in his bedroom at the age of 16.

He said computer characters who could talk back were the next phase in gaming, but warned that the education sector was not a priority for software-makers.

"We're commercial companies, not charities. Schools themselves don't have much money to purchase software."

Representatives from the Teacher Training Agency and the Department for Education and Skills said they would consider Dr Radley's proposal.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you