Hitting two targets with one Angry Bird

28th March 2014 at 00:00
Firm behind gaming sensation plans an education revolution

It has become a fixture in almost every household and classroom, driving parents and teachers to despair. Now the makers of global gaming hit Angry Birds argue that their creation could transform the face of education.

The game, which has been downloaded more than 2 billion times, involves catapulting birds at a group of pigs with the aim of knocking them out. Although the game may not sound like the most educational of pastimes, Rovio, the Finnish company behind Angry Birds, believes it could help to teach children by engaging them in learning.

The firm, founded in 2003, has gone from producing a single game to running an entertainment empire, with Angry Birds cartoons, books and a clothing line. There are even rumours of a film.

Peter Vesterbacka, Rovio's head of corporate affairs - whose official job title is "Mighty Eagle" - said that working to improve education was a central pillar of the organisation's ethos.

"We are active in all areas of entertainment and we are now expanding into education," he told TES. "We like to look at ourselves as a `triple E' company, so entertainment, education and we apply entrepreneurship to everything we do, which is where our crazy ambition comes from.

"When we look at Angry Birds and education, we are not really talking about the games so much as the characters. The characters engage people of all ages [and] it's very clear there will be very limited learning if you don't have engaged students."

Rovio has developed its own curriculum, Angry Birds Playground, which aims to improve early years education by making learning fun. It is being piloted in schools in Brazil, China, Finland, Russia, Singapore and the US.

The company worked with the Finnish National Board of Education and established links with the University of Helsinki in order to develop the curriculum, which is based heavily on Finland's own curriculum for kindergarten.

"We first tested our concept on [200] kids in Finland and then [another 200] in Singapore, which got really good results," Mr Vesterbacka said. "An example I always use is that boys in Finland speak better English than girls, and the reason is because they play more games. They learn while they are having fun.

"We think there's no reason the same couldn't be true for maths, physics, geography or coding. We believe all learning can be made fun and if it is fun you will get better results."

Mr Vesterbacka will be discussing his company's ideas at the Oppi education festival in Finland in April.

It is not the first time an entertainment company has become involved in education. Disney has played an active role in the sector for some time: it has scores of English language schools in China featuring famous Disney characters. Likewise, DreamWorks, the studio behind hit animations such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, has developed its own tablet computer with preloaded content, which it hopes will be used in schools.

Although it might be easy to persuade children of the value of Angry Birds Playground, Mr Vesterbacka knows he needs to get teachers onside to make it work.

"We always start with teacher training," he said. "We train teachers in the fun learning programme. These programmes where they just give every student a tablet [computer] don't really work because they don't engage the teachers."

Cynics may view the company's move into education as a means of exposing children to the Angry Birds brand at a very early age. But Mr Vesterbacka argues that the business and education components go hand in hand.

"Education is the second biggest business on the planet after food, so it's the right thing to do [morally] but also the right thing to do as a business." he said. "The way we look at it is, if we've had 2 billion downloads of our game, how difficult can it be to make education better? We're a bit naive and a bit crazy like that. We're not afraid of taking on these really big challenges."

"Games are not the cure, however. You can't just fix one component. You can't just introduce games - the same can be said about just making the school days longer. You must look at the whole picture."

Free tickets to Oppi

The Oppi learning festival will take place in Helsinki, Finland, on 11-12 April 2014. TES has teamed up with the organisers of the festival to give away 100 two-day tickets, worth ?95 each.

To claim your ticket, follow @OppiFestival on Twitter and send an email to hello@oppifestival.com with the subject line "FFF" (fastest fingers first). Please include your name, job title and organisation.

For more information about the festival, go to oppifestival.com


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