Having been in business for nearly 20 years and with two young children in 2007, I developed a keen interest in the educational opportunities available for my children as they commenced Pre-school, Primary, Intermediate, and High School.
My own observations of the significant increase in the use of TV, Mobile phones, the Internet, Social media, and computer games etc by young children concerned me - particularly as many of these became a substitute for the time families and friends used to spend together in the past. More often than not both parents often found themselves in employment and unable to create the time necessary to help children to develop these critical life skills. As a family we also found ourselves in this situation and attempted to really focus on our approach to ensure some of these skills could be learned.
My research of many modern articles on brain development and learning seemed to point to an increase in learning difficulties of children and the importance that our education system needs to develop modern approaches to learning as technology expands, as our interests and demands on time change and our abilities to stay engaged for long periods are challenged. Furthermore they pointed to the impact of digital media impeding the development of some aspects of their fundamental thinking capabilities.
So, the questions arise
1.If families and the learning environment are creating fewer interactive opportunities for children to learn and develop some of these fundamental life skills then who could assist in this role?
2.And, are schools equipped with the necessary skills, resources and capabilities to develop these life skills as outlined in the NZ curriculum framework - known as the Five Key Competencies?
As a businessman and manager of employees it was always important for me to analyse job applications and select interviewees not based on the most educated person, nor even the most experienced person, but more importantly those that presented as a good fit for the job. But what does a good fit look like? We would look at how a person could think and act, juggle multiple tasks, use initiative, problem solve and be able to think through situations before embarking on critical decisions. It was also about those individuals that could function as part of a team and handle their emotions in adverse circumstances. It was about finding those people that didn't’t give up, that showed persistence, and were able to come up with creative ideas and who weren't afraid of undertaking intelligent risks to solve problems. It was about having communicators and contributors among a mix of diverse individuals all working towards the common goals of the organisations. And these were just some of the traits I would look for, and probably similar to what most successful organisations would seek when hiring a new employee.
As I pondered these expectations for what I would expect of an employee to be successful in their job, it was also evident that these traits are not just isolated to somebody who is looking for a job, but these traits are found in successful people in all areas of society and involved with many domains from the local sports team, to the local drama group, Cub Scouts, to the teachers in schools, to music groups..........
It was in 2007 that I first came across other educational programmes that attempted to address the development of some of these critical thinking and life skills and their approaches using strategy-based board games as the learning tools. These approaches appealed to me as they were non computer-based and involved children to actually communicate and interact with others as they went through a fun game-playing experience.
I investigated further and following a successful trip in which I viewed these programmes in action in schools around the world, it resulted in me introducing one of them to New Zealand schools late in 2007. The game-based approach would grow steadily as various schools implemented it using a number of different models in each school but it proved to be an immensely difficult task particularly with the lack of funding in schools and the lack of NZ specific emphasis around the programme.
During this period I undertook more in depth research by well known and respected NZ and international education experts. I gained a deeper understanding of the NZ education framework and the lack of additional funding available to schools, the emphasis on the five key competencies (NZ Curriculum framework) the significance of national standards, and I finally I came to the conclusion that to improve the competencies and life skills for NZ children and schools we had to develop a more advanced model of learning - specific to NZ children, NZ teachers, NZ schools, and even NZ businesses.
Furthermore, many schools continue to grapple with how exactly they should implement the five key competencies (NZ Curriculum framework) within their own school curriculum. And for those schools that are integrating the key competencies well, many still sought out opportunities for additional programmes for gifted and talented or to connect with disengaged learners. Based on my past experience with game-based learning, and the fact that games have been used successfully as teaching and learning tools for thousands of years it was now time to take this approach to another level, to be relevant to NZ children and fit within society today.
I trusted that my years of experience with a number of multinationals including holding formal qualifications including a B.Com and an MBA, training in business quality frameworks such as Six Sigma and Baldridge, combined with my experience and passion for education would enable me to further develop the practical thinking and life skills in children - and could fit more easily/flexibly within a school or other organisational setting.
After analysing the knowledge we had already gained, and teaming up with teachers and schools, experts in specialist areas of education such as Gifted and Talented, Children with special needs (SENCO), school principals, combined with our business connections we embarked on creating a game-based approach to learning, that provides flexible affordable options for schools, organisations and home schools.
My goal is that I can provide a positive impact on the education of all children and adults, to ensure there is fun and engagement in their learning and to guide them into developing an awareness of their own learning or teaching abilities, enabling them to become better people, to become confident, connected, lifelong learners, and have to confidence to use their skills across all aspect of their lives.
To answer my two earlier questions - the result was the start of EPiC MiNDs!
As a parent now with four young children and understanding the demands on time I hope through the creation of EPiC MiNDs, families, whanau, schools and even business organisations will see an opportunity to gain assistance in the developmental learning areas where they may not necessarily have the resources or time to assist in developing these critical life skills.
Owner of Think Games and Founder of EPiC MiNDs