'So addictive': Online games distract some Jamaican students from learning

KINGSTON, Jamaica — “Miss, you see dem game yere, dem very addicting, very addictive!”

Those were the words of a student who sought to explain to his teacher why several of his classmates were distracted and falling behind.

In addition to internet accessibility and device limitations, teachers and students in Jamaica face another daily challenge to effective online learning: video games.

Just last month, China announced it was banning children from playing online games for more than three hours a week to reduce screen time amid concerns that it may have an outsized influence on society.

Read: China limits children to 3 hours of online gaming a week

And, for a Social Studies teacher at Papine High School, Jamaica has the same problem.

“I remember last term I noticed some of my students were falling behind — students who were very active in classes and stuff like that. So, one day I said to them, 'Guys what is the problem?' and one student said to me — because I heard about the games and stuff like that — 'miss you see dem game yere, dem very addicting, very addictive!” the teacher, who taught grades eight and nine in the last academic year, shared with OBSERVER ONLINE.

“And I know some of them. Some of them don't log on and you have students who will inform on them and seh 'miss so-and-so is playing game that's why dem nuh come a class,” the teacher continued. “I think it's a serious issue, because even today I had to say to some of my students that listen, 'the persons who created PUBG and Free Fire and all those other games, they are okay. Alright? So don't spend your time playing games and not doing the work.”

Garena Free Fire and PUBG Mobile were among the top ranking games worldwide in 2020, only trailing Among Us and Subway Surfers. In that year alone, Garena Free Fire saw a record 218 million downloads while PUBG Mobile had 175 million downloads.

A report from Business of Apps, which provides world class analysis and data for app businesses, further stated that PUBG Mobile was already starting to ascend in 2019, but with the coronavirus pandemic, the game skyrocketed in both downloads and revenue, making US$270 million a month after the world went into its first lockdown in March 2020.

The high school teacher said one of the strategies she uses to keep students active in classes and monitor their participation is calling on them.

“My strategy is to call on them constantly and some time I will say 'listen, if I don't hear you, you will be marked absent', because what we did, we have a system — well that was in lower school, I'm not sure about upper school — where we have responsible students who record the names of those persons who attend classes.

“So, when they attend classes, their names would be recorded and then their parents would be sent the name so their parents would know if they were in class or not and then this now might trigger something when the parents say 'what? So-and-so wasn't in class?” she said.

Still, even with her strategy, the students remained distracted.

“They want to come out of class and go play games… Of course, you have times when as a teacher, you are sitting in front of the camera, you become drainy, your eyes become weary and these are students, these are children so their attention span may not last throughout the time. So alright, I'm here listening to miss, I'm not in class writing, there's nobody monitoring me so mek mi gwaan listen to miss and gwaan play game but in truth and in fact, sometime when you call them, it's 'yes miss' but you have asked a question. What is the question? They don't know so it's obvious that they are distracted,” the teacher explained.

“I had a student that was very active in class, very attentive, always there on time, always participating and I noticed that his attendance was falling, he was coming in late, he wasn't participating how he used to. He was one of the students who I asked what was happening and he said 'miss game, game, game. It mek me distracted miss, it affect my focus and it's so addictive. Miss it addictive, it addictive. Come in like you cya stop play it, it very addictive,” she added.

But a 16-year-old teenager at St Andrew Technical High School, doesn't see video games as all bad.

He said video games help to keep both him and his friends sane.

Admitting that he plays video games more during the pandemic than before, he said: “Before COVID, we could go out, watch movie, have fun. Now we have to stay inside and we're not seeing our friends and you know like how you could go out and enjoy time with your friend dem, you can't do that and you can't too interact with people like one time.”

“When we play games, we interact with our friends over game so we can play with them, talk to them, enjoy it and dem sumn deh,” he shared.

Noting that video games take up more of his time during the day, the student, who said he only plays games during classes when the teacher's Wi-Fi chips out or is down, or if no link to a class was provided, insisted that it does not impact learning.

“At the end of the day, when you go online classes some people learn, some people don't learn and sometimes teacher nuh come class…If five people are in the class or the teacher nuh send nuh link, wah we supposed to do?” he said.

For Malacia Gordon, an English Language and Literature teacher of grades seven to 11 at Ardenne High School, video games have both a positive and negative impact on students.

“I think that they allow students to learn how to multitask so they can do more than one thing at the same time and they can also transition from one task to another quickly. So I think video games help with that. Also, it helps them to process information better. So, because things are happening so quickly in the video games, I think it helps them in cognitive development. Anything can be positive in how it is used and how the learning is transferred and how it is managed,” she explained.

But Gordon could not deny the negative impact video games have on children, noting that “they are distracted playing video games in classes”.

“I've heard horror stories of teachers having to discipline students because they are playing video games in class. It's a distraction.

“For me, my experience with video games is not that it affected learning but it affected how the student behaved,” the teacher said, citing examples of students becoming depressed due to not being allowed to play games.

Gordon teaches approximately 40 students, of which she said at least 35 are engaged at any given time.

“For online classes, our attendance is a little bit better than some other schools, some other experiences that I have heard.

“With everybody being online and social distancing, we may be getting there but I don't think we're at our peak with students and the trauma of online or video games but I think we may have some issue with screen time overall,” she continued.

For Gordon, the camera interval strategy works best to monitor student participation.

“For my classes, what I do is — it's harder to monitor online because everybody is in their own space, in their own world, so what I do sometimes is turn on the cameras during intervals. You'll have some students say 'miss, there are other persons in my background, I can't turn on my camera' — I don't care. I just want you to turn it on for two seconds, let me just know what is going on and to make sure that you're there.

“They're coming up with a lot of different teaching and management systems now so it's kind of easier, or not easier but it does help to monitor the students, for example Nearpod and Quizizz. If you give them activities using Nearpod and Quizizz, then you can see — in real time — the students who are actually participating in those activities,” Gordon said.

Nearpod is a website that offers real-time insights into student understanding through interactive lessons, interactive videos, gamified learning, formative assessment, and activities. Likewise, Quizizz allows teachers to join use online activities in their class and find or create their own quizzes and flashcards.

“The general idea is, let me see where you're at, what you're doing at any given time,” the teacher added.

Meanwhile, a senior representative from the Ministry of Education said school administrators have never reported addressing an issue regarding children playing video games during online classes.

“It is not an issue we are dealing with at this time,” the representative said, adding that, “School boards and administrators have the remit to institute measures to treat with students' indiscipline including inattentiveness during remote learning.”

Some of these measures include but are not limited to: periodic requests for cameras to be turned on for online learning, student participation in class discussions and for an established class rule, random requests made to students during lessons, student and parent conferences to address learning concerns, demerit systems, referrals made to the guidance counsellors for counselling and welfare needs to be attended to, mentorship etc.

“Where issues are beyond school level management, this is referred to the ministry for intervention. No intervention has been requested to date,” the representative said.

BY KELSEY THOMAS Observer Online reporter thomask@jamaicaobserver.com

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