'Minecraft: Education Edition' is an educational version of Minecraft, the game popular with children all over the world. Source: Twitter/playcraftlearn

Video games have never ceased to gain popularity among all age groups, except when it's time for work or assignments. So when companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo decided to disrupt old school curriculums to extend the fun, they developed exciting and challenging games that double as educational tools. 

Minecraft, the Microsoft-owned game since 2014, is known for its user-driven content, creative use of blocks, and nocturnal creatures. Putting that aside, the prominent video game has also been at the frontline of mainstream games that offer educational content ever since its $2.5-billion acquisition. A version of the game, titled "Minecraft: Education Edition," promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive digital environment that tackles different subjects.

According to the game's website, 115 countries are currently using this edition across their curriculum. Students learn how body organs, chemical reactions, and important mechanisms work as well as how to formulate algorithms and program them in a visual environment. Meanwhile, teachers can direct the game and watch how materials are perceived.

"When we were studying the work of body organs, I asked the children to divide into teams, choose a body organ and create a 3D model of it in Minecraft. To accomplish this task, they had to read all about the work of the organ, and they no longer saw this as something boring because it looked like an interesting challenge," Peter Pallo, a biology teacher, said in a testimony to Microsoft.

Many countries in the Arab region have been suffering economically, which has affected their level of literacy and adoption of new education systems and methods. In the UAE, however, Aldar Academies, a trusted name in educational excellence across both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, have turned to using "Minecraft: Education Edition" in their classrooms.

The institution's Head of Education Technology, Andy Turner, explained that some people may be skeptical about incorporating video games into classrooms as it might seem unproductive, but he disagrees.

Microsoft reported more than 50 million educational content downloads globally since this version of the game was made available for free on March 24. The gratis launch was to keep children in lockdown entertained and educated. The multinational tech company also announced the release of seven new "Minecraft: Education Edition esports worlds."

E-sports (aka electronic sports) is a form of sport competition using video games. When introduced in schools, this "gamification" method can help students build science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills as well as encourage collaboration and support social-emotional learning.

"We have been using gamification as part of our educational delivery for a while now, but Minecraft allows us to solidify our efforts into one platform. It also makes teaching more focused and effective, with the only limitation being the teacher's imagination," Turner said.

A teacher explaining 'Minecraft: Education Edition' to a student at UAE's Aldar Academies. Source: Microsoft

According to UNICEF, however, education systems in the Arab region are failing, leaving learners without the skills they need for a prosperous future. 

Based on international assessments of learning outcomes in MENA countries, traditional teacher-centered and rote-learning approaches along with outdated curriculums are limited when it comes to facilitating skills development. Students ought to be equipped with and prepared for lifelong learning, employability, personal empowerment, and active citizenship. This implies the need to embed new technologies and methods to increase the quality of learning and teaching.

"Taking into consideration the fact that video games are largely consumed in the Arab world, Minecraft presents a golden opportunity that can be utilized for enhancing fun and easy learning methods through technological innovations," said Sahar Yassine, a science, English and math teacher in one of Lebanon's private schools.

The "Minecraft: Education Edition" video game is revolutionizing the educational sector. With the novel coronavirus pandemic and school closures, such learning techniques are needed for students to acquire crucial life skills because the youth of today are the leaders and workforce of tomorrow.