Minecraft will be given to secondary schools in Northern Ireland as part of a project organised by the annual CultureTECH festival and funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
The hugely popular building-block game will be supplied to 200 schools and 30 libraries and community organisations, which will all receive download codes for MinecraftEdu, the educational version of the game.
Launched in 2011 by Swedish studio Mojang, Minecraft has sold more than 60m copies on PCs, smartphones, tablets and consoles. It generates a vast blocky landscape, then allows players to freely explore, constructing buildings and mining for minerals that can be crafted into useful items.
The game was quickly recognised for its educational potential, offering children a compelling way of learning about architecture, agriculture and renewable resources. Copies soon started to appear on classroom computers around the world.
“The level of engagement is the first thing you notice ,” said Mark Nagurski, chief executive of CultureTECH. “This is work that the kids really want to do and if you’re able to harness that enthusiasm, energy and creativity you end up with a pretty significant learning opportunity.
“The other exciting thing for us is the scalability and ‘sharability’ that Minecraft offers. If someone creates an engaging way of teaching, say, ancient history, using Minecraft, that can immediately be shared with all the other teachers using the game. You can already see that [happening] with things like Computercraft and we hope this project will add significantly to that resource.”
Soon after the release of Minecraft, educational game developers in the US and Finland formed a company named TeacherGaming to create a classroom edition, complete with teaching tools and hosting software to allow seamless connected play between pupils on different machines.
TeacherGaming claims that MinecraftEdu is already used by more than 3,000 teachers in hundreds of schools around the world, in classes ranging from languages to the history of art.
In 2013, one Swedish school made the game a compulsory part of its curriculum. Later the same year, Google partnered with quantum mechanic Spyridon Michalakis to create qCraft, a version of Minecraft designed to teach children about quantum mechanics.
“Last week we worked with Artichoke and The Space to recreate, in Minecraft, a version of Burning Man artist David Best’s ‘Temple’ in Minecraft,” said Nagurski.
“The real world Temple was a 70ft structure in the city that was ceremonially burnt. When we took it into the schools we were able to give young people a chance to create their own versions of the Temple, working alongside the artist. We’ve seen Minecraft being used to teach everything from coding to physics but I think that there’s a real opportunity to develop more of these kind of creative projects too.”
This is the first time, however, that Minecraft has been distributed across an entire region.
CultureTECH has said that it will work with various education partners to provide training and support to teachers who want to use the programme.