Grammar school students are learning about European politics through a virtual game. The first grammar schools in Prague have tried out the game, which is now available for free.
“The European Council rejected an appeal to accept Turkey into the EU. The government in Ankara collapsed and the country is in chaos. Political analysts warn against Turkey’s swing toward the Islamic world and potential security threats,” the virtual front page of the German daily Deutsche Zeitung writes.
It is the year 2013, and there are racial disturbances taking place in Germany. All journals write about problems of EU countries trying to address the problem of insufficient funds for pensions.
Whether the EU finally agrees to raise the pensions is not decided by the governments of individual countries. The 27 countries are governed by the students themselves. They are deciding about the future of the EU through a special computer game “Europe 2045”. Almost 500 students from 12 Prague grammar schools have tried the game in civic education classes.
“Each student runs his or her own state, governs the politics, economy and will soon find out that it is not at all easy to have a country of satisfied citizens. They have to discuss registered partnerships or ecological taxes with neighbouring countries, their classmates, in the European Council. And in doing this, they learn about the EU,” says Vít Šisler from the NGO Generation Europe, which offers the computer game to all schools for free. The game presents a unique educational method that is available for the first time ever in the Czech Republic.
Introduce tuition fees or punishments?
“It’s great. I have never seen students discussing Kyoto protocol during breaks. We will continue to use the game in our classes,” says Michal Řezáč, a teacher at a the Prague school Gymnázium Sázavská, where students in their third year tried out the game.
The game has two parts. Each student picks one of the EU countries and begins to look after it. He has a set state budget and plans out the policies according to it. “The student decides the level of taxation, social benefits or environmental issues. The state can get into debt of up to 60% of its GDP. All individual state data are real and up to date. so the students are also learning about the current political situation in Germany, for example. It is, however, possible to change the situation inside the game,” says Vít Šisler, one of the co-authors of the project.
If the student decides that Germany will strictly punish drug use and possession, the policy will cost him more than EUR 32 million.
If he chooses a less strict approach and will not recommend institutionalised care, he will only pay EUR 13 million. It is solely up to him to decide the level of indebtedness of the Interior Ministry. “All the steps he takes will also serve to show the level of public satisfaction with the moves,” says Šisler.
The student also decides on infrastructure investments or on the introduction of school tuition.
“All the steps take effect in the next round of the game. High investment in industry might not help the student in the end if the neighbouring country lures the investors with low taxes,” Šisler explains.
Support the radar, I’ll give you my homework
The second part of the game constitutes discussions at the European level. Each state has its own vision of Europe, which it is trying to push through. Students can choose, for example, “Green Europe” that most of all protects the environment or “Conservative Europe” that goes back to traditional and Christian values.
“Students need to persuade their classmates about their policies. It depends on their argumentative skills. Diplomacy takes place also outside the classroom. Students are for example trying to trade their homework for radar support,” says Michal Řezáč, a teacher. An encyclopaedia, with all the information about the individual countries, is also part of the game.
Various events that the players need to react to also enter the game. Diplomatic talks with the US or Russia. “Or a conflict in Darfur demands organising a military mission. Students need to decide on the European stance. If they fail to solve the situation in Africa, the refugees will soon start arriving in Europe,” Šisler says. Students, however, cannot declare war on other countries.
Virtual media, newspapers and TV, report on all the decisions. The teacher plays the role of moderator, managing the discussion and explaining the issues that come up during the game. The educational game “Europe 2045” was created by experts from the Prague Faculty of Mathematics and Physics and is available to all schools. The project cost some CZK 1.5 million and was mostly covered by European funds.
Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.