‘Angry Birds’ creator develops preschool program to promote learning through fun

WASHINGTON — The Finnish company that created “Angry Birds” is marketing an early childhood curriculum around the world that is meant to make learning more fun.

Rovio Entertainment is hoping to combine the popularity of the game — one of the nation’s best-known exports with more than 2 billion downloads — with the international prestige of the nation’s education system for its new early childhood learning program, called Angry Birds Playground.

The program is based on the Finnish national curriculum for children ages 3 to 6, which is largely based on free play and physical exercise. It builds in more technological tools, a reconfigured learning environment — and some of the popular Angry Birds characters — to maximize learning through engagement. The company also has worked music and games into the program and is partnering with publishers to create activity books and other learning materials.

Rovio is now training some teachers in China to use the new curriculum, and the company hopes to expand its reach in all directions.

At an event at the Finnish Embassy in Washington last week, company executives talked about the potential for using interactive games and tools to inspire more students, and the danger of squelching creativity through too much testing. Comedian Louis C.K.’s recent monologue about overtesting was mentioned multiple times, as were the terms “intrinsic motivation” and “flow.”

Company executives shared what they believe are the seven core ingredients of fun learning. Learning is fun, they said, when: you love what you do, you can choose how you learn, you feel safe, it becomes a healthy addiction, you are appreciated for who you are, the environment is inspiring and it is fun to fail.

Learning can be one of the most pleasurable things you can do, they said, and it’s not incompatible with working hard and being persistent. Rovio’s founders developed 51 other games before they designed the smash hit “Angry Birds.”

Sanna Lukander, Rovio’s vice president of learning and book publishing, said fun and creative learning environments can produce better outcomes than settings where students and teachers are “depressed and pressured and tested.”

Finland has an interest in cornering the global market on fun learning. Unlike some other top-scoring countries on international tests, such as South Korea and Japan, Finland is not known for drill-and-kill strategies and endless school days, but quite the opposite.

Compulsory education in Finland doesn’t start until age 7 (though that is poised to move up by a year), and the school day is shorter than in many other countries. There are no national tests, so students don’t have to prepare for them and teachers’ careers don’t rely on the results.

And Finland prides itself on ranking high on international scales measuring innovation and creativity in the workforce. The small country, with 5.3 million people, grew from poverty to affluence after WWII by building a knowledgeable and skilled workforce through strong public schools.

Even so, the government has launched a reform of its education system, hoping to improve on its strengths and make lessons more engaging.

Finnish Minister of Education Krista Kiuru said the government must work harder to provide equal-quality schools amid growing social inequality. Leaders also are concerned that young students today are less motivated.

“We have to wake them up in a different way,” she said, adding that it will be important to use technology more effectively. “The environment has to be different. We don’t want schools to be like airlines: Please turn off all your digital devices.’ Then after seven hours, you can get them back again.”

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