17 Mar 2019 05:58am IST
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17 Mar 2019 05:58am IST

One of the most endearing things about Goa is its incredible mix of people that provides a smorgasbord of nationalities, cultures and experiences. It is this very fabric of the land that has drawn many creative people to it. One such person is Greg Acuna, who grew up in Los Angeles, but has been living in Anjuna and calls Goa ‘home’, for the past 18 years. His start up, Planet Earthlings has been creating educational gaming experiences based on cooperation and collaboration to empower young people. DEEPA GEORGE finds out more about his innovative concept, Acting Kindly @School, a card game created by him with the intent to make ‘being kind’ the new ‘cool’ for kids.

ews reports these days are rife with random shootings in schools and public spaces. While this may largely be true of the West, India too has had to deal with its fair share of aggressive trolling and war mongering. Where does that lead us to and how does this impact future generations; is something that should plague all our minds. A big advocate of inculcating a more collaborative mindset in kids, Greg Acuna - founder of Planet Earthlings exults, “We believe that kindness will save our world. The joy we feel helping each other gives life meaning and power. When children connect on a deep level and learn to work together, all differences are shattered. They see each other not as strangers but friends and this is the best antidote to bullying. Children, who are entrenched in this belief, will in future demand peace when governments talk war.” 

Greg would know. He’s been in the animation and education space for years, having created an interactive animation TV pilot for kids, ‘Earthlings’ in 2008 and is also the creator of ‘Zarbul’, an educational gaming platform. 

A writer, director, producer, management consultant and a gaming enthusiast, he has worn many hats and the best way to describe him would be as a creative revolutionary. Says Greg, “The problem with the world is that we think we are better than others. Through this game, I want kids to interact with each other, break down barriers and share experiences in a fun way. Cooperating and collaborating with each other is the only way to success in the new world. Education isn’t only about knowledge but honing skills that help build a better society.” 

Acting Kindly @ School is essentially a simple yet thoughtful printed card game with a social impact. It has 15 decks and can include 30 players.  Teamed in pairs, but part of one big team, players work together and also switch teams to do random acts of kindness and playful deeds resulting in empowering each other. Each player and his teammate get a deck and the score is a collective team score, nipping any competitive vying. Having play tested the game in several schools not just in Goa but other states, Greg affirms, “Research indicates that the act of doing something kind and the act of doing something silly in public is fodder for an amazing bonding experience. It is a fantastic team building exercise conducive to high quality learning and changing behavioural mindsets.” 

Recently, in partnership with the Goa Directorate of Education, teachers from over 70 English medium government schools were trained to play the game for maximum impact, also enabling them to in turn train other teachers in their school. Each of these schools also received the Acting Kindly @ School Classroom donor pack through Earthlings’ crowdfunding supporters. Adds Greg, “When children play the game, it’s pure joy. Through the many tasks they have to do while playing, be it an act of kindness, exercise or even meditating together - all these experiences bombard them with the message that when you’re nice, you feel better and in turn make the world better.” 

Greg seems to have hit the nail and this concept is timely, especially when governments all over the world are looking at a value based curriculum. Recently, the Delhi government launched a ‘Happiness’ curriculum in schools for the physical and mental well being of students. The idea is to develop on students’ EQ (emotional quotient) and SQ (social intelligence quotient) which isn’t given as much attention as IQ (intelligence quotient). In a country that is obsessed with academic curriculum, it is a tough task to implement the playing of this game regularly. Says Gauri Kamat - Headmistress of Mushtifund Primary School in Panjim, “It was an enjoyable experience to have been part of the training. Our school children look forward to playing this game in their free time. It makes teachers and students interact in a fun, informal setting and we have noticed that it helps greatly in addressing behavioural problems besides making them express gratitude towards everyone. The challenge is to keep it going regularly.”    

It would help if the Goa government mandated a time for this kind of play activity that would ensure its maximum potential.  “The greatest learning comes when children are unaware that they are learning, “adds Greg. The game is available to buy directly from their website and Greg is currently looking at taking it to schools not just in India but in other countries as well. Complimenting this, an augmented reality app called “Kindness Aliens” was introduced as part of the Kickstarter Campaign.   

Being an early adopter of technology, Greg has always been interested in gaming and using technology in education. He says animatedly, “The ability to learn anything from anywhere via a phone changes everything. Digital content can empower, enlighten and enrich everyone astronomically.” This was the genesis behind ‘Zarbul’, a 3D virtual learning app that follows the buddy system in connecting children from various parts of the world, allowing them to interact, question and learn from each other in a gamified space.  

Greg who also has a degree in playwriting from San Francisco State University seems on his way to scripting a new way in changing the paradigms of learning and in the process creating a better world. As a mere earthling in this universe, Greg is sincere when he says, “I want to leave this world knowing that I tried.”
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