President Obama today announced Educate to Innovate, his administration's latest initiative to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The program seeks to address America's poor performance in the areas of math and science literacy, as identified by such international comparisons as the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment and the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The White House will be teaming with a number of different organizations to realize its mission of increasing awareness of and interest in STEM subjects, including various science organizations and media companies. The game industry will also play a prominent role in the Educate to Innovate program, as the Entertainment Software Association announced a pair competitions aimed at supporting the president's initiative.
In collaboration with the Information Technology Industry Council, Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft, and the MacArthur Foundation, the ESA's STEM initiatives include two game design challenges. The first, called Game Changers, is one component of the MacArthur Foundations' 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition, which boasts $2 million in annual funding.
The competition centers on Sony's acclaimed puzzle platformer Little Big Planet, and competitors will be measured on how effectively their submissions support STEM sciences. Sony also said that it would be donating 1,000 PlayStation 3s, as well as copies of Little Big Planet, to various libraries and community organizations based in low-income areas. Winners of the competition will be announced in 2010.
The second contest, called the STEM National Video Game Competition, challenges students with creating ideas that can be turned into Web browser-based games. The competition has been divvied up into three age-based categories: 4- to 8-year-olds, 8- to 12-year-olds, and 12- to 16-year-olds.
The STEM National Video Game Competition carries with it a $300,000 prize, which will be funded by the ESA, ITI, and their member companies. The organizations will also provide judges, mentors, and technical expertise to the winning teams to build out their creations. Official details on the competition will be announced in early 2010, with winners to be revealed during the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo, which will take place in LA June 15-17.
President Obama's Educate to Innovate program isn't the first time he's tapped into the game industry for assistance. In the lead-up to his election in 2008, President Obama spent approximately $44,500 on in-game advertisements promoting his candidacy, with promotional spots appearing in games such as EA's Burnout Paradise. However, since then, the Wii-owning chief executive has repeatedly criticized gaming in general, urging parents to start "putting away the Xbox [and] putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour."