Another gunshot and ambulance siren after a few minutes – such familiar signs meant that I was going to attend another funeral for a friend’s family. Growing up as a foreigner in the worst neighborhood in Kazakhstan, I saw lives of the underprivileged. I was ten when my closest friend’s brother died from gang violence. At the funeral, I asked my mom, “wasn’t he a good guy, like Sonic the Hedgehog?”
As a child, the only escape from such gang violence was playing video games. Since I was the only one who had a game console, the whole class strolled in to my house to play Sonic. My parents had one rule: only students from class could come and play. Because of the rule, my friends never missed a class. As result, our class had the lowest dropouts and stayed away from the streets.
My passion in games grew while I started to question education. Statistics show that children ages 8 to 18 spend over seven hours a day using technology for entertainment including gaming. That adds up to almost four months per year. I often asked, “why do children are so motivated to play games but lack motivation at school?” With my childhood experience and my desire to tackle such questions, I decided to pursue my study at Instructional Technology and Media at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Coming from an underprivileged family, attending a private school means facing many obstacles. The first and foremost obstacle is finance. To support myself, I work as a teacher, waiter and researcher. Although I receive invitations to present at education conferences, I do not have money to attend them. I struggled with malnutrition for few years but that did not stop me from achieving my goal. Another main obstacle is not seeing my family. People question me saying “why haven’t you visited your family for more than 10 years?” I hesitate to answer. I do not want to visit the worst neighborhood and pretend that I am not part of that neighborhood. I want to go back and change my neighborhood. I do not want to visit, but return and make changes.
Graduating from Teachers College, Columbia University means that I am close to building an engaging learning environment that will keep students away from the streets and lead to success. Currently, I work closely with Games Research Lab at Columbia University developing the Gamification Toolkit, a website for teachers that provide instructional kits which supports pedagogy, student behavioral management, and Common Core curriculum. It provides the theory and research for the game principles utilized in the toolkit.
Just like my technological interest kept me away from the worst activities the streets had to offer, I want to draw children to school and away from other dangers. As I graduate a Masters of Arts in Instructional Technology and Media at the Teachers College, Columbia University, I will become closer to becoming a teacher that can help the underprivileged.
We are proud to announce Aeloch Kim is one of the current JustJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for his essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘star’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.