Prodigy is NOT for Learning; How Prodigy Uses Children to Make Money
The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense. Proverbs 12:11 (CSB)
False claims and incorrect success statistics are often used to lure schools, teachers, and parents into purchasing educational software. This is certainly the case with the math game, Prodigy. The focus of Prodigy is not teaching math, as indicated, but it is to con parents into buying memberships and extras, for their children.
Deceptive sales practices are used to convince parents and schools to use the Prodigy game, not only at school, but at home as well. What is not revealed is the version of the game schools use is not the same version, used at home. A detailed report from Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, points out that the game children play at school is a free version. Students and teachers find this game a way for children to learn math while playing a game and freeing up time for teachers to work individually with children. This premise seems like a win-win for students and teachers. But, with further investigation CCFC uncovered the truth and is working hard to reveal the details of their findings. I have listed some of the basic points CCFC reveals in their study below.
- Prodigy is advertised as “always free”, and while children at home, may play a free version, it comes with a price.
- “In just 19 minutes of ‘studying’, 16 ads for membership and only 4 math problems.” Children are constantly being harassed to have their parents pay for premium membership. “That’s four times as many ads as math learning opportunities.”
- “Premium membership can cost up to $108 per child per year.”
- “Premium memberships do not provide kids with access to a better learning tool. Instead, these memberships provide kids with bragging rights and digital goodies like cool hats and cut pets.”
- “Kids without Premium memberships are constantly reminded of their ‘lesser’ status. For example, kids without memberships literally walk in dirt while kids with memberships ride around on clouds.”
- Kids without Premium memberships see a screen instructing them to click on a treasure chest, after completing a number of problems. The choices are “a plain wooden one and a sparkly blue one. When kids without Premium memberships click on the sparkly blue box, their choice is denied and they are blocked from finding out what’s inside. Instead, they are presented with an ad for a Premium membership, and kids who don’t upgrade at that moment must settle for the wooden box.”
- “Prodigy’s actual math components are essentially the same rote memorization that you can find on worksheets anywhere.”
- “It’s sugar-coated control and it teaches kids that math is something they have to be bribed to do, not something they’d want to do.”
- “Most of a child’s attention is drawn not to math but to their character’s customization. In time considered independent learning, kids are buying and earning new accessories for their wizard and performing dance moves completely unrelated to the game’s plot. Children spend the most time in Lamplight Town, an outdoor mall. There children can spin wheels to get more stuff and there are shops constantly available throughout the game—a known real-world sales tactic.”
- “Members ride around on clouds, their flashy costumes and member badges gleaming while those with the free program wear plain clothes. That isn’t just a private feature. Children can see what their friends are wearing, making it clear who has a premium membership and who does not. Prodigy often uses social comparison as part of its relentless pressure on kids to buy new outfits or change their looks.”
- Prodigy takes unfair advantage of children who cannot afford to buy the membership.
- “One social media-style feature, called ‘Wizard Watch’ even reports on what other players have purchased while pop-up ads encourage children to keep up with their friends.”
- But perhaps the most cruel, and unethical tactic used by Prodigy is the way points are assigned. “Children with a Premium membership advance in the game faster, earning higher scores from completing the same tasks. Students whose families’ can afford the membership appear to be better at math than children without the membership who are left with a lower score.”
- “Prodigy’s own research says a child would have to answer 888 Prodigy math questions to raise their standardized test math score by one point.”
- “Prodigy is designed to promote prolonged engagement with the game, not to get kids excited about math.”
- It is not clear if teachers who promote and advocate the use of Prodigy even know about the separate version children see at home.
- Word of caution: There is a report done by John Hopkins University, 2020, with positive reviews of the game. However, the research used for this report clearly states the participants were: 7 schools, 10 teachers or teaching specialists, and 2 principals, along with the subgroups of students. There is no data or information collected from homes, or parents.
Unfortunately, Prodigy is most likely not the only program designed in this manner, and our children will probably be exposed to many more of these deceptive programs. As always, I urge parents to investigate the software, and programs children are using at school. It’s time to start having discussions about the ways children are losing valuable instruction time. Parents should not settle for what is easiest for the teacher, or what consumes children. Programs like these do not challenge children to think, reason, and apply what they learn.
Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people. Colossians 3:23 (CSB)
Even if your child’s school has adopted this program, parents should ban together to have it removed. Education is not about games and entertaining children. Education is about learning, studying, working, and growing as an individual and as a valued contributor to society.