After seeing the impact that esports can have on boys, High School Esports League’s Kristy Custer is spreading the message.

Jan 26 2024

FETC 2024: Could Esports Reverse the Trend of K–12 Boys Falling Behind?

Gaming reignites boys’ passion for learning, esports curriculum expert says.

The numbers don’t lie. Compared with K–12 girls, boys are disciplined at higher rates and are more likely to be expelled than girls. Additionally, their test scores are lower, and they are less likely to graduate from high school.

These devastating numbers are a cause for action, said Kristy Custer, president of educational innovation for High School Esports League. Custer spoke during a presentation at the Future of Education Technology Conference, held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Today, more than 90 percent of boys play esports, Custer said, which makes the solution very clear: Bring esports into schools.

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She would know. A few years back, Custer and fellow former educator Michael Russell developed the Gaming Concepts curriculum, which has been downloaded 400,000 times.

While there has been a lot of emphasis on getting more girls into esports and science, technology, engineering and math programs, boys also need support, Custer said.

She has seen boys struggle firsthand. With her background in alternative schools, Custer worked at the Complete High School Maize in Maize, Kan., first as an English teacher, then as an assistant principal and, finally, as principal. Her school was one of the first schools in the country to offer video games in school for credit.

“I don’t like video games,” she admitted, “But in my 24 years in education, I haven’t seen anything engage boys as much as esports.”

That’s why she is determined to share the esports message far and wide.

WATCH: This inclusive esports arena helps young gamers grow connections.

The Women’s Movement Exposed the Male Gender Achievement Gap

“The gender gap is wider now than in 1972 when Title IX was passed,” Custer said. “This is when girls really started to excel. And there was a focus on getting girls caught up to boys and to shorten that gender gap. It wasn't until the women’s movement that we realized that the educational system was set up to give boys a disadvantage.”

She explained that some of the skills that girls naturally excel at — responsibility, sitting still for longer periods of times and emotional maturity — were things that young boys naturally struggle with.

And the impact has been noticeable.

“There is a drop in labor force participation. We have 9 million men who are of working age who have dropped out of the labor force entirely.”

Esports could be the silver lining that some schools still don’t know about.

Kristy Custer
Within esports, boys discover a catalyst for reigniting their passion for learning.”

Kristy Custer President of Educational Innovation, High School Esports League

Esports Challenges Educators to Reframe What Programs are Valuable

Custer noticed that her son was downstairs in the basement playing video games for three to five hours per day, and she became worried until he asked her a critical question.

“Mom, if I were playing my tuba for three hours, or I was reading for three hours, or I was playing football for three hours, would you be mad at me?” he asked.

The question stopped her in her tracks, and she came to the conclusion that a lot of the resistance to gaming had to do with the value that schools place on in-school activities. But just because gaming wasn’t important to her personally didn’t mean that it didn’t belong in school, she said.

DISCOVER: Schools can solidify a place for esports in the classroom.

Esports Linked to Increasing Boys’ Engagement in School

Custer dug in and started to make the connection between the possibilities of esports compared with other big sports. She noted that billions of people play and watch video games worldwide. College scholarships are now available for gamers, and career options are growing.

Plus, everyone who plays esports makes friends, and when you link esports with school, Custer noticed another positive impact: Kids are excited about school. 

“Within esports, boys discover a catalyst for reigniting their passion for learning,” she said. “The competitive arena becomes a thriving ground for accomplishments, fostering engagement and paving the way for success.”

And that is all that matters to Custer.

But there is data that shows just how much esports can change students’ relationship with school for good.

RELATED: Esports can lead students to STEM careers.

At another FETC session, NASEF (the Network of Academic and Scholastic Esports Federations, a scholastic esports organization) shared data from the Riverside County Office of Education in California, which studied the impact of esports on the Moreno Valley Unified School District.

The study found that in 2023 alone, esports participants attended school for an additional 7.34 days and had a 19.3 percent lower absentee rate than nonparticipants. As many as 60.2 percent had never participated in an extracurricular activity before. Some student gamers even saw their GPAs go up.

“This is not about me and my likes,” Custer concluded. “My job isn't for my students to love what I love. This gets my boys at my school, who hate school, excited about coming to my school.”

To ensure you don’t miss a moment of FETC event coverage, keep this page bookmarked and follow @EdTech_K12 on X (formerly Twitter) for live updates and behind-the-scenes looks.

Photography by Taashi Rowe
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