Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Play-based learning: Empowering teachers, transforming education

Research has demonstrated that learning through play is a crucial aspect of early childhood development, and it remains a valuable and effective approach throughout primary education. Learning through play plays a pivotal role in fostering children’s holistic skills, encompassing the comprehension of complex academic concepts, as well as the cultivation of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

On this World Teachers’ Day, we commemorate teachers and their indispensable role in promoting interactive learning methods within the classroom. For PlayMatters, learning through play represents an active teaching and learning approach, wherein children acquire knowledge through guided, hands-on, and meaningful play-based interactions within safe and inclusive environments. Therefore, by incorporating play-based activities into their lessons, teachers assume a central role in establishing an engaging and dynamic learning environment, where students are motivated, engaged, interested, and actively involved in the learning process.

Within our PlayMatters community, teachers work in resource-limited and humanitarian settings, where large class sizes and psychosocial challenges impede children’s learning. Our interactions with teachers in these contexts revealed that their primary obstacles to incorporating play are a lack of time and the presence of large class sizes.

Nevertheless, in the face of such circumstances, we have witnessed teachers leveraging their creativity and time to enhance the educational experience and unlock the transformative power of creating inclusive and safe spaces for all learners. For instance, in the Kyaka II Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda, Shukuru Mushesha, an early childhood education teacher, adeptly manages large class sizes by implementing grouping strategies and employing songs and locally-made learning materials to facilitate her classes with ease.

PlayMatters acknowledges the invaluable role of teachers, and as such, the project is prioritizing the allocation of resources to train and support teachers in strengthening education systems in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda, with a focus on incorporating active learning through play practices in classrooms. We recognize that various factors hinder teachers’ ability to deliver, leading to gaps between national policies and accessible continuous professional development opportunities, as well as a shortage of teaching and learning materials. Consequently, the PlayMatters project offers comprehensive support for teachers, enabling them to flourish in their work.

Given the challenging environments in which our teachers operate, we understand that their own well-being significantly impacts their classroom practices. Therefore, we have integrated teacher well-being into our approaches to ensure that teachers receive the necessary support to excel in the demanding circumstances they face. We recognize that teachers must be in good health and spirits to effectively teach.

However, it is crucial to emphasize the role that other education stakeholders have in supporting teachers and promoting learning through play in schools. Parents and community members can contribute to learning through play both at home and in school by actively engaging their children and advocating for high-quality teacher professional development programs that integrates teacher well-being. The government can establish and uphold policies that support learning through play in schools and allocate resources for its implementation. Education ministries can also raise awareness about the benefits of play-based learning among parents, teachers, and the broader community.

In August, during a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, stakeholders from the Ministries of Education in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania unanimously recognized the importance of learning through play in the classroom. They expressed the need for innovative approaches to education that go beyond traditional methods. PlayMatters is optimistic that these commitments can be translated into policies and sustained partnerships to support teachers through training opportunities, material resources, and ongoing pedagogical and managerial support.

On this World Teachers’ Day, we acknowledge the transformative power of learning through play in early childhood and primary education, as well as the crucial role of teachers. By embracing active learning methodologies, teachers can unlock the full potential of their students, fostering holistic development and preparing them for a brighter future. Teachers need the support in creating joyful, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all children in early childhood education and primary school.

The project, led by the International Rescue Committee in collaboration with Plan International, War Child Holland, The Behavioural Insights Team, and Innovations for Poverty Action, aims to enhance holistic learning outcomes and well-being for 800,000 refugee and host community children aged 3-12+ residing in refugee and host community contexts across the three countries, including emergency response efforts in Tigray, Ethiopia.

In partnership with The LEGO Foundation, the project operates in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania, bringing learning through play methodologies to classrooms.

(Lillian Viiko is the senior regional policy & advocacy advisor for PlayMatters project in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.)

Contributed by Lillian Viiko

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