On 25, 26 and 27 February, the South African Department of Basic Education, The LEGO Foundation and UNICEF organised the first Africa Play Conference in South Africa. The hosts were eager to facilitate exchanges between countries from the Global South, and so VVOB colleague from Vietnam Quynh Chau presented our work on play-based learning in the Asian country to a primarily African audience.
Meeting peers from Africa and beyond
End February, over 400 educators, practitioners, academics and policy makers participated in the first ever Africa Play Conference in Pretoria, South Africa. It turned out to be a mind-blowing, playful and creative experience for those fortunate enough to attend.
Over the course of three days, delegates from all over Africa and beyond shared scientific research, programme results, inspiring stories and practical ways of integrating play into learning. With the focus of the conference on play in Africa, many of the results and experiences shared were from African countries.
However, the organisers very deliberately also encouraged learning from initiatives in other regions of the world. With speakers from countries like Chile, Mexico, Singapore and Bangladesh, Africa Play was truly an international event harnessing the power of South-South cooperation and learning.
When implementation lags behind
And so it came to be that, amongst the 400+ participants, there was also 1 delegate from Vietnam
- While embedded firmly in policy documents, implementation of play-based learning is often not following suit.
- Teachers are not trained to use play in their classrooms. What is more, they are often even refrained by supervisors from using play as it is not considered learning.
- Rich play-based learning materials are lacking, and teachers have not been trained to make them themselves with low-cost materials.
- Preschool teachers have difficulties assessing which children are learning and which children need extra support.
The list goes on, but a thought comes to mind: if the challenges are so similar, what about the solutions? African countries could well learn from VVOB’s approaches in Vietnam to circumvent these challenges.
Two steps to playful learning
In her presentation, Quynh Chau explained how VVOB works with a two-pronged approach in Vietnam.
First, preschool teachers are capacitated to use two five-point monitoring scales which help them assess which children are learning and which children are not. These scales measure the wellbeing and the involvement of children in the classroom. Only when children are happy and actively involved in what is happening around them, will they be able to learn. Stating evidence from some of VVOB’s own research on the topic, Quynh Chau continued with the finding that when children do playful learning activities, the levels of wellbeing and involvement are much higher than when they do more academic learning activities.
Then, once teachers are aware of the wellbeing and involvement of their learners, teachers are supported through experimentation and self-reflection, co-teaching and collaborative learning to adjust their teaching to be more playful. All the while they make sure that all children are actively engaged in learning and that the barriers that hamper their learning are mitigated.
Quynh Chau from @VVOBvzw Vietnam playfully presenting VVOB's program on play-based learning in Central Vietnam. In 5 minutes we drew a flower and made something that can fly!! #AfricaPlay pic.twitter.com/NIbFkZF4BN
— Hans De Greve (@hdegreve) February 26, 2019
Distant but similar
For many of the delegates, the context of preschool education in Vietnam sounded very familiar. Learning from VVOB’s programme in Vietnam provided them with concrete tips to take home to their own education systems or programmes that similarly struggle with implementing play-based learning. Especially the scales for measuring wellbeing and involvement and VVOB’s approach to working side by side with ministries of education to implement these scales in the classroom aroused numerous queries and debates.
VVOB’s session with Quynh Chau and the Africa Play Conference in general were good examples of how bringing together practitioners from geographically distant but contextually somewhat similar countries can lead to very dynamic discussions and learning opportunities for both the presenters and the audiences. Seeing VVOB’s partner countries are spread out over four continents, we are more than ever committed to South-South exchange and collaboration to learn from what (does not) work for quality education.