Helping kids learn through play

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Aug 31, 2021

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The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has begun a census funded by Danish toymaker LEGO into the state of South Africa’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) landscape.

Launched on Thursday, the initiative aims to count all ECD programmes in the country, so that the department can better manage the educational journey of young children, from the time they access the programme, until they complete Grade 12.

“The department, together with the LEGO Foundation and all involved partners are excited to undertake the first national census, which will broaden access to quality learning for every South African child,” said Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.

In a video, shown during the webinar, on Thursday, the basic education minister engaged with a young learner, explained the importance of ECD centres in South Africa, and the significance of such centres taking part in the census.

“We urge all registered and unregistered centres in all corners of the country to participate in the census, which has commenced this week, as this will enable planning for greater inclusion, especially of children with disabilities and the delivery of integrated health and safety programmes,” said Motshekga.

A key barrier to effective learning, especially in city centres, is the lack of data on the programs and tracking systems. The department has limited accurate information on ECD delivery. Currently, this lack of updated empirical data concerning the levels, and nature of incident provisioning, is hindering informed resource allocation, practitioner support policy development and planning initiatives in city centres.

Using all lists currently available from campaigns initiated by the Department of Social Development, the fieldworkers employed by Ikapadata will contact each ECD programme to schedule a physical visit to conduct a short interview and record observations of the facility. The exercise will be carried out with all Covid-19 protocols in place to ensure safety while gathering the required information.

This information will then be used to build a data management information system for the ECD sector, and provide a basic assessment of the enabling environment for quality learning through play.

Working with the LEGO Foundation, UNICEF and various stakeholders active in the ECD space, the South African government is developing policies to bring play-based learnings into classrooms and pre-school facilities nationwide.

LEGO is derived from Danish words ‘LEg GOdt,’ meaning ‘play well’.

The ECD Census will help the DBE, together with their partners, understand how best to unlock the power of play to learn and invest in the future during the earliest stages of children’s development. The survey will also make observations on the facilities available at the sites to enable planning for greater inclusion of children with disabilities, and the delivery of integrated health and safety programmes.

The census is the first project being undertaken by the Department of Basic Education as the responsibility of Early Childhood Development shifts from the Department of Social Development.

A key barrier to effective planning in the ECD sector is the lack of data on ECD programmes and data systems. The information gathered through the census will be used to integrate ECD into the Education Management Information System (EMIS) and expand education support and play-based learning programmes.

LEGO Foundation Director in South Africa, Kerry Kassen, said the LEGO Foundation wants to support and build the systems that will enable quality learning through play to thrive in ECD settings. “For more than a decade, we have partnered with organisations to build a brighter future for children in South Africa through a play-based approach.”

The LEGO Foundation is dedicated to building a future in which learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. Its work is about re-defining play and re-imagining learning. In collaboration with thought leaders, influencers, educators and parents the LEGO Foundation aims to equip, inspire and activate champions for learning through play.

Kassen said, given the assistance and support of all the players in the ECD space, they intend to complete the data gathering process, hopefully, by December, this year. “This critical initiative will highlight the opportunities to broaden access to quality learning for every child in South Africa, going forward.”

During a panel discussion, speakers alluded to the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which concerns quality education, and ECD is one of the areas in which they aim to ensure, that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre- primary education.

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