The Director for Early Childhood Development (ECD), Mrs Marie-Louise Samuels, represented the DBE at a three-day Play Conference held at the Aviator Hotel in Kempton Park from 12 to 14 July 2016. Play is vitally important to children’s intellectual, physical, social, creative and emotional development as it allows them to explore, discover, negotiate, take risks, create meaning and solve problems, which are the important foundations for developing literacy, numeracy and social skills.
Through the conference, ECD experts were encouraged to explore better ways in which play can be integrated with the ECD curriculum for the holistic development of children at an early age. It is envisaged that the ideas shared during this conference will enable those who run ECD centres to promote activities that enhance learning through play. Experts agreed that communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity are important skills which converge when learning through play.
In her keynote address Dr Yulia Privalova Krieger, Deputy Representative of UNICEF South Africa, stated that play is a fundamental children’s right that is safeguarded in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which South Africa ratified on 16 June 1995. “The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in their interpretation of the CRC on this right to provide guidance to State Parties, reaffirmed that play is a fundamental and vital dimension of childhood, as well as an essential component of physical, social, cognitive, emotional and spiritual development. The General Comment no 17 on the Right to Play indicates that play is linked to, and is essential for ensuring children’s full enjoyment of all the other rights in the Convention. Play is not only a right, but it is also fundamental to human development, as well as an essential tool to ensure that children with disabilities participate fully in an inclusive and rights-respecting society. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very clear that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities, including those activities in the school system,” Dr Krieger explained.
In South Africa, policies and a curricula base for learning through play are well established. South Africa’s National Plan of Action for Children 2012 to 2017 recognises the right to play and sets national goals and objectives to be met through the actions of a number of government departments to ensure that this is realised. It is important to collectively commit, through the Play Conference and beyond, to put these policies and plans into action.
Sharing the DBE interventions in strengthening ECD in the country, Mrs Marie-Louise Samuels said that the Department has already developed the National Curriculum Framework for children from birth to 4 years old. This conference will therefore enlighten all ECD experts about the various types of play, in order for them to find a mechanism to incorporate into their programmes. The conference will also guide the Department in terms of improving the quality of learning and teaching in ECD centres across the country. Mrs Samuels further added that it will not be appropriate to encourage play among learners without training ECD practitioners and Foundation Phase teachers on the various vibrant teaching techniques that stimulate active learning. However, the Director said that “the Department will soon train more than 150 ECD practitioners and Grade R-3 teachers in all nine provinces in order to improve efficiency and quality in the early grades to lay a solid foundation for children”.
Mrs Samuels also stated that the ECD Roundtable, which was hosted by the Minister of Basic Education in April this year, has brought about some positive outcomes. The ECD Roundtable Discussions emphasised play-based learning as the relevant approach to equip children with basic skills such as reading, writing and analysing. The Roundtable further assisted the Department to develop a clear picture of what needs to be done in terms of strengthening ECD provisioning in the country. “This conference is therefore in line with some of the findings from the ECD Roundtable Discussions,” she concluded.
Mrs Samuels thanked the NGOs for their hard work in promoting early grade teaching and encouraged ECD experts to keep up the good work; adding that their determination will enable the Department to achieve the DBE sector plan’s outcome one: Improved quality education in South African schools. The conference, which gathered education stakeholders from various academic institutions, was made possible through a DBE partnership with UNICEF, the LEGO Foundation and Cotlands.