Associate Director for Education, UNICEF Headquarters New York, Ms Josephine Bourne, in absentia
Chief of Education and Adolescents Development, UNICEF South Africa, Dr Wycliffe Otieno
Executive Director of Cotlands, Ms Jackie Schoeman
Initiatives lead for the PLAY-based Learning Programme at the LEGO Foundation, Mr Michael Renvillard and other colleagues accompanying him
Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Centre for Universal Education, Washington, DC, Ms Esther Care
Reggio Emilia, Italy Ms Marianne Valentine
BRAC Tanzania, Mr Johnson Mshana
Senior officials from the Department of Basic Education
Ladies and gentlemen
I am humbled and honoured to have been invited to make this keynote address under the theme: Preparing our children for challenges and opportunities for the 21st Century.
From the onset, I wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to all organisers, attendees, as well as the national and international guests, for making the time to attend this important PLAY Conference. We converge today to talk about the place and importance of play in the cognitive development of a child. The PLAY-based approach to learning, is well-defined as a process for learning that is intrinsically motivated, enjoyable, freely chosen, non-literal and safe.
In an increasingly complex, changing, competitive, and interconnected world, we all want to ensure that our children gain the lifeskills needed to be successful in life. Experts worldwide, acknowledge that today’s children need more than the traditional 3-Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) to prepare for 21st century opportunities. As Government, we are paving the way towards the 21st century opportunities, by preparing our children in the four critical areas, namely the 4-Cs –
- Collaboration and teamwork;
- Creativity and imagination;
- Critical thinking; and
Programme Director; I am happy to report to this Conference that the consortium of UNICEF, the Lego Foundation, and Cortlands, in partnership with the DBE, has begun develop an online training programme aimed at in-service training to one hundred and fifty thousand (150 000) Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners, Grade R and Foundation Phase educators across South Africa. The online training programme – the PLAY-based learning, will be delivered over the next two (2) years. By the way, PLAY stands for “Powerful Learning Around You” in-service training programme course that compliments existing and formal training.
We have taken this bold step towards the future, not because it is fashionable to have an online learning platform, but because the new buzz word in the sector today is ICTs. The pedagogical demands of the 21st century educational landscape, requires of us to think and act differently. We have entered an arena of business unusual. If we are to succeed and help our learners to acquire both the aptitude and attitude of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are the first people who must change. Policy-makers and influencers could be the biggest stumbling block to rapid changes in tactics, methods and technologies.
The 21st century demands of us be to the pioneers of radical pedagogical revolution, as we embrace new technologies and 21st pedagogical tactics that in themselves will fundamentally redefine the meaning of teaching and learning as we have known over the centuries. We need to discard the pedagogy of the 20th century, which was largely influenced by methodologies of rote learning. The mantra, as we know it, has been the Test, Teach, Test (Triple ‘T’) approach.
As we converge here today, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that the triple ‘T’ approach, is the Alpha and Omega of teaching and learning. There is an important paradigm shift even in the theorisation of pedagogy itself. The dominant narrative gaining traction today, is what Ivor Goodson, the Professor of Learning Theory at the Education Research Centre, University of Brighton, UK; and Scherto Gill, a visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Education, University of Sussex, UK, called Critical Narrative as Pedagogy.
Given the tumult in South African education today, Critical Narrative as Pedagogy is a possible antidote to both teach-test-teach and rote learning. The Critical Narrative as Pedagogy is a positive, restorative endeavour, countering the teach-to-test philosophy currently prevalent in the South African education landscape and elsewhere. We are now being asked to teach our teachers new skills of teaching learners what comes naturally to them – that is PLAY.
In the new teaching paradigm, learners are taught to play but, not for its own sake. Learners play to learn, in order to create something that is both fun and educational at the same time. This is completely a whole new ball game – what ICT innovators call “GAMIFICATION”.
Programme Director, the reality confronting us today is that, we can no longer teach the 21st century learners using the run-of-the-mill 20th century pedagogical methods. The future beckons, and that future is digital – the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. It is an exciting world where play itself is transformed to play a role in the cognitive development of the child. Our challenge, as this collective, is to help the sector, especially our critical stakeholders, namely the teachers, to navigate what for most of them is an uncharted territory of rapid non-linear changes in pedagogics.
Today’s Conference occurs at the time when South Africa marks the centenary of the birth of one of the most outstanding sons of the soil and a leader of our national liberation movement, one Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, affectionately known as OR. Comrade Tambo was a leader of the African National Congress (ANC) for close to three decades during the darkest period of the anti-apartheid struggle. He has earned, through selfless service to people of South Africa and World, a title of being one of greatest leaders and freedom fighters of the 20th century.
Born in the rural village of Kantolo, in Bizana, in the Eastern Cape, Tambo would have turned 100 on October 27. Many have correctly argued that OR Tambo cannot die, for his legacy lives on. Tambo was a colossal figure, but his humility and quiet wisdom gave a sense of comfort. He was a herder boy who became a giant; a man with a vision for a better tomorrow; an exemplar of leadership and service to others.
Tambo left a rich legacy that will forever occupy a superior echelon within our minds and our hearts. Not only did he struggle against the injustices of his time, but he established the foundation for a democratic future. Though he would be the last to admit it, in many senses he is the architect of our freedom. He led us to the threshold of our democracy. It remains a source of great sadness that he did not live to finally cast his vote for a government based on the will of all the people.
As far back as 1987 in Harare, OR Tambo addressed an international conference on Children, repression and the law in Apartheid South Africa. Clearly, Tambo had dream, a dream which was vividly captured in his address at this international conference. He said –
“We cannot be true liberators unless the liberation we will achieve guarantees all children the rights to life, health, happiness and free development, respecting the individuality, inclinations and capabilities of each child. Our liberation would be untrue to itself if it did not, among its first tasks, attend to the welfare of the millions of children whose lives have been stunted and turned into a terrible misery by the violence of the apartheid system.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank all the partners for the relationship that the DBE as well as both Sesame Workshop and LEGO Foundation which has led to a large programme established in the Eastern Cape for Grade R classes at ECD centres. One thousand (1 000) ECD centres with Grade R will each receive two DUPLO PLAY boxes, each containing 8-9 kilograms of LEGO® elements, which seek to create a positive impact by inspiring and developing children and youth to become active citizens; and empower them to create their own future, through fun, creativity and high quality learning.
As we are commemorating the centenary anniversary of the life and legacy of OR Tambo, we are endorsing the objectives of this PLAY Conference, which is to facilitate an understanding and commitment of policy-makers and influencers on the important role of PLAY in preparing children for the opportunities of the 21stcentury and the achievement of sustainable development at a national and global level. The other noble objectives of this Conference are –
(a) ensuring that the importance of play, supported by evidence, shapes a national commitment that will drive play as an essential part of children’s learning, development and well-being in the national policy discourse and development and programme implementation;
b) reflecting on the adequacy of national policies and programmes against national and international evidence to prepare children for the opportunities of the 21st century;
c) facilitating a critical dialogue between science, policy and practice on advancing children’s learning and preparedness for new opportunities and challenges of the 21st century; and
d) supporting policy-makers, through evidence, to define their role and space in promoting PLAY-based learning.
As Government, we are taking a lead in ensuring that there is universal coverage with regard to the Early Childhood Development sector. We have done this through the appropriate policies and strategies. I am happy to report that through the approved South Africa’s First National Integrated Policy for ECD, government departments are developing an Integrated ECD Implementation Plan that links the policy implementation to commitments set out in it, the current Medium-Term Strategic Framework, as well as the National Development Plan’s commitments to the nation.
News just in, the 5th ANC National Policy Conference has recommended that ECD, as a line function, should be moved from the Department of Social Development to the Department Basic Education. This is in line with the earlier resolution to reinvigorate the whole basic education sector to reposition it as a leader in addressing the triple challenges facing the country. Basic Education is recognised worldwide as an integral part in unlocking long-term economic growth and progress.
Within the National Integrated Policy and the Plan, the DBE has two main responsibilities, namely –
- Curriculum Development: The National Curriculum Framework for children from birth to four was developed in 2014; and
- Human Resource Development: In-service training of practitioners training towards the ECD National Qualifications Framework (NQF), Level 4, as part of the Expanded Public Works Programmes (EPWP) and payment of a stipend.
The DBE equips the children by offering the South African National Curriculum Framework for Children from Birth to Four, and the National Curriculum Statement from Grades R-12 that give expression to the knowledge, skills and values, worth learning in South African schools. This curriculum aims to ensure that children acquire and apply knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives. In this regard, the curriculum promotes knowledge in local contexts, while being sensitive to global imperatives.
The implementation of the National Curriculum Framework in ECD centres, requires play to be the main method used for teaching and learning. Play is fun, and young children learn through play. The implementation of the National Curriculum Framework encourages practitioners in all ECD settings to expose children to well-structured play. Play is a process, which allows children to learn about themselves, their environment, and about other people in their environment, and how all these aspects relate.
When children play, they become actively involved in activities, they take control and display that they have an ability to solve problems. The role of adults is to guide and direct them when they do things in their environment. Play should be the basis for facilitating learning and development in all ECD settings.
One of the key challenges being identified in the implementation of quality early learning programmes for children from birth to nine years, is the lack of consistent implementation of PLAY-based learning approaches in the early learning and development programmes and the Foundation Phase. The challenges we are facing, include but are not limited to –
- Poorly qualified practitioners in most community-based centres;
- Unavailability of the budget to train practitioners;
- Inadequate support at District level;
- Inadequate resources / facilities at most community-based centres in the provinces; and
- Poor inter-departmental collaboration.
Play is essential to lay a solid foundation for learning, on which subsequent levels of learning is built. The right to play is inherent to the learning, development and well-being of all children, including children with disabilities. Play is one of the key areas identified in the National Plan of Action for Children in South Africa: 2012-2017.
Ladies and Gentlemen, currently, children learn through play the skills they will apply to more complex tasks. As DBE, it is important to encourage our teachers to use different teaching styles to strengthen learning through play, in preparing our children to reach their full potential.
In conclusion, I am again inviting everyone to support The Power of Play, which is a Learning Tool for a Powerful Future. Together we must strive to nurture our children into becoming the 21st century champions, and as O.R Tambo warned us –
“The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.”
I thank you.