Director of Ceremonies, Ms Jo-Ann Strauss
Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty and all cabinet colleagues
Chief Executive Officer of the LEGO Foundation, Mr John Goodwin
UNICEF South Africa Country Head, Mr Sanjay Wijesekera
Executive Secretary ADEA, Mr Albert Nsengiyumva
Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Burundi, Benin, Niger, Comoros, Libya, DRC, Egypt and Mauritius
Ambassadors of Tunisia and Denmark
Senior government officials from Africa and the rest of the world
Ladies and gentlemen
It is a very special moment for me to join all of you for the inaugural Africa Play Conference. One behalf of the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, we welcome all our distinguished guests from all corners of our continent and rest of the world. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all attendees, organisers as well as the national and international guests for making the time for this significant Africa Play Conference.
Today, we meet to advance the Learning through Play agenda. We are as it were the midwives of something new and exciting. We are called upon to reposition the Learning through Play pedagogics as a silver bullet in the 21st century basic education systems. This is critical for our continent as we grapple with the ever changing technological demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution and skills for the future. As the present mandarins of the basic education systems, we have an obligation to re-imagine the whole concept of learning for the sake of our children. We must harness the transformational power of Learning through Play in a last-bid move to improve learner outcomes and the overall quality of basic education systems.
Programme Director; we meet here on the warm shores of South Africa days after the world commemorated the release from custody of our founding father, the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mandela was released from apartheid prison on the 11th of February 1990 after serving 27 years behind bars. The release of Mandela and others remain etched in our collective consciousness as a nation, Africa and World. It marked the beginning of the end of the apartheid nightmare. For millions of our people and our friends across the globe, it marked the beginning of a new era.
We are happy to say the new era dawned on the April, 1994 when South Africa held its first non-racial, one man, one vote election. This historic election led to the late anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Laureate, Mandela being inaugurated as the first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa. To him and his generation of freedom fighters, we do indeed owe them a debt of gratitude. Similarly, we reiterate our indebtedness to our brothers and sisters from our continent and rest of the world for the important role you played in the dismantling of apartheid.
Programme Director; President Mandela remains amongst the finest sons of the African soil, alongside such greats as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of DRC, and Thomas Sankara, of Burkina Faso amongst many others.
It is therefore fitting that we converge here to dialogue about the education of the African child, an issue that was close to the heart of our founding father, President Mandela. Speaking of children, he once opined that, “our children are the rock on which our future will be built; our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country; the creators of our national wealth, those who care and protect our people.”
Thus our objective as a collective in this inaugural Africa Play Conference must be to engage many professionals and stakeholders on the evolving view that play is actually the backbone of learning for young active minds. It is generally agreed in the scientific community that when children are interacting with peers and teachers in a playful manner - learning seems perfect for developing language and mathematical skills. Play has a massive impact on speech development with some children starting to talk as early as six months old.
The Africa Play Conference’s programme is designed to facilitate an advanced understanding on the whole value chain of the significance of Play in learning and teaching.
We must endeavour to encourage practical and sustainable change in classrooms by including daily activities using play and manipulatives to improve classroom experience for learners. We must remain resolute about the strengthening of the utilisation of manipulatives in improving the quality of learning and teaching. All academic research on learner outcomes concludes that any academic interventions shall be geared towards primary school learners. There’s no discernible advantage of any academic intervention that comes at the tail end of schooling.
Programme Director; this Africa Play Conference must not just be another talk shop. We have an opportunity to develop a continental master plan on Learning through Play, and subsequently an implementation protocol across all geographies. We also have an opportunity to learn from each other and hence develop best practice models.
I call upon this conference to develop an agile ecosystem for Learning through Play across borders, class, race and gender.
In South Africa, we already have powerful partnerships in the area of Learning through Play. In this regard, let me acknowledge our partners in The Power of Play, which is a Learning Tool for a Powerful Future. This partnership involves Departments of Basic Education, Social Development, UNICEF, and LEGO Foundation amongst others.
Programme Director; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We must be cognisant that in any event children have a right to play as it’s anchored in the UN, 1989, Convention on the Rights of Children. The right to play is inherent to children’s learning, development and well-being. It is considered critical in their learning, development and linked to recreation. It also makes it easy for children with disabilities to participate in the play activities thus benefiting their cognitive development.
As a consequence of this realisation, South Africa has already developed a National Plan of Action for Children. In this Plan, play is recognized as a right of all children.
Programme Director; as we know, learning through play starts by laying a solid foundation in the early years. It is practised as early as in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes as children grow and develop through different types and forms of play. Learning through play enhances the holistic development of the children i.e. emotionally, cognitively, physically, socially and creatively. Hence this lays an important foundation for formal learning later in their lives. Young children are naturally creative and their natural way of learning, solving problems, investigating, discovering and asking questions are through play.
In this regard, South Africa has created a framework for learning through play as enshrined in the South African National Curriculum Framework for Children from Birth to Four (NCF). The curriculum is rooted in the Learning through Play as an essential component of learning. This curriculum aims to ensure that children acquire and apply knowledge, and skills in ways that are meaningful to their own lives and preparing them for Grade 12 and beyond. It has Exploring Mathematics as one of the six (6) Early Learning and Development Standards, which we call the ELDAs.
This ELDA stimulates children to develop critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills in the early years, and it is the key to the foundational knowledge and skills for success in their formal schooling years.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this inaugural Africa Play Conference builds on the micro 2016 and 2017 conferences’ momentum here at home, and I am certain that it’s poised to take Learning through Play to greater heights.
In conclusion, I thank you for your kind gesture to let me speak to you today. I am inviting and encouraging everyone present here to be an Ambassador of The Power of Play. Embrace the baton of Learning through Play and pass it on to our young people to break the barriers of learning from early learning to Grade 12 and beyond.
I thank you.