Director of Ceremonies, Ms Jo-Ann Strauss
President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa
Minister of Basic Education in South Africa, Ms Angie Motshekga
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
I am extremely honoured and privileged, on behalf of the people of South Africa, to welcome you all to this very first Africa Continental Play Conference. There has been so much interest here in South Africa, the rest of the Continent as well as the rest of the world to be in this Conference. All of you have been selected to be part of this historic occasion. Attendance to this conference was by invitation only. We are delighted that all of you have come to this conference to share your own knowledge and experiences in play-based learning. Thank you for coming.
Many of you have travelled from far to be here.
We have Ministers, Deputy Ministers and representatives of governments from Burundi, Benin, Niger, Comoros, Angola, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, Tunisia, Egypt and Denmark.
The rest of the speakers, presenters and delegates have come from Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Canada, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I almost forgot, our locals from all corners of South Africa.
There has been a great amount of research that proves that play-based learning has a genuine and positive impact on the learning and development of all children regardless of age.
In its research report on the Skills for a Changing World: The National Perspectives and Global Movement, the Brookings Institute noted that traditional approaches are still common in most classrooms in countries that participated in the research study which included South Africa, and recommended the use of active pedagogies to develop the 21st century skills.
There is recognition that in order to teach and assess the 21st century skills, there needs to be a shift towards active approaches that are congruent with how children learn the skills or how to demonstrate them. This is consistent with the Convention of the Rights of Children to Play, the Sustainable Development Goals as well the National Development Plan and the 27 goals as articulated in the Basic Education Sector Plan in South Africa.
In response to the demands of the 21st century skills, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in partnership with UNICEF South Africa and the LEGO Foundation, is currently implementing an initiative that focuses on the role of play-based learning in improving quality of early learning under the auspices of POWER OF PLAY: A Learning Tool for a Powerful Future Programme.
The programme acknowledges play as a powerful tool and method of early learning and development through the promotion and strengthening of play-based approaches in the implementation of both the South African National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for children from Birth to Four (NCF) and the National Curriculum and Assessment Statements (CAPS) for Grades R to 6. This programme is in sync with the South African Government’s declaration of Early Childhood Development (ECD) as a national priority, and the role of play for young children’s early learning and development.
In 2016 and 2017 respectively, the DBE, UNICEF South Africa, Cotlands and the LEGO Foundation hosted successful play conferences focusing on theory and practice that underpin learning through play. The prime objective was to profile local knowledge and practice on learning through play linked to established theories and concepts. These conferences were important knowledge sharing and advocacy platforms for play-based learning and implications for skills development including teacher capacity development on play-based pedagogies.
The Minister of Basic Education in the Republic of South Africa has clearly demonstrated leadership in championing the importance of play in children’s learning and development in the country. In her opening address to the most recent Play Conference (2017), the Minister underscored the importance of play, thus: “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”. We need to start this as early as possible.
The 21st century brought with it exciting opportunities as well as significant challenges that require the rethinking of policies, practices and programmes in all dimensions of life. The one common denominator that touches all domains of life is education in general and curriculum in particular. This requires not only a critical look at the education systems, but even more so a movement to rethink and reimagine learning in a changing world.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) already set the direction for the above by acknowledging the opportunities and challenges, while committing the world to “providing inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels – early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, technical and vocational training. All people, irrespective of sex, age, race or ethnicity, and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations, should have access to life-long learning opportunities that help them to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities and to participate fully in society”. Whilst Goal 4 sets the agenda for education in a changing world, many of the other goals are directly dependent on an education system that provides learning opportunities for the benefit of all goals.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063: The Africa we want, sets as part of its aspirations “Well educated and skilled citizens, underpinned by science, technology and innovation for a knowledge society is the norm and no child misses school due to poverty or any form of discrimination”. It in particular embraces a changing world and commits to “[C]atalyse education and skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human capital, capabilities and skills to drive innovations and for the African century”. Thus, clearly complimenting SDG 4, while retaining the unique African context. The aforementioned supports the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, which sets as its mission the “[R]eorienting Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture African core values and promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels”.
These goals and aspirations call for a rethink in how basic education is defined, designed, delivered and assessed, among others. It is recognized that improving early childhood development and early primary education are critical not only for the attested returns on investments, but more importantly, in addressing many of the challenges in the subsequent levels of education. There is a dire need to address the delivery of curriculums (pedagogy) that challenges the traditional approaches, tapping the inherent capabilities of children including building on their curiosity, to provide children with the foundations needed for lifelong learning and adaptations to a changing world. It is evident from the plethora of evidence that emerged over the last decade that a key and important catalyst for the learning that is needed to achieve these goals, is learning through play from early childhood development up to the end of secondary school.
Achieving global and continental goals for Early Childhood Development and Basic Education and ensuring that children in Africa are adequately prepared for the opportunities and challenges that the 21st century hold, requires the rethinking and re-imagining of learning. The latter provides the rationale to focus the Conference, the first of its kind, on the important and foundational role of learning through play as an integral part of 21st century education systems. The ground is thus laid for education systems to promote play in learning for a changing world.
And so Programme Director, we have gathered here today to provide a continental platform to share evidence and facilitate high level deliberations on the importance of learning through play in achieving educational quality and preparing children for the 21st century, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.
I would therefore in closing like to echo the words from our former State President, the honourable Mr Rholihlahla Nelson Mandela when he said “We understand and promote the notion that while children need to be guided they also have an entrenched right to be whatever they want to be and that they can achieve this only if they are given the space to dream and live out their dreams”.