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Education ministry roots for learning through play

Children enjoy games during the National Play day at Kololo

Children enjoy games during the National Play day at Kololo

On April 30, 2024, Uganda became the first country in the world to inaugurate its own national play day for children at an event held at Kololo Ceremonial grounds.

Whereas the United Nations designated June 11 as the International Day of Play for countries across the globe to elevate the importance of play, Education and Sports minister Janet Museveni said given the importance of play in children’s learning, nurturing and holistic growth, government inaugurated its own national play day to further formally raise awareness and focus on play.

She said play improves children’s life skills, making them spiritually upright and emotionally intelligent while also shaping their cognitive and communication skills to enable them to become problem solvers and critical thinkers - offering them much-needed human capital such that by the time they begin formal education, they have an idea of what they want to become in adult life.

She appealed for a multi-sectorial approach where learning through play is introduced at all levels in schools, communities and homes with dedicated time and opportunities on the official school timetables.

“Let us all work together to dispel the misconception that play is trivial; that it is insignificant and counterproductive that it is something you do to pass time. But even if they were doing it to pass time, nobody can deny the fact that in that play as they pass time indeed, they learn certain things. Isn’t this what kindergartens do with sand dunes, with clay, with balloons? ...As they play, they also learn how to live socially as human beings, learn to work together, in groups, they are learning something,” she said.

The minister said now more than ever, Uganda needs this new way of learning because the country spent many years in conflict and war and “people adopted a way of life that was simply survival at best and in that environment, children lost their place in society. That is why you never see mothers in groups taking their little children for a walk or see them in parks in towns, in groups watching children play at weekends or public holidays and yet there was a time when this used to happen a lot, especially in Kampala and other centres of our districts.”

She further appealed to development and implementing partners such as Unicef, Lego Foundation, Plan International Uganda and Education Cannot Wait, among others, to acclimatize the programme and let Ugandan children learn and play within their own values and cultures and environment as opposed to adopting international policies.

She said her ministry has developed an early childcare policy which will soon be sent to cabinet for approval to offer guidelines for effective play. According to Ms Museveni, government has formed development of centre management committees to equip the pre-primary management committee to monitor daily play activities in pre-primary schools, saying at the bare minimum, Early Childhood Development centres (ECDs) must offer playing materials.

Also, about 500 pre- primary teachers are to be supported and currently being retooled at Kyambogo University to help implement learning with play across the country. Over 100 nursery schools have also been specifically constructed across the country and equipped with all the necessary play materials.

Munir Safieldin, Unicef representative in Uganda, said the joy and academic benefits accrued from play cause lifelong positive impacts among children. He said given the importance of play, Unicef is set to construct over 72 new playgrounds in ECD centres around Uganda to advance the transformative agenda of play.

“When the process of learning becomes a joyful and social interactive experience that actively engages children and encourages interactive exploration and discovery, these characteristics form the holistic children...The transformative power of play extends beyond academic realms, serves as a catalyst for healing, enabling children to forge positive relationships for the recovery from trauma and other outcomes,” he said.

He added: “Play complements resilience, offering a beacon of hope during crisis by instilling knowledge and confidence needed to surmount adversity. Play fosters confidence, and collaboration and advances gender equality by limiting gender norms and stereotypes to endless possibilities, enabling children to navigate.”

CHALLENGES

Earlier, the state minister for Primary Education Joyce Moriku Kaducu said from their pilot studies it was discovered that play-based learning environments can be chaotic more than traditional classrooms and maintain a challenge of maintaining child behaviour.

Teachers will also need specialised training to effectively implement play-based learning. Furthermore, integrating play-based learning into the curriculum while also still covering the necessary content within a limited period may be impossible.

However, all these challenges can be overcome if all stakeholders play their part; so she encouraged parents to take time and play with their children to encourage their imagination.

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