Could learning through play boost quality of Pre-Primary Education?

By Elias Hakizimana.

Quality of Education is something that can be sustained when children learn through play as this helps them to learn too much from the environment and to acquire knowledge easier. Marcus Balslev observed.

With background and experience in Early Childhood Education, Balslev is a Senior Consultant at the Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators and was Associate Professor at University College, educating Early Child Educators before joining the Union.

Balslev is happy that the Danish Union that organizes Early Child Educators has built in two years ago, a partnership with SYNEDUC in Rwanda since they are affiliated through the Global Teacher Federation for Education Generation that has over 23 million of teachers   as members ranging from early child education up to University.

Marcus Balslev is a Senior Consultant at the Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators

This partnership between SYNEDUC and Rwanda Union of teachers focuses on professional development for early childhood teachers and working conditions to ensure the quality of education is met.

Balslev is also a professional development activist who works towards helping Rwanda achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) which is about quality education. The same target was set by the United Nation through SDGs 4, ‒2 on quality of Early Childhood Education.

“As union, we work to enhance quality of Early Childhood Education and this we do through workshop called ‘Knowledge through Play’. This is the professional development goal, and this is a working condition, one of partners of our work is International labour Organization (ILO). In 2014, they published the guidelines and recommendations for working conditions and professional development of ECE from which SYNEDUC has developed the strategy and policy on ECE”. Balslev noted.

When teachers are trained on Early Child Education they can improve on quality of Education

He has a long time working on ILO guidelines in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.

Taking the workshop to Rwanda

“This week we have just finalized learning through play workshop in Kayonza District, Eastern Province, it was a four-day workshop where we introduced plays that assist children in their learning processes, at the same time we focus on a sustainable workshop, this means that the playing materials we introduced to the participants are those they produce themselves,” he said.

In the beginning of the workshop, they went to a local market and collected different pieces of clothes and hair from the saloons to produce some teaching materials with illustrations and images to be used for teaching and learning.

Children were taught through different games like lotto games and memory games with theoretical lessons on child development, use of the local context and language development as well as instructional conversations and how to introduce challenging activities.

20 teachers countrywide gained a 4-day workshop in Kayonza District during the first session

Balslev said that teachers left the workshop with new ideas on how to teach.

The rationale behind ECE

“I believe that when children learn through playing, they learn more, simply because it is a way that they use to learn, children learn too much from environment, by insisting on using play also ECE class, they acquire knowledge easier, they learn things like problem solving, social norms of being good friends, things that help them to develop whole human being, when they play together they also respect each other, they use English that is used in ECE class but I believe through play there will be an informal language teaching which assists learning to be effective,” he noted.

As per the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys’ relevant information in the Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI), which defines ‘on track’ as the percentage of children aged 36 to 59 months, they are developmentally on track in Literacy-numeracy ‒where they can identify at least 10 letters of the alphabet, read 4 simple words, and recognize and name all numbers from 1 to 10.

Physically, the surveys state that such children can pick up small objects easily and are generally well enough to play. In Socio-emotional – they can undertake simple activities independently, get along with other children, and do not usually kick, bite or hit other children or adults.  In Learning – they participate in any type of organized learning, including early childhood education, kindergarten or community care.

The initiative of training teachers to teach children through play helps to protect Environment as they recycle wastes into teaching materials

Supporting existing curriculum

Balslev said that the workshop should support the existing curriculum and not something aside to the national curriculum.

“The whole idea is that the workshop should support the existing curriculum, this is not something aside to the national curriculum for ECE, but it is meant as a support to the existing curriculum, we do not build up on a new system, we support existing system,” Balslev noted.

They do this in line with contributing to the SGD 4, ‒2 and they also support SDG5, on Gender Equality between the success as they also promote girls in this kind of education.

The union members are also active contributors to the civil society since they do professional development of teachers.

The long-term vision

The union’s long term vision is to have the content of the workshop reviewed by local providers of ECE training once they have gathered more experience in Rwanda from all the stakeholders who are involved in Early Childhood   Education.

“We want them to go through the content to ensure its quality in complementing the national curriculum,”

He said the same initiative was successfully done in Zambia and Tanzania where some of Universities have included the workshop content in their own curriculum and services.

For Rwanda, the first workshop was done in Kayonza and the union plans two more in coming years.

This program is funded by Danish members and Danish government through Danish ministry of foreign affairs. The main focus is on early child education, targeting children between 3 and 7 years.

The recent workshop in Kayonza was facilitated by Mrs Josephine James who is the National Desk Officer for ECE in Nigerian union of teachers and Danish Government, which is a good idea of solidarity between North-South cooperation according to Balslev.

Teachers’ observations

Jacqueline Murekatete, a teacher at Imena School in Kacyiru, Gasabo District and is among the trainees. She said the workshop was very meaningful as it added value to theoretical teaching framework.

She said that besides playing together and knowing each other, learning through play helps to boost practical life of children through different games.

“Children get knowledge through playing and this keeps them in a mood of learning because they like games. It refreshes their mind and they learn tirelessly.” Murekatete noted.

She affirmed that the learning materials are produced by teachers themselves, which has another role of environment protection as they use pieces of clothes, boxes instead of dumping them.

One of trained teachers making a teaching material for children

Abdoul Faustin Nkotanyi, General Secretary of a teachers’ union that promotes their unity in private sector and empower them socio-economically and professionally (SYNEDUC) said that the union gained significant support from Danish Experts through building policy development of education.

He explained that learning through play workshop is vital to children education and is environmental friendly since teachers collect used materials to produce teaching and learning tools.

SYNEDUC with Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators have trained 20 teachers countrywide. It is expected that around 60 teachers will be trained by next two years.

“We get this professional training every year and it is very important to build the capacity of teachers”.

SYNEDUC works with 200 private school institutions and will engage all Early Child Development centres (ECDs) both private and public in coming years.

Nkotanyi observed that most of ECDs still lack a conducive environment and enough professional teachers to accelerate children’s education.

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Elias Hakizimana

Elias Hakizimana, CEO&Founder of The Inspirer Ltd,(www.rwandainspirer.com) is a professional Rwandan Journalist with Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication, received from University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in 2014. He served various media houses in Rwanda including Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) in 2013 and became passionate with English Online and Print Media Publications where he exercised his talent as a Freelance News Reporter for The New Times, The Independent, The Rwanda Focus, Panorama and more before he became a Self-Entrepreneur as the CEO and Founder of The Inspirer Limited in early 2017.

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