February 25, 2019

PoP South Africa

Ben Mardell & Lynneth Solis

One of our core beliefs is that learning through play is universal and shaped by culture. People around the world play and have the ability to learn from that play. At the same time, play is a cultural construct. Whom children play with, how they play, where and when they play, and what age they should stop playing (if ever!) are determined by cultural contexts. The form and content of playful learning therefore varies depending on the context.

Motivated by this understanding, in 2017 we began research to answer the question: What does playful learning look and feel like in South African schools? Working closely with researchers Kgopotso Khumalo and Stephanie Nowack, we collaborated with 11 teachers in three Johannesburg/Pretoria area schools to better understand what playful learning entails in South African schools. We worked with these teachers because, as you can see in these images from three of the classrooms, they and their schools, are committed to empowering their learners, activating their imaginations, and having them enjoy school.

An English lesson at Esikhisini Primary School in Attridgeville
An English lesson at Esikhisini Primary School in Atteridgeville
Choice time in the Reception classroom at Bryandale Preprimary in Sandton
A language arts lesson in Nova Pioneer Ormande in Johannesburg                                                                                                                photos courtesy of Steph Nowack and Kgopotso Khumalo

You can learn more about these classrooms, and the findings of the entire research project in a new working paper titled, “Towards a South African Pedagogy of Play.” In this paper we put forward two hypotheses: a) learning through play in South African schools involves the interrelated experiences of ownership, curiosity, and enjoyment, and b) for South African learners and educators, Ubuntu is a central part of playful learning. To explain these hypotheses, we introduce the South African “Indicators of Playful Learning,” a model of what playful learning looks and feels like in these classrooms. We explain the research methods—including analysis of classroom observations and interviews with learners, teachers, and principals—used in formulating these hypotheses, explore the connections between Ubuntu and playful learning, and share examples of playful learning from South African classrooms to illustrate our hypotheses. We discuss the implications of our preliminary findings, and suggest next steps for research. Overall, the paper makes the case for a South African pedagogy of play and, by defining the phenomenon of learning through play, begins to explore what such an approach to teaching and learning might involve.

This week (February 24th through 26th) we will share our research at the first-ever African Play Conference in Pretoria. Sponsored by the South African Ministry of Basic Education, UNICEF, LEGO Foundation, and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, the conference will gather educators, policy-makers, and researchers from across Africa and beyond, with the goal of bringing the power of learning through play to children across the continent. We look forward to exploring with the other participants how learning through play can become an integral part of education systems throughout Africa. You can follow the conference at #AfricaPlay.