Understanding Learning through Play in Rwandan classrooms
A learning partnership on developing a play-based approach to lower primary education
One of the most important roles of an education system is to provide children with the necessary skills to thrive in life. Learning through Play (or play-based learning) has been identified as a way for children to learn and develop strong foundations for the future. Playful learning has certain characteristics – it is joyful, meaningful, actively engaging, iterative and socially interactive. However, it is not merely fun and interesting, but is also used to support how children develop diverse skills. For example, an effective use of a Learning through Play approach helps socio-emotional, language, numeracy, cognitive and many other important skills for lifelong learning.
Under our partnership with Right To Play, and working alongside education experts Oxford MeasurEd, we are investigating the potential of integrating playful learning into teaching the Rwandan Competence-based Curriculum, and in so doing, building the evidence-base on the topic. While there is some evidence on how Learning through Play can help children develop holistic skills, this mostly comes from Western countries. More evidence is needed to understand how Learning through Play can be adapted to different contexts, which face different challenges. For instance, classrooms in Rwanda are often under-resourced, which can limit children’s space and freedom to play. Whilst play is compatible with Rwanda’s curriculum, it is possible that teachers may not see it as a priority, nor have the resources or skills to implement it. These are all reasons to gather more evidence around Learning through Play.
In 2022, Laterite started working with Right To Play on a learning partnership in Rwanda. Alongside the LEGO Foundation, Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, the Rwanda Basic Education Board, the University of Rwanda-College of Education, and the University of Cambridge. Right to Play is developing a blended Continuous Professional Development (CPD) course on Learning through Play for lower primary teachers. Making use of electronic devices and online interactive content, as well as face-to-face support through coaching and Community of Practice meetings, this program will train more than 3,000 lower primary teachers in Rwanda on Learning through Play and how to apply it in the classroom to deliver the Competence-based Curriculum.
Laterite supports Right To Play with evidence both on how to design the program through several qualitative studies with teachers, as well as a rigorous quantitative evaluation to estimate the program’s impact on teachers’ knowledge, motivations, and practices in the classroom relating to playful learning. What makes this partnership unique is its participatory and iterative approach to the qualitative studies. We wanted to keep the research adaptable, while giving local actors a voice to share their experiences and insights. This means that our studies are being conducted alongside the development of the online course. Moreover, instead of being just recipients of the intervention, Rwandan teachers are active participants in designing it.
1. Participatory – Rwandan lower primary teachers have a fundamental role in the development and testing of the program. Before the program’s inception, teachers and School-Based Mentors across Rwanda participated in a co-creation workshop with Right To Play, Laterite, and other project partners. This allowed our client to learn from teachers’ experience with CPD and collectively envision what kind of trainings could help address the challenges they face with implementing the Competence-based Curriculum. Insights from the workshop and findings from a qualitative study on the context of teaching in Rwandan primary schools became the basis of the Learning through Play course.
2. Iterative – After developing a course prototype, teachers were again invited to test the course to understand their experiences with it. Through focus group discussions and interviews, they shared useful information on the challenges they encountered while taking the course and applying its content, and suggestions on how to improve it. We found for example that it was important to include guidance on how to design playful activities that are inclusive to students with disabilities and are adapted to resource-constrained settings. Their feedback to the pilot design was then used to revise the course, making sure it remains effective in addressing their play-based learning needs.
The iterative and participatory nature of the program aligns with Laterite’s values of doing impactful work embedded in the local context. If research can be done in a practical, actionable way, with a focus on local context and meaningful participation, then the benefits are larger for participants and implementers alike.
We are looking forward to what the evidence tells us about how Learning through Play can be used to improve education in Rwandan classrooms.
Partners: The LEGO Foundation, Rwanda’s Ministry of Education, the Rwanda Basic Education Board, the University of Rwanda-College of Education, and the University of Cambridge
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