International Day of Play 2024 – Converting every African play ground to a learning field

Today is the International Day of Play! It is the first of many to come!  ​

Photo composited with images of FAO, MONUSCO, UNICEF Afghanistan, UNICEF, UNAMA and Adobe Stock

Global leaders have now acknowledged the role of play in deepening the learning trajectory of the World’s children. Additionally, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has enshrined play as a fundamental right of every child under Article 31. At the last General Assembly, the United Nations affirmed that June 11 will be set aside every year to commemorate the International Day of Play (IDOP). This followed concerted advocacy by global organizations led by the Lego Foundation, with support from Governments worldwide and education partners.

ADEA mobilized African support for this adoption by bringing governments from member countries to support the presentation of the IDOP agenda and resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2023. This is in recognition of our belief in the role of play as a learning and education enabler, especially on a continent that needsinitiatives and solutions to improve learning outcomes. Notably, the success of initiatives like the adapted Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) implemented across several countries in Africa and the PhET interactive simulation exercises promoted across Africa by the University of Colorado in Boulder demonstrate the undeniable benefits of play in learning. These initiatives and others on the continent have shown that children learn faster and better when they play, inspiring confidence in the effectiveness of play-based learning. 

To promote play-based learning, ADEA is committed to actively working to capture and share lessons from successful examples. We are supporting our member countries in adopting and adapting these to democratize enhanced learning outcomes. Furthermore, we are now actively supporting countries in integrating play-based methodologies into their learning systems, especially in teaching STEM subjects. To support this process, we implemented a study on the status of STEM education in primary and secondary schools. Study results revealed a divergence of understanding of STEM across African countries. Through country-level policy dialogue forums, we are now helping Rwanda, The Gambia, Kenya, Eswatini, and Mauritius to integrate play-based methods in the teaching of STEM. Our active role in advocating for play-based learning demonstrates our commitment and reliability in this cause.

ADEA is also working with the University of Colorado, Boulder, to use the PhET Interactive Simulations to teach foundational numeracy in a fun, creative, and engaging way. We commenced a four-part webinar series for teachers of numeracy across schools and education systems in Africa, focused on demonstrating how the PhET simulation can be used to teach numeracy. Our Read with a Star campaign aims to promote a reading culture among children during family leisure time, ensuring we can address literacy challenges in children with the help of parents and guardians in a fun and playful manner. Equally, our new 2024 – 2028 strategic plan recognizes the role of play in delivering foundational literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional learning. 

We recognize the need to build a broader and stronger coalition to champion play-based learning in Africa, especially in 2024, a year set aside as the Year of Education by the African Union. We need more champions and influential voices to amplify the message that children learn better when they learn through play. This is not just ADEA's mission but a shared responsibility of all stakeholders in African education. Hence, Africa needs more support to ensure that every children's playground on the continent is also a learning field. Government policies need to recognize the centrality of play when building a policy base for foundational learning and beyond. This is how we can reverse learning poverty, grow problem-solving skills among our children, and ensure we gain tomorrow for Africa.

At ADEA, we believe that play is fundamental to a child's physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development and well-being. Play fosters creative problem-solving and helps children learn about the world around them and themselves. Through play, children acquire skills they need to succeed in life, such as confidence, self-esteem, resilience, and independence. As we embark on this journey, we call upon all stakeholders to join us in championing the rights of children to play. 

Together, let's create environments that nurture and prioritize play, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive through play.

Happy International Day of Play!