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The Basic Education Department, with the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), the LEGO Foundation and Cotlands, have launched an online training programme for 150 000 Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioners, Grade R and Foundation Phase educators across South Africa.

The online training programme - the PLAY-based learning - will be delivered over the next two years.

“We have taken this bold step towards the future, not because it is fashionable to have an online learning platform, but because the new buzzword in the sector today is ICTs (information and communication technology).

“The pedagogical demands of the 21st century educational landscape require us to think and act differently. We have entered an arena of business unusual.

“By the way, PLAY stands for ‘Powerful Learning Around You’. It is an in-service training programme course that complements existing and formal training,” said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, speaking at the 2017 Play Conference in Pretoria.

Unicef, the department, the LEGO Foundation and Cotlands hosted the conference where 300 early childhood development practitioners, policy specialists and researchers gathered to discuss and share best practice of early childhood development.

Evidence shows that play provides a solid foundation for children to succeed in maths, science, language and social skills. It encourages children to solve problems, adapt to new circumstances and to be creative, curious, innovative, analytical, collaborative and self-directed.

“Growing up in the 21st century means that children live in a rapidly evolving world that is fast-paced, unpredictable and filled with opportunities. Children need to be supported to develop the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that are required to meet these opportunities and counter the challenges.

“Research shows that no country can prosper in the 21st century without a workforce that is creative, innovative and able to solve problems, which are all rooted in play-based learning. The Play Conference 2017 gave further impetus to this evidence while highlighting the power of play,” the organisers said.

Motshekga delivered the keynote address, saying: “We need to ensure the importance of play as an essential part of a child’s learning.”

Speakers included Josephine Bourne, Unicef Global Chief of Education, Per Havgaard from the LEGO Foundation, Dr Esther Care, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Centre for Universal Education, and Dr Mamiki Maboya, Deputy Director-General for Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring at the Department of Basic Education.