A census report commissioned by the Basic Education Department has shone light on the lack of learning through play in the country’s early childhood development (ECD) centres.
The report also reveals that thousands of ECD centres, which fall under the Department of Basic Education from April 1, do not have outdoor playgrounds and suitable equipment.
Most ECD centres in the country are private initiatives. Thousands of ECD centres in rural communities charge as little as R200 per month.
The department’s census, done in partnership with the LEGO Foundation, counted over 1.6 million children enrolled in ECD centres across the country.
It has found that just 54 percent of ECD centres allocate less than 30 minutes per day to free play as part of their daily programme.
“Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) that are subsidised by the government have on average more types of play and learning materials than those that are not subsidised,” it said.
Learning through play is also dependent on socio- economic quintiles, with ECD centres in affluent communities implementing it more.
“Generally, higher quintile ELPs dedicate more time to free play as part of the daily programme than lower quintile ELPs,” said the census report.
“For example, 65 percent of quintile 5 programmes have more than 30 minutes of free play per day, compared to 38 percent of quintile 1 programmes.”
Writing in the report, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has said the report highlights that ECD centres need to be provided with facilities that enable learning through playing.
She has stressed that funding of the ECD centres need to be improved.
“As a country we need to afford our youngest citizens opportunities to learn in the manner which comes most naturally to them – through play,” she said.
“We also need to provide our practitioners and ELPs with the tools and competencies to facilitate this kind of learning to equip them with the skills needed for the future.
“Additionally, the priorities and areas of growth are clear – continued professionalisation and training of the ECD workforce, strengthening play-based curriculum implementation, and improving our processes for registering and funding ELPs in order to expand access.”
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of The LEGO Foundation, says learning through play is critical for children.
“Through play, children learn about themselves and the great big world around them. It also unlocks skills they need for study, work and relationships, making play a fundamental building block to our society’s success,” she said.
Albrectsen says it is worrying that ECD centres in poorer communities offer less play time.
“Findings from the ECD Census indicate that little time is allocated for free play, and materials and equipment that lend themselves to these activities are not very common,” she said.
“It is also concerning to note that opportunities for free play, where children have more agency in their learning, is more common in higher quintile ELPs,” Albrectsen said.