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Creating lifelong learners using play

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How the LEGO Foundation and Right To Play are energizing education in Ghana

It’s noon in Accra, and the streets are filled with “kayayei,” girls who should be in school but who instead work as porters, carrying heavy jugs of water and bagged dry goods through the streets in exchange for a few cedis – the equivalent of around CAD$0.20 -- for each load. Like many children and youth in Ghana, these girls have dropped out of school and are now trapped in low-wage, low-skilled jobs where they barely earn enough to get by.

Ghana has been making progress in reducing the number of students who drop out of school, but girls and the rural poor remain especially vulnerable to economic and social pressures that cause them to drop out and go to work. In rural northern Ghana, only 51% of girls and 55% of boys attend school regularly. While most children will eventually complete primary school, they do so after delays caused by temporarily dropping out for a year or more at a time to work, interruptions in learning that have lasting consequences.

Even when students do remain in school, they struggle to meet basic international literacy standards. In 2014 more than 70% of Ghanaian secondary students failed to pass the West African Examination Council’s tests. One study showed that only 13.4% of third-grade students were able to read at the minimum proficiency level for their grade.

Raising Ghana’s attendance rate and boosting Ghanaians’ educational outcomes means strengthening the quality of education that students receive. Since 2019, Ghana has been implementing a new standards-based curriculum that focuses on boosting holistic skills like communication and creativity at the same time as children excel academically. The LEGO Foundation and Right To Play are contributing to that effort through a collaborative national-scale project, Partners in Play, that will use playful learning to improve the quality of education for more than 3 million learners from kindergarten to 6th grade.

By 2023, we will help over 3 million students to stay in school and succeed by helping 75,000 teachers to incorporate learning through play into their lessons.

Playful Learning on a National Scale

Through the Partners in Play program, over the next four years Right To Play will support 14,400 teachers through in-service training as they develop or improve their skills at incorporating learning through play in 10,000 primary schools in 55 districts. At the same time, over 8,500 teachers will graduate from 15 teachers’ colleges and the University of Education Winneba with enhanced skills to improve classroom teaching and learning methods in basic education. 52,000 teachers at the same schools will benefit from peer-to-peer sharing of techniques through communities of practice and redesigned curricular materials.

“Our past work in Ghana has incorporated play-based approaches in the classroom to help unlock children’s potential, but Partners in Play takes our work to a new, national level. By integrating our work with Ghana’s primary school curriculum, we can reach more children and reinforce the parallel development of holistic and academic skills throughout their primary school careers,” says Josephine Mukakalisa, Right To Play Country Director for Ghana.

Using play to engage students will help them to stay in school, retain more of their lessons, and complete their educational careers. It does that by helping children activate cognitive abilities and cultivate habits that compensate for disrupted learning and ensure their brains and behaviour continue to develop. Learning through play makes classrooms more welcoming, and boosts attendance rates and student retention in schools. All of that means a brighter future as fewer students drop out of school or fail to learn during their time in school, especially in vulnerable groups like girls and the rural poor.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring the power of play to more children across Ghana in ways that will engage their minds, bodies, and imaginations, and make learning a fun and interactive experience.” – Susan McIsaac, CEO, Right To Play

Partners in Play is possible through the generous support of the LEGO Foundation, one of the world’s leading funders of innovative approaches to learning through play. Right To Play, the LEGO Foundation, and Ghana’s Ministry of Education are working together to integrate playful learning into Ghanaian children’s development of core competencies during their primary school educations with the goals of boosting the quality of primary education and improving attendance.

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“We are honoured to be able to work with the Ministry of Education in Ghana and our long-time partner Right to Play in using learning through play to bring Ghana’s new primary education competencies to life across Ghana’s classrooms. Evidence in many parts of the world has shown that learning through play brings about deeper learning and is key to developing cognitive, social, emotional, creative and physical skills - skills that children need to thrive in the 21st century,” says Sarah Bouchie, Chief Impact Officer at the LEGO Foundation.

Partners in Play is Right To Play’s first national-scale project in Ghana, built on past successful collaborations with the Government of Ghana dating back to 2001. Past projects in Ghana have focused on providing gender-responsive educational opportunities for girls, health education initiatives, and technical assistance to the Ministry of Education on curriculum materials design. Partners in Play takes Right To Play’s work in Ghana to a new, national scope, with effects across the country’s primary education system, and will empower a new generation of students in Ghana to create a brighter future for themselves, their families, and their communities.