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Energizing Education in Ghana

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The afternoon light bounces off the bright yellow walls of a classroom in Northern Ghana.

Rebecca, a fifth-grade teacher, calls her class to attention and explains the subject of today’s science lesson: mixtures and solutions. She starts the lesson with a game called Concentration. First, she assigns each student a new name: salt, sugar, tea, and so on water-soluble substances. Then, she tells the learners, “Everyone should listen for their new name, and when you hear it, repeat it loudly, and then call out the ‘name’ of another student without losing the rhythm.”

She claps twice, then slaps her knees twice; setting a rhythm and inviting the class to match the beat. Then she calls out, “Concentration is the game, keep the rhythm if you can! tea, tea, Milo, Milo!”

One of the students picks up the beat: “Milo, Milo, sugar, sugar!”

The boy sugar, falters, forgetting the other names in the circle., “Sugar, sugar... ummm?”. Everyone laughs. They review the names, and start up the beat again.

Using play-based learning in curriculum and teaching practice energizes the classroom, making learning fun and engaging.

Fostering positive learning environments

Children learn by playing. Studies show that integrating play into the classroom helps children develop holistic skills and has positive impacts on learning outcomes. Educators can use playful learning to foster children’s confidence and curiosity, so they feel comfortable trying new things, asking questions, and exploring new concepts. Children who have positive experiences of learning are more likely to attend and participate in class, achieve better learning outcomes, and develop a lifelong love of learning.

In 2018, Ghana’s Ministry of Education launched the Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project (GALOP), a five-year initiative with the objective to improve the quality of education in low-performing primary schools and strengthen education sector equity and accountability. When the Ministry of Education in Ghana started to integrate play-based learning into their national competency-based curriculum in 2019, they set out to address challenges like the use of corporal punishment in the classroom, high drop-out rates, low rates of literacy, and lack of student engagement. By making play a key part of children’s experience in the classroom, they are promoting inclusive spaces where everyone, especially girls and children with disabilities, feel safe to attend and participate in learning.

“It is through play-based learning that children can actually interact and engage among themselves,” says Charles Odoom, Municipal Education Director with Ghana Education Service. “By doing this, they entrench core skills and competencies like critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaborative communication. So, I think Ghana cannot do without it.”

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Teachers participate in a Professional Learning Community supported by the Ghana Education Service. They engage in weekly sessions where they can ask each other questions, build and share knowledge about how to effectively integrate play in the classroom.

Setting the foundation for national scale

In 2021, Right To Play partnered with the Ministry to launch Partners in Play (P3), a national-scale project to enhance the quality of education in classrooms across the country and improve school attendance for more than three million learners from kindergarten to sixth grade.

Through the project, which is supported by the LEGO Foundation, Right To Play is working with stakeholders across the education system to support the creation of safe, inclusive, and nurturing learning environments where children can thrive. We do this by integrating play-based learning methodologies into the training teachers receive, the professional development opportunities they can access, and the curriculum they deliver.

“Play-based learning is something that all schools need to help the children learn holistic skills, cognitive skills and all the skills they need not only to complete primary but also to access higher levels of education.” – Josephine Mukakalisa, Country Director of Right To Play Ghana

By working with partners like the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA), we provide technical support in the designing curriculum that helps children achieve their learning goals by integrating evidence-based playful approaches. Through partnership with the National Teaching Council and Ghana Education Service, we support the development and delivery of trainings and mentorship for in-service teachers, so they feel confident integrating the curriculum into their lessons. We also work with the University of Winneba’s school of education and other teachers’ colleges to equip the next generation of teachers with play-based approaches before they graduate.

This multi-faceted approach strengthens the overall education system, creating more opportunities for students across the country to thrive. There is strong evidence that these approaches can be replicated and scaled up in the regions where they are not currently being implemented. Which opens the door for increasing access to quality education for every single learner across the country.

“Learning through play is helping the children to achieve learning outcomes. Play-based learning is something that all schools need to help the children learn holistic skills, cognitive skills and all the skills they need not only to complete primary but also to access higher levels of education,” says Josephine Mukakalisa, Country Director of Right To Play Ghana.

“There's a possibility, if the government owns that process and integrates it in in-service teachers training and provides enough resources for regular implementation of in-service teachers training, play-based learning will be easily integrated in the existing plans and be easily scalable and reach all the children in Ghana.”

Partners from the Ministry of Education reflect on what play is making possible for the future of learners in Ghana.

Equipping teachers to support children's learning

“Play has greatly improved my student’s reading skills and mathematical skills,” says Thomas, a head teacher in the Volta region. “With the help of word cards and games, students are now able to pronounce words correctly and also find innovative ways of solving mathematical problems.”

Since the P3 project started, Right To Play has supported more than 16,000 teachers through training and mentoring to develop their skills and confidence using play-based approaches. A key part of supporting these teachers is ensuring that they have access to ongoing professional development opportunities so that they can confidently bring play to life in the classroom.

A mid-project assessment found that in schools which promote teacher’s agency and encourage them to reflect on their teaching practices, teachers showed higher ability to adapt their approaches to learners’ needs and innovate to help learners achieve better outcomes. They also showed more ability to make use of available materials and manage their classrooms without using corporal punishment or other approaches that negatively impact children’s learning environments.

“The biggest change I have seen with the introduction of the play-based method is it has made my work very easy, and it has built my confidence” says Sarah, a fourth-grade teacher in the Volta Region. “I always feel happy because I know coming to class, I have a game coming to introduce, and my learners will take part in it. I feel very fulfilled seeing my learners now out of their shell, now no longer feeling shy, working in groups, and embracing learning through play.”

Creating friendly, engaging learning environments for children

When children experience play in the classroom, they learn to ask questions and actively engage with new concepts. The teachers purposefully integrate movement, songs, or games into the lessons, which helps children stay engaged and focused. Children participate in group activities, with specific learning objectives, that help them find answers together and build skills like collaboration and communication. Teachers intentionally cultivate inclusive environments where all children, especially girls and children with disabilities, feel comfortable offering ideas and sharing their questions without fear of punishment. This helps the students build a deeper understanding of class material that goes beyond simple memorization.

Before teachers started integrating play into their lessons, they primarily used the ‘lecture’ method where children were expected to sit quietly, copying down information, and use rote memorization to retain concepts and prepare for examinations. To control large, unruly classrooms with distracted students, teachers often turned to corporal punishment as a form of discipline for lack of attention. Wrong answers could also result in discipline or ridicule. But with the introduction of more engaging lessons and more positive approaches to classroom management, children enjoy coming to school where they are free to explore and learn.

Rachel, a grade 2 student in the Greater Accra Region, says, “Before we had games in class, first I didn't want to come to school. But now I come to school because the teachers use games, and games to help us learn. So now I want to come to school. To come and play and learn.”

And the results speak for themselves. A mid-project assessment found that children attending P3-partner schools had higher learning outcomes than peers in schools that rely on non-play-based or individual-focused learning activities, such as workbook exercises. It also found that after one year of program implementation, grade 2 students in Right To Play-partner schools were experiencing improvement in literacy outcomes. After the first year of the project, the percentage of grade two students who could not identify a single word in a reading test reduced by 20% – from 96% of students who scored zero in a reading test at the beginning of the project to 76% of students after a year.

Want to see more videos about what play is making possible? Visit our YouTube channel.

The Partners in Play (P3) program is made possible thanks to the support of the LEGO Foundation. Active in Ghana since 2021, P3 aims to improve the quality of education for children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

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