PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — The primary-colored building blocks you once used to fuel your imagination now serve as a greater purpose than your favorite childhood toy. The LEGO foundation, established in 1986, believes that play unlocks learning and development benefits that are crucial to a child’s cognitive development. The foundation has made it their global mission to promote play as a necessary and effective component to education. The outcome, they claim, will be a brighter, less impoverished world.
The LEGO Foundation is redefining play from its traditional implications in order to legitimize the importance of play to world educators and leaders. They claim that our world is currently experiencing a “creative crisis” – that is, current education systems around the world are stifling creative thinking (including the elimination of recess in various school systems and the emphasis on getting things right versus the value of making mistakes). At the same time, however, in a survey of 1,500 leading CEOs, creativity was identified as the single most important competency for success.
According to LEGO Foundation advocates, there is a direct correlation between exposure to play as a child and success later on as a professional in the workforce. Play has the potential to stimulate developing youth populations and produce talented work forces down the road, which will contribute to the reduction of global poverty.
This past April, the LEGO Foundation hosted its IDEA conference where some of the world’s most important voices convened to discuss, debate and construct the logistics of an agenda for change. The education system in Mali was one of their primary subjects.
Maria Diarra Keita, a representative from Mali, attended the conference. She explains the conditions in the Mali education system as being overpopulated and understaffed. A classroom of 50 students is taught by 1 teacher and is disciplined with the threat of a rod. Students sit quietly as their teacher recites the alphabet; failure to follow along results in punishment.
According to Keita, children who do not attend school are actually smarter than those who do. The reason, she says, is that they have the liberties of playing and generating creative, intuitive energy.
In 1995, Keita founded The Institute for Population Education in Mali where teaching methods are based on play, drama and dance. The methods were inspired by her own experiences. She believes that children are motivated to learn through movement and interaction, not through a rod.
Among developing nations, play is not a priority in the curricula. Nora Scheuer, a representative from Argentina added that most Argentinean schools are traditional and play is never a focus. For children, this can create resentment and apathy toward attending school, which can lead to increased dropout rates.
Participants left the conference committed to reinventing the relationship between play and learning. Some future initiatives will involve establishing a Nobel Prize for play, working towards new rules for university admission and bringing researchers and politicians together to see real change. Education is the first and foremost step towards a more peaceful, more equitable world. The LEGO foundation believes that utilizing play as a tool for learning will have sustainable and lasting effects on the world.
– Samantha Scheetz