Redefining Education in Bangladesh: Embracing Play to Cultivate a Generation of Joyful Learners

Kazi Ferdous Pavel

Md. Zarif Rahman

From early childhood in Bangladesh, students are thrust into a competitive, exam-centric education system. Informally, children engage in play, but there is a pervasive belief among parents and educators that play negatively impacts learning. This perception leads to a reluctance to embrace play within educational settings, as many think that children who play become inattentive to their studies. However, recent data challenges this perspective, showing that play can be effectively aligned with learning, thereby improving the educational environment.

As students advance through this system, they navigate the major hurdles of SSC and HSC exams, followed by the daunting university admission tests, ironically known as “Vortijuddha” (Battle of Admission). Those who make it through this ‘battle’ often confront political dynamics in university life and an intensely competitive job market upon graduation. This cycle of endless competition and pressure occasionally surfaces in the tragic news of student suicides, underscoring the profound distress permeating their academic and professional pursuits.

In this context, education is far from a joyful or enriching experience for students, teachers, or parents. Teachers, lacking motivation and often performing only the bare minimum, are also caught in this joyless cycle. This scenario underscores the critical need for a fundamental shift in educational paradigms. Starting from the earliest levels of schooling, incorporating engaging and enjoyable learning activities like Learning through Play (LtP) initiatives is essential. Such changes are crucial for transforming education into a more supportive, motivating, and fulfilling experience for all involved.

Research shows that LtP significantly enhances creativity, social skills, cognitive processes, physical health, and emotional growth. While globally recognized and adopted, Bangladesh has been slow to embrace LtP due to traditional views separating play and learning.

Fortunately, the government is making promising developments to alleviate academic pressures on children. As Bangladesh transitions from Digital Bangladesh to Smart Bangladesh, a new, student-friendly curriculum is being introduced. This curriculum envisions teachers as mentors and reduces the frequency of exams, thereby lessening students’ mental strain.

A key aspect of this reform is the integration of LtP into the educational framework. LtP leverages children’s natural curiosity to make learning more effective and enjoyable, fostering creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. This approach prepares children to become resilient citizens in a globalized society. The new curriculum aims to change traditional views by mainstreaming LtP and helping parents see play as essential to learning. This shift demonstrates that play and serious academic pursuits can coexist, enriching and engaging students’ educational experiences.

However, to effectively integrate play into educational curricula, it is imperative to have tools that not only quantify but also illustrate the learning gains from play-based methodologies. This is especially crucial in regions where the educational value of play is not widely recognized. The ability to measure learning outcomes from LtP initiatives allows educators to reflect critically on their teaching methods, ensuring they are on the right track. Regular observations of children engaged in play provide teachers with invaluable insights into their developmental progress, enabling them to tailor and enhance their instructional strategies to better meet the needs of their students. This ongoing process of observation and adjustment is essential for educators to develop their professional skills and improve the learning environment.

In this context, the Teacher RePlay toolkit can be invaluable for educators to facilitate LtP more efficiently and effectively. Specifically designed to help educators measure and enhance the impact of LtP, the toolkit utilizes a combination of observational protocols and direct feedback from children. This approach provides a comprehensive view of how play influences learning outcomes.

The toolkit helps teachers plan and implement play-based activities with clear intentions and learning objectives, targeting specific developmental outcomes. Teachers observe and record behaviors during these activities, reflecting on their effectiveness and identifying areas for improvement. The toolkit’s complementary module, Children ReAct, enriches this process by incorporating children’s perspectives through group discussions, providing a deeper understanding of their experiences, and enhancing the feedback loop between students and teachers.

Supported by The LEGO Foundation, the Teacher RePlay toolkit was created by a FHI 360-led global consortium, including the University of Notre Dame, the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education, the Universidad de los Andes, and the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID). This international collaboration ensures the tool’s applicability and effectiveness across different global contexts, including Bangladesh.

The future world emphasizes emotional intelligence, adaptability, and problem-solving. When children engage in play, they naturally develop these essential skills. As part of the Smart Bangladesh campaign, the country aims to develop smart citizens—individuals who are intelligent, efficient, innovative, creative, and progressive, with a problem-solving mindset. Play can be a crucial tool in this context, fostering these qualities in children and ensuring future generations are well-equipped to say, “I am the Solution.”

The importance of play in learning is globally recognized, with the UN introducing International Play Day to emphasize its significance. The first-ever International Day of Play on June 11, 2024, marks a milestone in promoting play so that all, especially children, can thrive. Incorporating play into education is an essential investment in our children’s futures and our nation’s legacy. By embracing LtP, Bangladesh can prepare the next generation to meet future challenges and thrive in a globalized world. This reform promises to reshape learning and revitalize students, teachers, and parents. Shifting from a stress-laden, exam-focused system to one that values holistic, engaging, and playful experiences will transform education into a joyful journey of discovery.

Kazi Ferdous Pavel is working as Joint Director (Research) and Head of the Education Unit at the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID). Md. Zarif Rahman is working as a Research Associate at IID.

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