On the floor of a small classroom with a high tin roof, large cement windows with no glass and a wide chalkboard spanning one wall, children sit in neat rows, knee to knee, filling the space. There are more than 200 young children here and their teacher, Esther, has to make her way carefully to the back of the class, stopping now and then to pat one affectionately on the head, another on the shoulder. The sounds of children chanting enthusiastically fill the space; their voices rise and fall as they rehearse their vowel sounds.
Since Tanzania introduced its Free Education policy in 2015, thousands of children have been given the opportunity to attend school. But this policy has also brought some challenges. The number of pupils in classrooms has increased exponentially in schools all over the country. It is the same in rural Morogoro, where Esther's classroom at the Duthumi Primary School has grown from 124 children to 286, in less than one year. However, the number of teachers in this Primary school has decreased; there are now 12 teachers for over 1,000 pupils at Duthumi Primary. Esther, who is also the Head Teacher, says that having such a large number of young children in one room with only one teacher poses huge challenges.
"Both the children and teachers miss out on the benefits of regular one-on-one interactions," explains Esther. "It takes longer to teach each subject and the teachers find it difficult to hold the attention or manage the discipline of their students. Teachers report that they are tired and often demotivated when they have large numbers of pupils to deal with, but also, significantly, children drop out or often miss school because they are not engaged."
Right to Play's approaches capitalise on the use of play-based, fun and student-centred activities in the classroom to advance learning. According to Esther, lessons that involve play motivate the children and increase participation, which in turn motivates the teachers. Children are engaged, attentive and also more likely to remember what they have learned. Most importantly for her, the fun activities engage every child and the experience becomes a positive interaction between the teacher and the pupils. "Teaching is easier because I am well prepared. The children enjoy the songs and the games while learning what they need to learn according to the curriculum. Class control has also become easier and I feel now all of my students participate in the classroom, which means more opportunities for them to learn and grow," Esther says.
Last year, Esther and the other teachers at the school were trained in a play-based teaching approach by Right To Play. Through the course, they received resources such as the play-based Teacher's Guide for Early Child Play, which includes teaching manuals outlining step-by-step instructions to support them in planning their lessons and a list of games aligned to each competency and key learning outcome in the curriculum.
The teachers are also provided with sample questions to discuss with the children before and after each game, guiding them through the "Reflect, Connect, Apply" section of the methodology. This is an essential component of play-based learning. Teachers ask the children to "reflect" on the game and what they got out of it, "connect" this information to their own experiences, inside and outside of school and "apply" what they've learned to advancing their learning and their lives. This is the moment where the game and the learning come together.
This teaching strategy helps the children process their lessons and reinforces what they have learned from each activity. Esther says the introduction of play into her teaching has been a life saver.