As the world grapples with COVID-19, countless indirect consequences and equally urgent issues have gone unnoticed amid the panic and chaos of the pandemic. Although these other aspects of quality of life are not as attention-grabbing as a death count or an infection total, they are still important to recognize. COVID-19 significantly impacts the education of children across the globe, disproportionately affecting underprivileged children. LEGO encourages learning through play to “[empower] children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners,” especially amid global challenges.
Pandemic-Induced School Closures
UNESCO estimates that, at the peak of the pandemic in March 2020, more than 180 countries imposed nationwide school closures, impacting 87% of the global student population. These closures occurred suddenly, and without adequate funding and infrastructure to transition to different forms of learning while still preserving quality, education systems in low-income nations faced significant challenges.
Even before the pandemic hit, in 2018, UNESCO reported roughly “258 million children and youth” out of school. In 2019, a UNHCR report indicated that 3.7 million refugee children were out of school globally. The World Bank reports that just “63% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school” in comparison “to 91% globally.” Furthermore, just “24% of refugee adolescents are enrolled in secondary schools compared to 84% globally.” In addition, a mere “3% of refugee youth have access to higher education compared to 37% globally.”
Education as a Pathway out of Poverty
For people suffering poverty and crises beyond their control, education is key. Capabilities such as literacy, basic arithmetic skills and writing proficiency serve as stepping stones to success. These skills grant impoverished people access to higher-paying, skilled jobs, creating a pathway out of poverty. The Global Partnership for Education estimates that “171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty” if all children had basic reading proficiencies. The way to effectively, efficiently and permanently eliminate poverty is by investing in children’s education.
The LEGO Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the LEGOs brand, is stepping up to combat barriers to education. A nation’s most valuable resources are its people, and therefore, there exists a distinct link between a country’s education system and the general economic and social well-being of the nation’s citizens. Recognizing the far-reaching effects of education and the importance of play in learning, LEGO Foundation began incorporating the concept of learning through play to enrich education systems, mindsets and resources throughout the world.
Learning Through Play
Research finds that “learning through play supports the development of early literacy and numeracy skills in an integrated approach, while also cultivating children’s social, emotional, physical and creative skills.” Studies also find that many traditional forms of education, involving more creatively restricted, socially inflexible and generally unenjoyable training and subsequent assessment, fail to optimally develop and teach children.
However, simply accusing existing education systems of overly didactic and stiflingly structured teaching methods is not enough to encourage change, especially in areas where resources are scarce and change is too expensive. Considering the research of many scientists, engineers, educators, creatives and experts, the LEGO team came together to create engaging play-full activities.
LEGO’s Let’s Build Together initiative is an online experience with games and constructive education activities developed to stimulate development through play. For children and classrooms unable to access this content online, the LEGO Foundation donates Play Boxes to organizations caring for vulnerable children. The boxes promote learning through play with a “variety of elements which are valuable as teaching and learning tools in any curriculum, from early childhood to adulthood.”
Partnering with UNICEF
Beginning in 2015, LEGO chose to partner with UNICEF to support education through play, with a special focus on children in impoverished nations. In 2020, the LEGO Foundation provided $28 million worth of funding to UNICEF to support the education of children, for instance, by supplying LEGO Play Boxes to countries such as “Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.” In Rwanda and South Africa, teacher training curriculums now incorporate learning through play.
Through research, action and play, LEGO has found ways to ensure children receive an education, regardless of their economic and social backgrounds. In the face of the effects of COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises, it is important to prioritize children’s education, recognizing that education provides a pathway out of poverty.
– John J. Lee