In many countries, even a basic education is coveted but the people cannot access it for several reasons. This is reflected in the amount of foreign aid that funds education projects. Only 3 percent of global foreign aid provides education access to those who cannot afford it themselves. Currently, millions of people lack access to basic education, 62 million of whom have been displaced by conflict. To address this, some NGOs are stepping up. The LEGO Foundation is one NGO that is providing access to play-based learning and combating poverty.

Learning Through Play

The LEGO Foundation provides access to education in a unique way: through play. Play-based education encompasses a spectrum of activities, from free play to games. Research backs this method, as young children are often full of imagination and curiosity. For children living in poverty, play-based learning can be an escape from the stressors that otherwise dominate their lives. The LEGO Foundation found five criteria of play, that if present, would optimize learning. Play is optimal if it:

  • is a joyful experience
  • helps children find meaning in what they are doing or learning
  • involves active, engaged, minds-on thinking
  • uses interactive thinking
  • involves social interaction

Other necessities for successful play-based education are a responsive caregiver and a safe environment. With these prerequisites in place, play can reinforce content-based learning, as critical thinking and curiosity are applied to concrete problems. Thus, play-based education can also fight poverty by providing children with solid foundational qualities like autonomy, communication and negotiation skills.

Aiding Refugees

Since many refugees are children and displacement can last, on average, for 10 years, providing access to play-based learning is crucial for children’s’ development. Refugees themselves often have few resources with which to provide basic things like nutrition and shelter, let alone education. The LEGO Foundation steps in to provide access to play-based learning.

On several occasions, the LEGO Foundation has provided grants to organizations aiding refugees. In 2018, LEGO gifted $100 million to the Sesame Workshop to ensure that children of people displaced by conflicts in Syria and Rohingya would be able to access play-based learning. During the first six months of this project, Sesame reached 50,000 children and more than 30,000 mothers. The LEGO Foundation did the same for displaced children in Uganda and Ethiopia in 2019. This initiative, PlayMatters, aims to improve education for 800,000 kids by assisting 10,000 school teachers and 170,000 primary caregivers.

UNICEF Partnership

The LEGO Foundation partnered with UNICEF in 2015, with positive results. In South Africa, the partnership assisted over 1 million children and 150,000 teachers. Working with the LEGO Foundation and UNICEF, South Africa’s Ministry of Basic Education hosted the first-ever African Conference on Play in 2019. Stakeholders from across the world met to discuss play-based learning and its benefits. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the LEGO Foundation increased funding to UNICEF by $2 million and supplied LEGO PLAY Boxes to hard-hit families in Italy and Spain. LEGO also gave $15 million to Education Cannot Wait, which has used its COVID-19 relief funds to assist children in 26 countries.

With partnerships like these, the LEGO Foundation is committed to providing learning opportunities to children around the globe. This certainly reflects LEGO’s history, as the Danish origin of LEGO, “leg godt,” means “play well.” Because of the company’s efforts, millions of children across the world are doing just that and learning from it.

– Jonathan Helton
Photo: Flickr