This blog was written by Robert Quansah, Senior ECE Technical Manager at Sabre Education. Robert is currently studying for a Masters in Early Years Education at University College London. He represented Sabre Education on the revision of the Kindergarten classroom curriculum and the development of the B.ED early grade curriculum for teacher training. He was also a member of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Technical Working Group that worked with the Ministry of Education to develop Ghana’s 2020 ECE Policy. For the 2023 UKFIET conference, 32 individuals, including Robert, were provided with bursaries to assist them to participate and present at the conference. The researchers were asked to write a short piece about their research or experience.

My first UKFIET conference was a truly inspirational experience. Having received UKFIET’s generous bursary grant, I seized the opportunity to join Sabre’s Chief Executive Officer, Susan Place Everhart, in Oxford alongside a record 800 delegates attending the conference online and in person.

I was highly motivated to meet a diverse group of education professionals from across the sector, and the conference did not disappoint. It gave me the opportunity to network with so many fascinating individuals with eclectic experiences in the field of education, providing me with insights that will surely broaden the horizons of my work in my home country, Ghana.

The sessions that focused on Early Childhood Education and Learning Through Play were particularly pertinent to what we do at Sabre Education. Fellow attendees presented research and practice from a multitude of educational contexts across the globe, allowing me to compare the similarities and differences to Sabre’s work in promoting quality pre-primary education in Ghana. Learning about local participation in scaling interventions in Cameroon and Senegal gave me a fresh and enlightening perspective on national rollouts of education initiatives in other West African contexts. I was inspired to reinforce Sabre’s efforts to strengthen our partnerships with other NGOs in our drive to support government to nationally scale quality play-based early childhood education in Ghana.

I attended an absorbing session on ‘Unpacking Learning Through Play: Its Meaning, Tensions and Implications for Holistic Learning and Development in Diverse Context’ led by Domnick Okullo, Dina Fajardo Tovar, Stephanie Nowack, and Stephen Bayley. The discussions around the word ‘play’ particularly piqued my interest. ‘Play’ can have completely different meanings in varying contexts, and therefore we should consider the use of alternative terminologies, such as ‘activity-based’, ‘experiential learning’, or ‘active child-centred learning’.

I presented in a creative session titled ‘Systems Readiness for Institutionalising and Scaling Quality Play-Based Early Childhood Education in Africa’, alongside partners VVOB – education for development, The LEGO Foundation, VSO, Plan International, Aga Khan Development Network, UNESCO, and the Teacher Task Force.

I was excited to share learnings from Sabre’s 19 years’ experience working in Ghana’s ECE sector. I predominantly focused my talk on how Sabre integrates learning through play into teachers’ professional development, while highlighting the need for an experiential approach to training teachers to deliver play-based learning. I also elucidated how Sabre provides content and resources to teachers that not only effectively shift teaching practice from rote to play-based learning, but also transform learning environments into positive, child-friendly spaces. Our work doesn’t stop at training. We also provide coaching for headteachers, monitoring, play-based classroom materials, and professional learning communities for kindergarten teachers to ensure long-term sustainability and durability of quality teaching practice going forward.

Our training model is one of system strengthening, of building the capacity of local education officials to train and support teachers in an ongoing way. This is not work done in parallel, but in partnership with government to support stakeholders to implement Ghana’s play-based kindergarten curriculum.

Sabre is laser-focused on Ghana achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4.2: universal access to quality early childhood education. In July, the Ghana Education Service officially launched the national kindergarten in-service teacher training package, co-developed with Sabre, Right To Play, UNICEF and Innovations for Poverty Action. The government is now committed to nationally scaling play-based and child-centred teacher training to over 48,000 public school kindergarten teachers in 261 districts across all 16 regions of Ghana.

I hope that my presentation at UKFIET, which highlighted this huge policy achievement for Sabre Education and partners, inspired ECE experts from other countries to pursue the national scaling of quality early years learning in their own contexts.

I would like to reiterate my deepest thanks to UKFIET for this eye-opening and transformative professional development experience.

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