By Peter Makwanya
DUE to the ongoing climate-induced and related impacts, disasters, COVID-19 pandemic, children in many parts of the world are in a dilemma. There appear to be a widening gap between children’s learning and free element of play, for them to demonstrate creative self-expression and explore the environment as a laboratory for life-long learning, participatory and skills-based learning.
The impact of COVID-19, cyclones and flooding, changed the learning landscapes, as school days were reduced while learners had to stay at home, as was the new normal. Due to lockdowns and quarantining, children missed mixing and learning together, their movements curtailed, closely guarded and monitored, while indoors and within the confines of the homestead.
Against this background many children around the world, had their school days reduced while in other situations and communities, some children stopped going to school completely. As the children continued to be restricted the by COVID-19 pandemic, cyclones and flash floods erupted, infrastructure, property, livestock and resulted in human consequences, children were separated from their life goals, aspirations and environmental spaces, to be able to manoeuvre freely.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the natural disasters drove many families around the globe into isolation, poverty and starvation as many stopped working or were denied the chance to hustle to eke out a living. In this regard, children were the most affected, not only physically but also educationally, psychologically, socially and mentally. These effects on schoolchildren made them miss outdoor playing, childhood games, especially out in the environment, interacting with nature as a natural laboratory, to marry theory and practice.
For these reasons, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund estimated that, about 150 million children have been driven into poverty. This was due to volatile, erratic and half-backed schooling itineraries since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Lack of active schooling, play and games, especially outdoors meant that there was diminishing of child-friendly environments. The element of play and games, does not only involve games in general but also green games, with many intrinsic motivations and sustainable co-benefits. Environmental or green games are designed for learners to solve and overcome the environmental challenges they encounter in life. Games that promote environmental consciousness, were missed by learners. These games have the great potential to educate, inform and inspire children to appreciate their environment as the natural laboratory and cradle of learning.
The concept of children’s play and environmental games, their interface with learning are quite critical for children as they grow up. This is not only a duty but a requirement and human right too. Therefore, implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a very strong advocate for children’s games and play. In this regard, learning and pedagogy should not be done in isolation but to be integrated into learning and play. This is in line with sustainable development goal (SDG) 4, (Quality Education), because there should be a strong correlation of the body and mind, strongly linked to SDG 3 (Good health and well-being).