When I was a primary school student, the idea of learning being fun was an unthinkable one. School was meant to be about hard work and discipline, and educational games were reserved for toddlers and those with learning disabilities. For the rest of us, textbooks and worksheets were the only way of learning something new.
As learners, we were rarely allowed to discover something for ourselves (perhaps the teachers feared that if they allowed us too much freedom, things would get out of hand). In Maths, we were taught that there was only one method to finding the correct answer, and that was the method we had to memorise. In Arts & Culture, we were once tasked with constructing a mummy coffin (I’m still waiting for the day when this particular skill would come in handy). In Business & Economics class, we had to set up a budget for the remodelling of the school bathrooms, only to find out that we weren’t actually going to remodel anything—it was just a theoretical exercise (in other words, more worksheets).
When I think back to these days, I cannot help but feel that a lot of precious time was wasted. Being in school didn’t teach me much, except that worksheets and books do not prepare you for real-life situations, that solving a Maths equation does not necessarily make you a good problem solver, and that creativity is not something that belongs to a select few, but rather a skill that can be learned and developed. Above all, I realised that there is a big difference between being taught something and learning it for yourself.
I started this project because I want to see an education system in which children not only learn to think for themselves, but also enjoy the process. I see no reason why educational games cannot be part of the school curriculum in the same way that prescribed textbooks currently are. A game is not only stimulating to a young mind, but it can also make the learning process a rewarding one. And isn’t that something worth aiming for?
Our goal with Open Plan Learning is to change the way that people think about education. Are we trying to change the system? Certainly. Does it sound too ambitious? Perhaps. But it is worth remembering that no meaningful change has ever come from accepting the status quo. If we can acknowledge that the education system in South Africa is not what it needs to be, then we have already taken the first step towards change.
Nelson Mandela once said: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. He also said: It always seems impossible until it’s done.