LEGO to promote play-based learning to refugee children in Uganda, Ethiopia

The LEGO Foundation has awarded a US$100 million grant to a consortium led by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to promote play-based, early learning solutions for pre-primary and primary school-aged children impacted by the humanitarian crises in East Africa and living in Ethiopia and Uganda.

The initiative, called PlayMatters, will deliver play-based learning to children, strengthening their resilience and building their social, emotional, cognitive, physical and creative skills.

The grant will be implemented in partnership with War Child, Plan International, Ubongo, Behavioural Insights Team and Innovations for Poverty Action.

“We are contributing to fulfilling the international promise to children, supported by the United Nations, that every child has the right to an education and every refugee should be included in sustainable long-term solutions that help them in their future. We have to do our best to ensure it is realised,” said Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, chairman, LEGO Foundation.

“Play provides comfort. It helps children to overcome traumatic experiences and to return to the routine and normalcy of being a child. With this new grant, the LEGO Foundation continues to address a pressing challenge of our time and change the way the world thinks about learning through play and its importance for children in crisis settings.”

Through this initiative, IRC and its partners will work in Ethiopia and Uganda, with the potential of expanding to a third country in East Africa.

PlayMatters will improve education outcomes for approximately 800,000 children and reach approximately 10,000 pre-primary and primary school teachers and education personnel and 170,000 primary caregivers, who will receive training to engage in learning through play with children who have faced adversities.

“Children in these humanitarian crises did not choose to be refugees and it is unacceptable that an entire generation is deprived of quality childhood education. We know that investing in play-based learning interventions is key to addressing toxic stress and trauma for young children in refugee settings as learning through play helps to develop social and emotional skills, builds resilience, and strengthens brain connections essential for future development.

Through this new initiative, we will work with teachers in the host communities, focus on innovation to ensure systemic and lasting impact, and share these approaches across aid agencies for replication. The children in these largely forgotten crises in Ethiopia and Uganda deserve the power of learning through play and the hope that it can bring for a bright future,” said John Goodwin, CEO, LEGO Foundation.

This new initiative addresses the Global Compact for Refugees’ (GCR) request for the international community to support governments to find durable solutions for the crisis, especially as the governments of Ethiopia and Uganda, who have expressed intention to better respond to the challenge.

In that regard, the partnership will focus on working closely with the governments of Ethiopia, Uganda, and a third country which have been leaders in the region to integrate refugees into national systems.

“We know that nearly half of all refugees are children, but humanitarian funding still thinks of education as just an add-on. We need big solutions with bold ideas that put education at the forefront of humanitarian response,” said David Miliband, President and CEO, IRC.

“With the LEGO Foundation’s investment in play-based learning and the IRC’s expertise in reaching the most vulnerable, this partnership has the potential to reshape education for a generation of refugee children.”

Research shows that play-based pre-primary and primary learning experiences can build the skills needed for holistic development, mitigate the impact of adversity and support the resilience children need to thrive.

Through the LEGO Foundation’s investment, the PlayMatters partnership will establish innovative, play-based solutions for teachers and caregivers of pre-primary and primary aged children to integrate in classrooms and at home, while guiding host governments on how to implement quality learning through play into pre-primary and primary education services.

As the global population of forcibly displaced persons reaches record levels, with 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, areas with protracted displacement have become even more neglected and the need for education services greater than ever.

New solutions are needed to overcome barriers to quality pre-primary and primary education, as teachers, caregivers and schooling systems don’t have the resources to improve learning outcomes.

According to the IRC, more than 62 million children remain out of school in countries affected by war and displacement, and many others receive a poor-quality education because of humanitarian crises, yet education has received less than three per cent of all humanitarian aid in recent years.

Through this grant, the LEGO Foundation is increasing its investment in learning through play for children in conflict settings – building on the Foundation’s US$100 million grant awarded to Sesame Workshop in December 2018 and the US$12.5 million grant awarded to Education Cannot Wait during the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

Last year, the LEGO Foundation awarded its first US$100 million grant to Sesame Workshop and its partners BRAC, IRC and New York University to develop, test and scale-up playful early learning solutions for the youngest most vulnerable children, birth to six years of age, impacted by the Syrian and Rohingya crises.

This was made in direct response to calls by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and others to increase investments in early childhood development, a sector too often neglected in the humanitarian response.

Within the first six months, Sesame Workshop and partners have reached directly almost 50,000 children (birth to six) through early childhood centres in Bangladesh and Lebanon, including in host communities.

The initiative has also reached over 35,340 mothers in Bangladesh with programming that encourages playful learning for the youngest children in their homes over the last year.