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Making space for Playfulness: Connection in the time of COVID

Right now, in communities all over the world, the common theme is connection. Ironically, we are all being connected by the very thing that is disconnecting us from our loved ones and from activities that once gave our lives a sense of purpose. With communication and human interaction at the very core of our socialization, we have attempted to find solace in technology. While the marvels of technology in bridging distance cannot be overstated, I cannot help but wonder how our growing reliance on technology might be affecting education and creativity.

This concern grows particularly in societies like Nigeria where very many people, even before the COVID-19 disruptions, lacked access to Internet connectivity. Inequality has reared its ugly again and has made it that in this time of connected disconnection the majority of Nigerian children are still systematically behind. For the ones able to plug into distance learning platforms, their learning experience is being altered and a fundamental aspect of learning which is, community, is no longer possible.

Teaching is nurturing, it is building trust and enabling care, it is about personal response and the individual, attitudes that cannot be effectively administered virtually. Practicing distance learning at this time is revealing that on its own, distance learning is not always the most effective learning approach and in focusing on this alone are we not missing this golden opportunity to leapfrog to the 22nd Century skills of care, community, culture, and connection, the very skills and attributes that the current crisis has projected to the fore of who we are.

Read also: Abimbola Fashola, deliberate about teaching morals, upholding the value of education

One of the solutions to the challenges posed by the current disruption in education is a revision of the role of ‘teacher’. Westernization and to a large extent modernization has over time changed and redefined the persona of an educator. The coronavirus pandemic presents a very unique opportunity to reclaim the fundamentals of education. Since the community is at the heart of education, recentering community around women enables mothers, aunties, and grandmothers to play crucial roles in educating the children in their communities. An unexpected bonus from the pandemic has been the widespread introduction of working from home and as such, working parents now have more flexibility regarding childcare. Despite this, research has shown that the brunt of these childcare and learning responsibilities still falls disproportionately on women, even though both parents are able to work from home.

To deconstruct patriarchal narratives, a community approach to education can be prioritized. In this scenario, both mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, grandmothers, and grandfathers are crucial in the materialization of non-conventional education.

In Nigeria, it is normal for many generations to share a living space, and now, with increasing directives restricting movements there is more intergenerational exchange in homes. We can leverage this to share the responsibility of education. At the same time, there is no age limit on learning. Intergenerational learning is a two-way street with the old and the young, in this case, the teacher and the student benefit equally and learning from each other. Intergenerational collective no-how brings collaboration and communication skills to another level. Children are able to learn more authentically and older people are able to experience a sense of joy and relevance as they pass down knowledge.

While the traditional brick and mortar approach to education is more convenient and manageable, it is not entirely effective in enabling children to learn through risk- taking and experimentation. The disruption from the pandemic is enabling us to rethink education and to integrate outdoor learning approaches already present in the early year’s sector. Through learning in nature children are able to develop imagination through play. Education and playfulness are not often two things we group together, however, playfulness is crucial in fostering creativity in children. The rigid structure of traditional classrooms does not necessarily promote freedom of thought and expression. With strict time frames for lessons and specific subject order, there is very little room for fruitful learning experiences which undoubtedly involve experimentation. If learning involves mastering skills, then indeed any effective teaching must give ample time to the mastering of these skills.

The coronavirus pandemic has us all stuck to our screens. At a time where we have more time than we have ever collectively had there is a tangible lack of motivation. Yet, research supports this: too much screen time reduces our self-motivation, and children are victims of this too. How then can we teach children, when they lack the motivation to learn? By breaking down the barriers society has put in place we can nurture playfulness in children and, in turn, this inspires motivation. The solitary nature of online learning eradicates motivation that comes from socialization. There is no space within digital classrooms to allow for playfulness. At Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative, we have developed Home Learning Kits that use arts to maintain our children’s educational standards, keeping them motivated and positively occupied while schools remain closed. Through these kits, we are able to provide structured learning for children across several learning platforms that still encourages playfulness and aids creativity.

I mentioned in my last column that many city governments are using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to reconsider and restructure and perhaps find a way to leapfrog to the 22nd Century attitudes. There is ample room for growth and evolution in the education sector and we have an opportunity to scrutinise mainstream teaching methods. Social distancing, a phrase that many of us had never heard or used a year ago is now a mainstay in much of our social settings. Outdoor learning presents a great opportunity to educate children and still maintain social distancing. This example is one of several that show us that the tools to navigate this new world we find ourselves are non-conventional. Let us expose ourselves to fresh challenges; let us treasure this opportunity to assess how and who can guide this process. And, let all of us, young and old be a part of the collective educational process.

You have been associated with many artistes, some as their official guitarist, Why did you switch from offering music artistes hit sounds to releasing your own singles?

Over the years, I have given so much to the artistes. So, I feel that I deserve the same energy too. Looking at ‘Independent Woman’, your first singles and ‘Osan’, your latest, has there been improvements and what are you doing to ensure such feats? There have been a massive improvement. I keep learning the business part of the music and that helped me a lot to know the direction of sound to create, the right artistes that will deliver the sound and also my target audience to channel my music to.

How easy do you get top music artistes to feature in your music?

It is not easy. I appreciate each and everyone one of them that has responded so far. I am truly grateful. Over 500 songs in 20 years is a big feat, what more do fans and the music industry expect from you?

I am dropping a new track in early July and then possibly an EP will follow up in August.

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