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Study Finds Simple Toys Key To Boosting Educational Development | January 2007

African youth need to play more according to a new landmark study published in the UK’s leading medical journal, The Lancet. The study tackles the high rates of illiteracy and educational under-achievement in Africa and finds that malnourishment and lack of stimulation are leaving millions unable to benefit from schooling. It found projects that encouraged learning through play led to children boosting their IQs and getting better reading skills. And it comes up with a very simple and low-cost solution – but excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs – toys and play.

“These are not high tech interventions,” said team leader for the study, Professor Sally McGregor of the Institute of Child Health of University College London. “Research over decades in Jamaica (and other countries) has shown that women with only primary school-level education and a few home made toys can be trained to make a significant difference in the education, intelligence and mental health of disadvantaged children. The Millennium Goal of universal primary education for all cannot be met unless these children’s poor development is tackled.”

The paper – Strategies to Avoid the Loss of Developmental Potential among Over 200 Million Children in the Developing World – is published in three parts in the journal.

Twenty projects around the world were evaluated for the benefits they produce for children under five who use toys. McGregor, who has set up several projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda designing and constructing toys using whatever materials are available, was appalled by the widespread neglect of play throughout these countries. With play, the study found children read better, have better mental health and better self-esteem. In Africa it is ‘desperate, really desperate’ she says.

African primary school enrolments and literacy rates are among the lowest in the world, with over 42 million school children in sub-Saharan Africa not enrolled in school, and many children not able to afford to go or stay in primary school. Today a little more than half of African adults are literate and some 60 per cent of children go to school, according to UNESCO. The agency has forecasted the need for an additional 1.6 million teachers in Sub-Saharan African classrooms by 2015 – an increase of 68 percent.

The materials used to construct the toys do not need to be expensive or sophisticated. Toys can be constructed from banana trees, mud, corn on the cob, old plastic bottles, or cloth and straw dolls. It is key that the toys are safe for children under five and that anyone building such toys for sale must follow existing manuals.

McGregor continues: ‘One mother in a village was doing marvellous things with tiny scraps of material to make a doll. She received no recognition in the village for the work she was doing yet it was so important. It doesn’t take much – dolls or simple wooden blocks – they are so versatile. You see schools with nothing – it is unforgivable. The problem is how poor these people are – food just takes priority over toys – it is that stark.”

Locally produced toys are key to resolving this crisis for several reasons. Cost is the most important, with those most adversely affected also the least able to pay for toys and who are already living a precarious existence where basic survival takes precedence over play. Another factor is Africa being home to the countries who import the least number of toys: Somalia, Liberia, Togo, Rwanda and Chad. But the situation for African toymakers is often desperate as well, with many craft workers living at the economic margins. Several initiatives have emerged in the last couple of years to address this problem and ensure African toys are local and toymakers earn a living.

Initiatives like the African Toyshop based in Johannesburg, South Africa – a fair trade business – work to ensure African toymakers can make a living and get their wares to as wide a market as possible. The toymakers featured all use natural resources or recycled materials. Most work at the village level and produce toys that are culturally relevant to Africa. The organization COFTA – Cooperation For Fair Trade in Africa – is a network of Fair Trade producer Organizations in Africa involved and working with disadvantaged grassroots producers to eliminate poverty through fair trade. It is an excellent resource for grassroots organizations wanting to work with African toymakers.

Resources:

The UK charity TALC – Teaching-aids At Low Cost – is planning to make available toy making manuals on a CD. Tel: (0) 1727 853869

This website also has excellent resources for budding toy and play area makers in Africa. http://iafrica.com/diy/projects/forkids/

Online exhibition of African toys: African Craft.com

Book: Africa on the Move: Toys from West Africa Stefan Eisenhofer, Karin Guggeis, Jacques Froidevaux Stuttgart, Germany: Arnoldsche, 2004. 216 pp., 195 color, 28 b/w illustrations. $75.00, cloth.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: January 2007

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Innovation from the Global South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A major study has documented a rising tide of scientific innovation coming from Asia’s fast-developing countries, especially India and China. Conducted over 18 months by UK-based think tank Demos, it challenges the conventional wisdom that scientific ideas come from the top universities and research laboratories of large companies based in Europe or the US. It found ideas emerging in unexpected places, flowing around the world conveyed by a mobile diaspora of knowledge workers from the South.

China has seen its spending on research and development jump by 20 percent each year since 1999. India is now producing 260,000 engineers a year and its number of engineering colleges is due to double to 1,000 by 2010. Research and development in India has grown by threefold over the past decade. There is now a global flow of research and development money to the new knowledge centres of Shanghai, Beijing, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

The study found the greater political and economic emphasis being placed on science and technology was paying dividends. These emerging science powers are now investing heavily in research to become world leaders in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology within the next ten to fifteen years. This is also producing a flood of scientific papers from China and India to the world’s prestigious scientific journals.

For India, its knowledge-based industries by the end of this year will be a US $57 billion export industry, accounting for 4 million jobs and 7 percent of Indian GDP. Interestingly, the study also found a new wave of change is underway. Where once it was mostly low-wage manufacturing and call centre jobs that were going to China and India, a new wave of research and development jobs is now moving there. Drawn in by technology clusters in Shanghai and Bangalore, “Microsoft began to realize we can’t find all the talented people in the US. Nowhere in this universe has a higher concentration of IQ power (than India),” said Harry Shun, head of Microsoft’s research in Asia.

Resources

  • The Atlas of Ideas is an 18-month study of science and innovation in China, India and South Korea, with a special focus on new opportunities for collaboration with Europe. It is a comprehensive account of the rising tide of Asian innovation. It pinpoints where Asian innovation is coming from and explains where it’s headed. Special reports on China, India and Korea, introducing innovation policy and trends in these countries can be downloaded for free here.
  • Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India
  • Innovation China: A website linking all stories on the fast-breaking world of Chinese innovation.

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.