As children return to school in 2021, many of them have to make up for lost time learning. At the same time, we need to ensure their socio-emotional wellbeing. Teaching and learning methodologies which make use of games and play are best placed to combine both purposes: children can learn skills while reconnecting with each other and having fun. An example of such an approach is Catch Up in Zambia, where children are improving their literacy and numeracy skills in a playful and stimulating way.
A (short) history of Catch Up
Catch Up is a remedial learning intervention, based on the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) methodology, which groups learners by learning levels rather than by grade and makes use of hands-on and playful learning methodologies. After already covering 1,800 schools in Zambia’s Eastern and Southern Provinces, the Catch Up initiative is currently being scaled up to an additional province (Lusaka Province) by the Ministry of General Education, with support from VVOB, TaRL Africa and the LEGO Foundation. Existing materials have been translated into five additional local languages, 385 provincial and district staff and school administrators and 629 new teachers have been trained in the Catch Up approach.
Catch Up makes use of interactive teaching methodologies, combining groupwork, play and individual exercises. Literacy activities include linguistic games, mind maps and action songs. Numeracy activities range from reading number charts, to counting with bundles of sticks and currency notes. And the beauty of the approach is that it promotes the use of locally available and low-cost resources, meaning it can be delivered at scale at a very low cost for the education system.
Responding to the crisis with remedial teaching
School closures have exacerbated existing inequalities in education, within and across countries. Maximising the impacts of teachers on foundational and socio-emotional skills of learners is a crucial part of government attempts to recover from the pandemic in both the short and long run. Many children have to make up for lost time learning, but this shouldn’t put any additional pressure on them at this difficult time. Remedial methodologies which make use of games and play – such as Catch Up in Zambia – offer great potential to respond to the current crisis and should be further scaled up.
Schools in Zambia reopened on 1 February 2021. We’re happy that more Zambian children than ever before can now benefit from appropriate remedial learning. And we have significant evidence to show that it works! But the needs are still huge and further support is needed. The Ministry of General Education, VVOB and TaRL Africa have prepared an ambitious plan for nationwide scaling up and are exploring new partnerships to make this happen.