2.1 Benefits for play-based learning
Play-based learning is a teaching strategy that integrates play into the educational process to engage and challenge young children. This strategy has gained popularity in Malaysian pre-schools in recent years due to the multiple benefits it provides for young learners. Recent studies have found that play-based learning allows young children to explore, experiment, and learn via hands-on experiences. Through play-based activities, children may learn about their world and acquire crucial skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication (Fatai et al., 2014). This sort of learning fosters a love of learning and lays a solid basis for future academic achievement in youngsters.
(Hussain & Tan, 2014) found that play-based learning promotes the growth of emotional and social abilities. Through play-based activities, children may learn how to engage with people, communicate effectively, and form relationships. This form of learning aids in the promotion of healthy social behaviors as well as the development of children’s self-esteem and confidence. Play-based learning may be adjusted to each child’s unique needs and interests. This method allows students to study at their own pace and in their own fashion, which is very advantageous for learners who have diverse learning styles. Through play-based activities, children may develop their individual talents and abilities, which can aid in the development of a strong sense of self-esteem and confidence.
2.2. Strategies for play-based learning in Malaysia
Since implementation of the National Preschool Curriculum in 2010, preschool teachers in Malaysia are on record as adopting some amount of play-based learning activities and teaching practices in their practice. According to Low (2022), from engaging learners in coloring activities to physical activities to manipulating colored items, play-based learning practice in Malaysia can be easily identified. The 2017 National Preschool Standard Curriculum has been particularly instrumental in enforcing the concept of play-based learning in preschools. In line with this, it is a requirement for preschools to provide children with learning spaces which are both individual and collaborative and at least 60 minutes of free play per week. However, although the new mandates were positively received by teachers, there is growing evidence of implementation challenges in practice among teachers. In particular, teachers have reported an inherent lack of adequate know-how of the concept.
Of particular significance, implementation of play-based learning practice in Malaysia has been marked with lack of or poor access to relevant teaching aids and lack of clearly defined guidelines on balancing between play and direct teaching. Coupled with shortcomings in the percentage of qualified teachers, this lack of teaching aids or support has been blamed for the undue associating of play-based learning with simple free play by many of the teachers. According to Mardziah et al. (2017), however, the attitude of parents towards play and learning have been equally influential in shaping the implementation of play-based learning in Malaysian preschools. As an emphasis, core among the expectations of Malaysian parents is that their children should be engaged with mastery in reading, writing, counting, and thinking skills. For them, preschools are meant to prepare children for successful entry into formal education. For Wong and Fleer (2013), widespread implementation of play-based learning has unduly suffered due to a perceived negative relationship between play and academic learning among parents.
Challenges/barriers which preschool teachers encounter while integrating play in teaching.
2.3.1 Lack of support from school/parents
Teachers also reported challenges associated with the lack of teaching aids in balancing play and the direct teaching of academic skills (Mohd Nazri and Wan Nurul Baizura 2018; Aquino, Nordin and Mazlina 2017). Besides that, the challenge to implement play-based learning in early childhood education in Malaysia is also partly influenced by parents’ perspectives on play and learning (Mardziah et al. 2017; Grieshaber 2016). In Malaysia, parents expect their children to master 4M known as (membaca, menulis, mengira, menaakul) namely reading, writing, counting and thinking skills, in preschool as a preparation for formal education in the primary schools, and such expectations and related concerns are constantly communicated to the teachers by parents (Mardziah et al. 2017). Some Malaysian parents still hold the perspective that play does not go in line with learning (Aquino, Nordin and Mazlina 2017). Thus, to meet parental expectations, school administrations and teachers tend to continue with the direct teaching method for which if is easier to generate concrete evidence such as worksheets, graded assignments (Fung and Cheng 2012).
2.3.2 Professional development
Moreover, the lack of clarity surrounding how teachers should implement play in early years’ classrooms constitutes another barrier. With the introduction of new curriculum and the expectation to implement new pedagogical practices every few years, teachers find it challenging to implement play in meaningful ways because they lack the confidence and training to do so (Martlew et al., 2011; Parker & Neuharth-Pritchett, 2006). The research conducted by Fung and Cheng (2012) suggests that an interview study with school principals should be taking a more active role in professional development workshops on play pedagogy, they instead focus on “more academic” practices to meet parental demands. Other research indicates the need for more professional development opportunities in which educators discuss the value of play (Ranz-Smith, 2007) and ways in which they can facilitate learning through play (McInnes et al., 2011), along with the provision of tangible resources (Baker, 2015). Creating engaging interactive play activities in early years’ classrooms requires strong organizational skills. This is due to the reason that many young children lack behavior management skills, teachers may decide against including play in the classroom (Baker, 2015). Hence, teachers need professional development opportunities to learn how to promote behavior management skills prior to implementing play-based learning in their classroom, especially with students who have trouble determining what play behaviors are appropriate and in which contexts (Docket, 2011).
2.3.3 Lack of preparation and shortage in supply of qualified teachers
A lack of preparation and a scarcity of competent teachers are significant impediments to effective play-based learning implementation in preschools. Many teachers lack the knowledge, skills, and resources required to include meaningful and instructive play into their courses (Edwards, 2017). Teachers then struggle to strike the correct balance between play and instruction, if they are not properly trained, resulting in play activities that are not aligned with learning goals (Edwards, 2017). There is a deficit of skilled instructors in the field of early childhood education, in addition to a lack of training (Barblett, 2010). This deficit is especially acute in disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods, where access to high-quality early development services is frequently limited.
2.3.4 Lack of teaching and learning resources
One of the most significant issues for teachers is a shortage of resources. Many preschools and early childhood education programs operate on shoestring budgets and are unable to offer the resources, equipment, and technology required for successful play-based learning. As a result, there may be a lack of originality and innovation in the classroom, as well as less possibilities for students to participate in hands-on, interactive learning experiences. In addition to a shortage of resources, teachers face a lack of guidance on how to successfully integrate play into their teaching techniques (Bubikova-Moan et al., 2019). Many teachers lack the knowledge, skills, and resources required to include meaningful and instructive play into their courses.
Play-based learning enables young learners to better communicate and relate with their environment. As much as there are strategies to better develop the use, there are several challenges which pre-school teachers face while trying to adopt these challenges. These challenges include; lack of teaching and learning resources; lack of support from school and parents; professional development challenges and shortage of qualified teachers.
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