Analysis: DANIEL MWAMBA
PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has acknowledged that there is a growing fear of increased non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – obesity, heart diseases, cancers, traffic injuries – among the Zambian children.
This article is in response to the President’s statement, and endeavours to see how we can create a safer, healthier childhood experience for our children.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has a right to play. But looking at how Zambia’s public playgrounds have been turned into housing plots, shopping malls and markets, we are offering fewer opportunities for our children to engage in outdoor play.
For us to provide opportunities for children to be physically active, play, and interact with other children outdoors and improve physical activity, we urgently need public playgrounds.
NCDs are linked to lack of physical exercises and play. The increase in child NCDs in Zambia may show us that our children are not having enough physical activity, as stated by World Health Organisation guidelines.
Playgrounds constitute important settings for children to play and interact with their social and physical environment, recognise and test their own abilities, and develop social and physical skills.
Through play, a child can experiment, solve problems, think creatively, cooperate with others, etc., gaining a deeper knowledge about their world.
Furthermore, playgrounds facilitate positive experiences such as fun, creation, self-efficacy, social interaction, creativeness, and physical ability, and may contribute to increased levels of energy expenditure in children, reducing most of NCDs concern.
Let me acknowledge that the President’s statement on child NCDs coupled with my own experience during my recent visit to my childhood home in Ndeke Township, Ndola, created some energy for me to highlight this issue. It’s sad to see how the Zambians’ land-hunger, plot hunger or rather land-greed has swallowed our public playgrounds. I enjoyed myself during my childhood days.
In the UNIP days, in the government of President Kenneth Kaunda, particularly in the 70s and 80s, there were at least four huge public playgrounds in Ndeke.
We would travel across Ndeke to play with fellow kids in these public playgrounds in different areas. This is where we used to play competitive football – eventually Zambia had a strong national football team – KK11.
But it’s so sad to see how in Ndeke, just like in other urban parts in Zambia, playgrounds have turned into shopping malls, private plots or markets.
Ndeke has practically no playground available, apart from a school football ground and a private complex.
And one would be very lucky, to see a child playing anywhere on anything in Ndeke, expect maybe some few hardcore boys risking their lives playing football on the road. The outdoor play for children in Zambia has diminished, contributing to more sedentary lifestyles, disconnected from the natural world.
Recognition of the importance of outdoor play and immersion in nature for whole child development goes back to the very beginning of early childhood education.
Friedrich Froebel, an influential 19th century German scholar who recognised the uniqueness of childhood, created materials for playful learning, and coined the term kindergarten. He emphasised the role of the garden and the importance of nature in development. He believed that humans and nature are connected at a spiritual level, and so outdoor games were an important part of his concept of kindergarten.
During the early 20th century, universities formed centres for child study, and play and outdoor play environments in kindergartens were considered to have significant educational value. Our old universities such as the University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University have large outdoor play environment. I guess this should have been the result.
Therefore, time has come as parents, educators, policy makers, advocates and also the corporate sector to work to promote better childhood experiences, guaranteeing that children’s interests are considered in every urban, school or industrial planning.
We can each inspire and challenge others to take advantage of the opportunities that the outdoor environment can offer to our children – our future leaders.
One of the ways is to sensitise and educate our local councillors and MPs to make new and tougher laws to protect public playgrounds.
The author is the chairperson of the Zambia Road Safety Trust.
Analysis: DANIEL MWAMBA