To answer this question, I need to start in the future. While there’s no way to really know what our future holds – Covid-19 has made this abundantly clear – futurists, trend spotters and the like, have made projections about the nature of the 21st century and the skills people will need to participate in the modern economy.

Not in dispute is the rapid and widespread emergence of automation with machines replacing humans in low-skill, machine-like tasks. Where does that leave us? Certainly not jobless but the predicted employment arena of the future economy will demand a very different skill set, and in an interesting twist, humans will have to hone the very skills that are uniquely human.

We frequently hear about 21st century competencies such as creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. We can add to this list cognitive flexibility, judgment and decision making, innovative or growth mindset, communication, empathy and social and emotional intelligence. To participate fully in the world of work, school leavers will need a wide and well-developed bouquet of these competencies.

Can Playful Project-Based Learning achieve this? A resounding yes! In short, 21st century skills and competencies are fundamental to PPBL design. PPBL has at its core a complex question or a problem to be answered or solved. To achieve this learners need to collaborate, and in order to do that, they need good communication skills, empathy, and social and emotional intelligence. In addition to this, in seeking a solution to the complex problem learners have to develop a growth mindset and cognitive flexibility so they can come at the problem from different angles, take risks, recover from failure and create innovative outcomes.

I am going to end off with the word ‘play’. The Lego Foundation suggests that playful learning has five characteristics: it needs to be meaningful, socially interactive, actively engaging, iterative and joyful. One can immediately see the overlap between the characteristics of play and project-based learning. But, what is really special about Playful Project-Based Learning is the element of joy. To be able to instill a joy of learning is a gift forever. Finding learning joyful will mean that learners not only leave school with 21st century skills but also with a life-long sense of curiosity and a consistent love of learning new things. I find it difficult to see how PPBL can’t not prepare learners for the future. It is the near-perfect recipe for learning that will nourish school leavers for life.

Debbie de Jong – Gauteng

Debbie de Jong is one of the E3 coaches, working in Gauteng. She lives in her dream home in Johannesburg with her partner and her four-legged family. She brings with her considerable experience as a Six Bricks facilitator, and she has working in private practice