IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Affiliate Scholar > Dustin Eirdosh
Project Citizen & The Politics of Play in Madagascar
Dustin Eirdosh   Jan 29, 2014   Mythic Minds  

As I watched the sun set from my balcony last night, a mysteriously booming bass speaker washed the beach in a lively party atmosphere. Local teens had organized an impromptu game of football; naked Malagasy children took turns flipping off each others shoulders into the public waters comprising Toliara’s harbor; and couples in love strolled hand in hand along the rocky shoreline. All simply enjoying the glowing day’s end by sharing this beautiful moment together.

This scene, fortunately, is quite the norm here - with one exception. This was the eve of a much lauded visit from the newly claimed President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonariampianina. The thumping bass music was, in fact, a call to the impending circus of political feather displays....

The kids in the classroom are more important than the president on the stage... 

Indeed as I write this the emergent President of Madagascar is leaving the city park just adjacent to my hotel complex, and oddly enough - I really really don't care.

I say oddly enough, because my teaching responsibilities for University of Toliara include training future High School teachers in the internationally acclaimed civics curriculum Project Citizen. How can I portend to be teaching civics and yet be so transparently disengaged from national-level politics here? Am I taking my job seriously or am I just playing around? On that last question - the answer is a most emphatic yes to both. I am dead serious about my job, yet I fully view my job as playing around. Let me explain.

If you google search "Madagascar Politics" you'd be quickly [mis]led to believe that the real action is happening on the national level. You'd learn about the cartoonishly despotic 2009 coup by Radio DJ Andry Rajoelina over former President Marc Ravelomanana. You'd learn about the ridiculous challenges to democratic presidential elections over the last two years, and finally, you'd learn about the questionably legitimate voting processes this past December. The western blog-o-sphere is, of course, filled with skeptically nuanced perspectives on the relative integrity and merit of this political embarrassment. However, with all due respect, I'm going to assert we need to listen to Benjamin Barber - and simply change the subject.
The many schools of Toliara, such as Lycee Mixte Betania gather en masse to watch the political posturing of national-scale politics in Madagascar. In the months to come we delve deeper into urban civics education in this, the capital of the southwestern region of the island.
There may or may not have been corruption and intimidation and at any and every level of this recent Malagasy election process. I really don't know, but I really do believe- that it's, almost, entirely beside the point. Attempting to build a respectable national-level government in current-day Madagascar is the equivalent of an architect trying to build a skyscraper before it's foundation; or the natural world trying to grow an organism before developing it's organs - it' just not gonna happen that way! The great many spheres of governance comprising the organs of the Malagasy super-organism are in urgent need of an injection of both innovation and polycentric prosociality . For the PEAR Lab - this means going to the grassroots first. When it comes to the future of Malagasy politics - you'll have a very tough time convincing me that the real action is happening at the national level - it's clearly with the students!

A Solution in the Science of Play?
  The best way to train teachers in Project Citizen is to have them experience it first hand. So this years training explores the connections between local educational policies and the rising science of play. Using resources from The National Institute for Play and The Evolution Institute, my Malagasy Undergrads and International Interns are beginning a small-scale action-research project in a handful of regional secondary schools to explore the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to the positive application of play science in these local institutions.
Malagasy students of today face an uphill path to authentic democratic governance. Designing school environments to promote cooperative and creative community solutions is likely to be a keystone strategy in any such developments.
The science of play may be able to help.
You see - child's play isn't just goofing around. A richly interdisciplinary literature base details the absolutely crucial developmental assets that healthy play can foster across social and neuropsychological scales of organization. Besides individual psychological health, engaging a state-of-play is intimately linked to creativity and problem solving. In short - the bio-cultural roots of democracy are quite clearly enmeshed in the rippling developmental effects of play.

Let's Leapfrog Malagasy Education

In international development "leapfrogging" is when a 'developing' country can look at how a 'developed' nation has screwed things up, and then use modern innovation to leap over the problems of history and emerge perhaps better off than had they simply followed in the footsteps of the so-called 'developed world'. It's my challenge to the students of Toliara to see if the science of play offers an opportunity to leapfrog the Malagasy educational system in just this way.

If you can believe visionaries like Sir Ken Robinson, or the folks at Edutopia - schools can be environments that either kill or cultivate creativity. The science of play maybe, just maybe, can provide an evidence-based road map to educational policy that ensures that the future citizens of Toliara are richly equipped with the social and cognitive capital needed for more authentic bottom-up forms of democracy.

What will it look like? 
That's for University of Toliara students to show us!

Evolution is notorious for solving problems in a myriad web of similar but different solutions. When Applying evolutionary studies to educational design does not result in monolithic solutions, and caution is in order... this is where our students and international partners come in; the key is on-going engagement with the science. we begin to explore the evolutionary science of play in Malagasy education policy I expect to see exactly such a radiant diversity of local solutions.

I suspect - just like in any other community around the world - Toliara will exhibit both strengths and weakness when it's educational policies around play around held up to the light of modern science.

Self-organized, youth directed play is an outstanding cultural asset here that some communities in the WEIRD world might well be jealous of. That is to say - kids in Toliara certainly don't need adults to tell them how to engage in play. It's such an endemic and rich aspect of local life in this city - I am really excited to have our educational psychology students see this phenomena through the lens of play science. Yet - play in Toliara may be under threat. Madagascar has adopted a largely standard French model of education, which, like that in much of Europe and the US, is notorious for it's potential to deprive kids of the ample and diverse play we now know to be a fundamental human right and developmental necessity. It will be up to these very students at the University of Toliara to design a an educational system that honors this right and capitalizes on this most affordable and exciting of applied sciences!

Further Resources:

Bottom Image:

Dustin Eirdosh, M.Sc., is the curriculum designer for the Berlin-based NGO Big Red Earth, working to cultivate capacity in Madagascar’s southwestern University of Toliara, supporting leadership in applied studies of sustainable development.

COMMENTS No comments

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Real Identity on the Internet (My Variation)

Previous entry: Is That A Tricorder In Your Pocket?