University World News : Universities team up to create a new kind of playground

Vietnamese universities are working with students at Hoa Binh College of Education in Northern Vietnam to create an innovative ‘learning playground’.

The playground, which opened in January 2022, encapsulates principles of frugal design and playful pedagogy and has been produced as part of the ACES project. The project is a case study for how higher education institutions can impact everyday education and illustrates the way in which theory can be manifested in practice.

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As a novel extension to the classroom, the ACES playground aims to bridge formal and informal educational contexts and spaces to create an inclusive, safe and playful space engaging the local, rural and indigenous communities in Vietnam. It targets not only young people, but also schoolteachers and residents from the wider community.

The educational playground model is the culmination of a wider programme of playful, experiential, co-creative and participatory activities at Hoa Binh College of Education. These activities have been coordinated by academics at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST) and Vietnam National University, Hanoi, working as part of the ACES team.

The design of the playground draws on a rich cultural knowledge of Vietnam with a particular focus on the Muong culture. It also aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on equitable, inclusive quality education experiences.

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Playful learning

The acronym ACES denotes ‘a community-centred educational model for developing social resilience’ and is funded by UK Research and Innovation and the Economic and Social Research Council under the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Led by academics at Coventry University in the UK, ACES is investigating the impact of transformative education through playful approaches and is targeting young people in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Teacher educators, teachers and student teachers are equipped with innovative pedagogical approaches and toolkits regarding gamification, playful learning and frugal education via a series of training workshops and action research.

Professor Sylvester Arnab, the principal investigator of ACES, commended the Vietnam team’s efforts.

“Through the community-centred aspect of the ACES playground approach, young people will be able to develop non-discipline specific capabilities that can sustain them as active lifelong learners and contributors to their communities,” he said.

A popular slogan at schools throughout Vietnam states that “every day at school should be a fun day” and the ACES playground certainly embraces this. It displaces teacher-centred modes of delivery and opens up more flexible study programmes, with less focus on paper tests and more attention on life skills development through play.

The playground also extends the principles of co-creation and ownership of the educational process to the community. This aligns with the goals of the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training’s educational reforms to improve the education system through curricular activities and experiential learning.

“Having teachers, student teachers and pupils involved in co-designing this innovative space has really challenged our thinking about the traditional playground,” says Le Hoai Nam, the playground designer. “This playground will emphasise the many benefits of play such as curiosity and problem-solving.”

Promoting minority cultures

School principals and school governors have been key in supporting this venture, working with university partners and school ambassadors.

Nguyen Le Huong, the principal of Hoa Binh College of Education, stressed the importance of inclusive, quality education practices when training future generations of teachers as well as the importance of creating employability opportunities while promoting local cultures and identities.

“The ACES educational model is important in training and preparing our future generations of teachers as professionals and social leaders,” she said.

Dao Anh Tuan, head of Nguyen Tat Thanh School (under the management of Hoa Binh College of Education), further stressed the importance of enhancing the resilience of minority cultures in Vietnam.

“This playground is an inclusive, rich and exciting space to learn,” he said. “This special playground is associated with the teaching of ‘local education’, a newly-launched subject in the Local Education Programme [a government initiative], which is very useful for children to understand and maintain cultures of Muong and many other ethnic groups in Hoa Binh Province.”

The ACES playground was inspired by the Muong culture. A teacher trainer of the Muong language who will use the playground in their teaching and training of teachers, praised the design.

“This beautiful playground can represent our ethnic cultures and help the teachers, student teachers, students and the community understand more about our traditions and values,” she said. “I can’t wait to deliver Muong language lessons here and see how our student teachers and pupils co-develop the curriculum.”

This project is relevant to SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, including the emphasis on providing “quality education” in targets 4.1 and 4.3, and the emphasis on inclusiveness and relevant education in target 4.a, to “provide inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. The targets for all the SDGs are listed here.

Thi Thom Thom Nguyen is a researcher at the faculty of English language teacher education at Vietnam National University, Hanoi. The ACES playground was formally opened on 4 January 2022 as a pedagogical approach in curriculum transformation and teacher education. For more information, please contact Associate Professor Hoang Thi Bich Thuy (ACES Vietnam Team – leader) via or Dr Thi Thom Thom Nguyen (ACES Vietnam Team – key researcher) via


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