I recently learnt about PlayPumps because it features in the curriculum taught in the National Geographic Learning course, Reach Higher.

What a wonderful idea- combining play and engineering to deliver water to communities who don’t have easy access to clean water!

What is PlayPumps?


The problem with PlayPumps

Of course, nothing is ever straightforward. I did some more reading and came across an article that explained the challenges that resulted from installing PlayPumps in many of these communities.

Some issues that cropped up were:

  • cost: WaterAid found that traditional wells were cheaper to built and more sustainable
  • lack of maintenance: many PlayPumps ended up being broken and abandoned
  • lack of consultation with the communities prior to installation
  • effectiveness: the pumps actually needed a lot more than kids playing on it now and then to work. This meant that women were paying kids to play and that “play” turned into “work”.

As a result, PlayPumps and their investors acknowledged their mistakes, apologised,  and changed their focus to maintenance  of installed pumps, and providing running water at schools instead. PlayPumps International appointed a new Gary Edson, who talked about PlayPumps being part of a range of solutions under the umbrella of Water for People.

These points are not talked about in the lesson we teach our students. Why not?

We need to be able to tell students about initiatives in a balanced, truthful way. Educators should talk about the solutions as well as the new problems that arise as a result. This teaches kids to build a stronger problem-solving mindset, adaptability and flexibility in thought.

Kids should grow up to expect that problems will arise, and that you might solve the problem temporarily, with new sets of issues cropping up. We also have the opportunity to teach kids how to plan a project considering more angles, anticipating problems, and communicating with all stakeholders, especially effected communities.

If teachers used post-mortems of projects such as this one. it would provide a great learning opportunity.

I challenge all teachers to teach beyond feel-good stories where there is more to it than a happy ending. Let’s teach kids the importance of  learning from failures and mistakes. Let’s move away from the shame of failure and instead teach them to analyse failure and ask questions like:

“What went wrong?”

“How can we do better next time?”

“What can I learn from my mistake?”

We can encourage children to see issues from different point of view and encourage healthy debate based in fact instead of emotion.

We should encourage problem-solving in kids, even if it means teaching them that the first try might not be all that’s required.

Further reading:


Check out my other blog posts, lesson plan resources and useful links to other pages.