Advance Copy: Nikhit D'Sa

Welcome to Advance Copy, a look at the people, perspectives, and scholarship of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, home to the University of Notre Dame’s initiatives advancing its long-standing commitment to the future of K-12 schools.



Nikhit D’Sa


Just Launched: 

The LEGO Foundation has introduced the Playful Learning Across the Years (PLAY) toolkit and the Teacher RePlay tool. These tools have been developed to support the use of play-based learning strategies in educators’ classrooms. Supported by the LEGO Foundation, Nikhit and the Global Center developed the Teacher RePlay tool in partnership with FHI 360, the Universidad de Los Andes School of Education in Colombia, the Institute for Informatics and Development in Bangladesh, and the Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education in Uganda. 

Check out the tools here:


Hails from: 

Mumbai, India


Notre Dame Initiative: 

Assistant Professor and Senior Associate Director For Research, Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child



M.A., Teachers College, Columbia University; M.Ed. and Ph.D., Harvard Graduate School of Education


Favorite place on Notre Dame’s campus: 

One place that has always struck me, and I try to visit it every time I come to campus, is the Log Chapel. I like the humility it invokes. It's good to have the reminder that we all start from very humble beginnings, and how, with all the people and support systems around us, we can grow into something amazing, a grand university like Notre Dame.


What drew you to Notre Dame (for work)?

It felt like the perfect mix of doing practice and applied research within the backing and rigor of academia. So I really do feel sometimes like I sit at the nexus of practice and academic research. 


Let’s jump into that nexus. Please tell us more about the project and website you just launched.

Yes, but maybe a little history. For over three decades in the majority world—I use the term majority world to reference low- and middle-income countries in the global South—the focus has been on enrollment: getting children into primary schools. So there was a big push on building primary schools, tuition-free enrollment, learning materials, and ensuring there were sufficient teachers. And by and large, that was fairly successful; children have been able to access primary schools in large numbers. But slowly, as that has happened, what we've realized is we've been seeing children enroll for primary school, but a lot of them don't show up and a lot of them don't stay in primary school. And even if they stay, children aren’t learning some of the foundational skills. This has resulted in a conversation about how to move from access to quality education in the majority world. What does that actually mean for a child sitting in the classroom? 

One area of focus has been on the use of play in classrooms to help children learn. The majority of classroom instruction in the majority world is still didactic, a lecture-based format. And it is an efficient mode of instruction in a context where a teacher is faced with 100-200 children in front of them. But as we move to talking more about the quality of education for children, there has been more focus on how children learn. Play has been one way to think of children being able to learn in environments that are socially interactive, where the material that they're learning is meaningful to them, where the act of learning is fun, and where the children are actively engaged in iterative tasks. Children need to try things, try them again, learn from their failures, and be actively engaged in this learning process. Play-based learning allows us to meet these five characteristics: joy, actively engaging, socially interactive, iterative, and meaningful.

But once we start focusing on learning through play in the classroom, the questions we often get from teachers, from practitioners in the majority world, is how do we do it? In a context where we have very little training for teachers, where teachers are faced with large class sizes, and limited resources, how do we support teachers to use play-based learning strategies in their classrooms? This project was really born out of our consortium thinking about how we develop something that is not a prescriptive intervention or an evaluation of teachers' skills. We wanted to build a formative, reflective tool that teachers can use in the classroom to improve their learning through play practices. 


Sounds like so much thoughtful work went into this. How will educators best use it? 

There is a paper-based and a digital app, and you can find the app here. But It's a formative app for teachers to reflect on their own practices of play in the classroom and get feedback and coaching tips on how to improve that.

We also wanted to make sure that in doing all of this, we don't forget the voice of children and their role in the classroom. There is also a small, very quick focus group protocol that uses photos of the classroom where children get to reflect on the activity that the teacher facilitated. Did they have fun? Did they feel like it actually helped them to work with others, or they'd like to work alone? Were they able to connect it to some previous activity that they did or something in their lived experience? So teachers don't only get their own observations, but also children's reflections on the activity. The hope is that it becomes a reflective and enriching experience for teachers to use learning through play through this process.


You mentioned this project was really born out of a consortium. Please tell me a bit more about that.

We worked with wonderful people in this international research consortium led by FHI 360. We also had partners Dr. Angela Pyle from the University of Toronto and Dr. Jennifer Zosh from the University of Pennsylvania Brandywine. Then we had partners in three of the countries where we pilot tested this work. We tested out the paper-based and app format iteratively over two pilots with teachers in Bangladesh, Uganda, and Columbia. Our partner in Bangladesh was the Institute for Informatics and Development. The partner in Uganda was the Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education, and the partner in Columbia was Universidad de Los Andes.


Who is the audience for this?

This formative tool or app can be used anywhere. It was primarily designed and developed for teachers in low-resource contexts in the majority world, in preschools and in primary schools, who are using learning through play. But it could be used by teachers in Canada and the U.S., as well. It's better if it is used along with a program or an approach that encourages teachers to use playful learning methodologies in their classrooms. 


What is your hope for this going forward?

My hope is that we develop more things like this that aren't evaluative of teachers. This was a major hurdle that we had to work through, especially at the start of this project. We've gotten into such an environment of evaluating teachers and trying to hold teachers responsible for every little thing, rather than how do we better support teachers. I'd like to see more things like this that can help support teachers rather than just evaluate them. The end goal is not getting data that we then use to figure out how teachers in a certain school of a certain country are doing, but rather, are our teachers finding this helpful to improve their practice?


Very cool! I like that. In visiting the site, there is so much to investigate… I like that there's an app people can download… I have one other question. Do you hear feedback from the teachers that have been using it?

Overall, teachers have been very, very positive about being able to use this in their classrooms. We continue to monitor feedback through each iteration based on what is working for the educators in their classrooms.


This sounds very hopeful. I’m looking forward to spending more time on the site, but I'm sure this is a giant step forward. Thank you so much for all you are doing!


The LEGO Foundation’s Teacher RePlay tool project work was done in close collaboration with Hannah Chandler, Associate Director of Programs, GC-DWC and Shwetha Parvathy, Research and Learning Advisor, GC-DWC.