SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar’s research shows need for hands-on learning in schools

19 August 2019

SOAS University of London Emeritus Professor, Trevor Marchand’s work on craft, handskill, embodied knowledge and education has recently been featured in the TES, where Professor Marchand discusses the need for hands-on learning in schools.

Speaking on the TES Podagogy podcast, Professor Marchand discussed the importance of broadening our understanding of what knowledge and intelligence are: “There is a perception from top to bottom that doing things on paper, doing conceptual thinking, is at the apex of everything; that this is where you want to be. Working with your hands is seen as something for kids who did not quite make it in the classroom…Until we establish a new values system, we are going to struggle to get the hands-on learning into the curriculum and have respect for it.”

Describing his work with minaret builders in Yemen, Professor Marchand explained how powerful this form of learning can be: “The men I was working with were not literate and they were not mathematically trained, but they were building highly complex structures. There were no plan drawings and no engineers. But they talked about proportionality, and the aesthetics of proportions.”

"That set me on a path to understand the mathematics on site, how they learned all these things – proportion, balance, symmetry, asymmetry. It was all by watching and physically trying things out.”

Professor Marchand also discussed the narrowing of the school curriculum here in the UK due to financial pressures, and the importance for children from an early age to be confident about their abilities to make things and to solve problems with their own hands. The full text can be found in the TES.

In addition, The Craftsmanship Initiative, the most important American website for contemporary craftwork, has featured a focus on Professor Marchand’s studies with fine woodworkers at London's Building Crafts College, where he carried out 2 long periods of fieldwork supported by the ESRC and the British Academy respectively. The feature includes a short version of Professor Marchand’s  documentary film, The Intelligent Hand, which follows the wood-working students.